Every time a fugitive dropped a breadcrumb – while making a phone call or walking past a CCTV camera or withdrawing money from an ATM (each pair had $200 in cash and $300 in bank for their 21 days) – the team could request access to these images or information in order to try to locate them. (Because the producers do not have the authority to request this footage, it is reproduced on the fly by having the camera operator place a Go-Pro where the closed-circuit camera would be, at the using a selfie stick. This footage is then uploaded via WhatsApp, and is available to the HQ team within minutes.)
“Sometimes we were getting information, sometimes not, sometimes it was taking longer,” says Craig, a former Australian Federal Police officer who led the investigation into the 2005 Bali bombings. ” It was hard. And it was very realistic.
Although the hunt had rules, including overnight downtime for pursuers and escapees, everyone worked 10-hour days, seven days a week during the 21 days of filming.
“The fugitives are all cracked cookies in the end,” he says. “And the hunters too, because we all break our chops to achieve our respective goals.
“I think a lot of people watching it will say, ‘Oh, that would be easy,'” he adds of the challenge of evading capture. “Then when it starts, I think they’ll be surprised at what law enforcement can do to track you and how hard it is to cover your tracks.”
Some of the fugitives seem to completely pilot it from the start. This is not the case of the West Australians Jake Rozario and Rob Harneiss, respectively policeman and hairdresser.
It was Harneiss’s idea to apply for the show – he had seen the UK version and was imagining his chances – and Rozario simply agreed because “I would do anything for my best mate”. And it was the barber rather than the copper who came armed with a game plan – and a whole load of equipment to help their chances.
“I think we had about 40 kilograms of hair and makeup in backpacks,” says Harneiss. “I had a lot of vacuum sealed bags, they were all detailed with everything in the bags, all the different disguises. A big part of our game plan was to hide in plain sight.
Minutes after the mass breakout from Melbourne’s Federation Square that kicked off the first episode, the pair changed from their drop-neck clothes to high-vis work clothes, complete with fake hair and mustaches. “A good wig can take you a long way,” says Rozario, who concedes they still thought they had missed their chances in the first 30 minutes.
“In the beginning, we were quite poor. We found it very, very difficult to find someone to help us.
While Harneiss is adept at chatting behind the barber chair, Rozario’s interactions with strangers in his day job tend to have a different energy. “When I approach people at work [as a policeman] they usually don’t want to talk to me,” he admits. “I definitely had to learn a lot about how I approached people. In the beginning, we probably had two out of 20 people to help us, but we got a lot better over time.
With so few resources and hunters having access to likely contacts and hideouts, convincing strangers to help them is essential to survival in this game. But what is people’s willingness to lend a hand? strong to strangers who present themselves as fugitives told about us as a culture? That the Ned Kelly spirit is alive and well?
“I realized there are a lot of people out there who are willing to help you and who are good people,” Rozario says. They may have, at least in theory, helped criminals, but, he adds, “I loved it when we got help. It was the best.”
If this show strikes a chord with viewers and results in more seasons, Harneiss has some advice for future contestants. “Retirees are the best help there is. Honestly, they’re so careful about everything, it’s all a conspiracy, so they’re great people to help you out.
After five seasons on the UK version and one in the US, cyber expert (and former sniper) Ben Owen thought he was done with hunt after leaving the series just before COVID-19 hit. But Australia’s lure proved too great for Owen, who signed as intelligence chief and says this is the most intense season he has worked on, with an increased number of fugitives and a period compressed time.
As someone who advises businesses and wealthy individuals on how to stay safe online, he has an ambivalent attitude towards the amount of information available to real-life surveillance officers. “I’m a big privacy advocate,” he says. “I believe you have privacy for a reason – that’s why we have curtains on the windows, a door on the toilets.”
Proportionate access to data, on solid legal grounds, is appropriate, he says, and in the post-Snowden and WikiLeaks era, people are unlikely to be surprised that police and security forces can access it. But, he adds, “I think people will be faced with reality when they see how accurate, how fast and how much information is traceable every day.”
Should viewers then be worried or consoled? “Those who have nothing to hide will feel reassured,” says Owen. “Those on the wrong side of the law might start changing their passwords, consider multi-factor authentication, and start throwing their phones in the river.”