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The search for superhumans has taken me to the very edge of the Earth.
I don't want to move a muscle in case I fall!
But imagine not only being able to stand here,
but being able to perform incredible feats of acrobatics up here!
To do that would take nerves of steel or the powers of a superhero.
A superhero like Spider-Man, with amazing balance and agility,
or like a real-life Daredevil, with absolutely no fear!
But I've heard of a REAL man with super-agility -
a man who can balance on anything.
A man with no fear.
Eskil Ronningsbakken discovered he had incredible balancing skills
when he was a child in Norway and, at 18, he joined the circus.
Over ten years later, Eskil lives life on the edge,
performing death-defying stunts all over the world,
without any safety harnesses.
Tim's travelled to the USA to meet up with Eskil.
And here he is! Eskil, it's fantastic to meet you, it really is!
-Nice to meet you.
-Is it true what they say -
-can you balance on absolutely anything?
There's nothing I know about that I couldn't balance on.
Standing on the edge of anything is really, really scary.
-Is it still scary to you?
-Yes, it's still a little bit scary -
that's natural to any human being, to feel a little bit of fear.
But what I learn is to control this fear.
What we would like to do is to put you through three Super-Tests
to try and work out what it is that makes you so unique.
In order to do this, we're going to have to find someone
to perform with you. A man to try and match you.
A man who will probably not do that well.
Eskil, it's me. Are you up for that?
-Oh, yeah. Welcome aboard.
This is Dr Megan John. She's an expedition doctor
and has kept people alive in some of the most dangerous environments.
She's devised three Super-Tests to discover how Tim and Eskil's bodies
react differently when balancing.
For Super-Test One, we're off to Hollywood, Los Angeles.
Hollywood is famous for big film stars
and even bigger film studios.
What do you think? This is a real Hollywood film studio!
This is massive, this is huge!
This is about the size of a full-size football pitch -
this is enormous!
And, Tim, not only is it big,
you'll notice it's quite high, the ceilings, too.
Yeah, REALLY high.
Well, Tim, it's 11.5 metres high, to be exact,
which is almost the same height as three double-decker buses.
The studio needs to be high because, for this test,
Dr Megan is getting Tim and Eskil to attempt a crate climb.
They will have to balance on top of milk crates
as they stack them higher and higher.
As the stack gets higher, the task gets harder,
so Dr Megan is testing who's got the best balance
and can climb the highest.
As usual, she'll be recording what's happening to their bodies.
Firstly, I'm going to be fitting these bands around your heads,
which will record your brainwaves.
And I'm going to put an accelerometer on you both,
just between your shoulder blades.
Now, essentially this piece of equipment measures
how much wobble you're doing.
Balancing on anything is extremely dangerous -
you should never attempt to try anything like this
without specialist equipment and experts present.
Dr Megan has asked experienced climbing experts
to help set up this test and to be on standby all the way through.
They're attaching Tim and Eskil to safety ropes.
These ropes will not hold them up or help them stay balanced,
but they will catch them when they eventually fall off the crates.
-Are you both ready to go?
Right, then, Tim, you're up first.
The higher the crates get, the more wobbly they become,
and your body automatically moves to try and stay balanced.
As you get higher, you might get scared, panic and make mistakes.
If you get really scared, your muscles could start to shake,
making it even harder to balance.
Eventually the tower will become so high and unstable,
it will topple over and you'll fall off.
Without a safety harness, you would seriously injure yourself,
or even die.
OK, I'm going to go. Doing this... Standing on that one.
There we go.
OK. And I mustn't stand like this, obviously,
cos when I get higher, they could go like that.
-That would be bad, wouldn't it?
-That would be bad.
OK. So if I stand on one crate like this, and do that...
Let's try the next one. Thank you.
OK, that was quite wobbly getting up on that one.
-I've got to watch that.
-Even at these relatively low number of crates,
every time he adds one in, he starts to wobble more.
What's happening to Tim
is all to do with what's going on inside his ears.
Your inner ears send signals to your brain to tell it you are moving.
Deep inside your ear there are three little loops filled with liquid.
In the liquid there are lots of tiny hairs
which sway back and forth, like weeds in a river.
When you move, the liquid in your ear moves,
making the tiny hairs move too.
These moving hairs tell your brain that you're moving.
Your brain can then quickly tell your muscles
to shift you in the opposite direction to keep you balanced.
There it goes.
Every time he steps up, he has to look down to the ground
to pick the crate up, and that causes an adrenaline surge
and his legs start to shake.
Just watch his leg as he climbs up onto this next level.
I'm shaking a lot.
It feels harder when you're this high up.
It must be my brain going, "It's really hard, it's really scary!"
There we go.
There's a little peak there,
as he's started to wobble more and more.
It's just constantly moving now.
Wow, it really has got more wobbly,
and I'm having to focus really hard.
I feel my brain is telling my legs to do a lot of this with my feet.
Tim is doing this
because, to stay balanced, you need to keep your weight over your feet,
and your brain will move bits of your body to keep you balanced.
In all your muscles, you have sensing cells called proprioceptors
that send a signal to your brain so it can work out
where your body bits are, even if you're not looking at them.
Every time your muscles move, these proprioceptors move too,
so your brain can keep a track of where every bit of your body is
and move bits of it to keep you balanced.
After 16 minutes, Tim is now on box ten and is very wobbly.
I can just feel that the crates are going to go away from me.
Whoa... Whoa! Wow!
I've never thought I was going to go THAT way before.
I thought I was going to go forward off the top of these.
Wow, my balance is all over the place. Whoa... Whoa, whoa, whoa.
Let's just right ourselves here. Come on.
Oh! Here we go, I'm on ten. I'm on ten.
From the accelerometer, I can see that Tim really struggled
to keep his body still.
There's a lot of variation in the graph here.
It's crate number 11 for Tim,
and he's really starting to look unsteady now.
This is not a good scenario. Uh-oh.
The whole block is actually moving there.
Oh, my word, I've separated the columns now.
I've separated the columns out.
I don't know how long this is going to last, Megan.
I've got to be honest, Doctor.
OK, nice and calm, nice and calm, nice and calm...
Talking to themselves is one of the things people do
to calm themselves down when they're nervous.
And Tim is doing it a lot.
Wow, that took the most supreme effort of balance
I think I've ever managed in the history of my life.
Oh, I don't like this at all.
This is so wobbly.
But I'm not sure how long this is going to last, Megan.
Whoa! And at last, Tim has fallen!
I've gone! It's not gone well.
Actually, it's gone better than Tim thinks.
It took 45 minutes to get there, but Tim managed to balance
on an impressive 12 crates, which is 3 metres 66cm high.
That's taller than the top of a fire engine,
which is a really good result.
But let's see how Eskil does.
Let's do it.
Eskil is already working much faster than Tim
to start building his crate tower.
He's making these first few crates look easy.
And then number five...
The point of balance for the body is through the middle -
through the tummy button.
Every time Eskil does a vulnerable move -
putting another crate on top of the pile -
he does so crouched down
to try to reduce the amount of wobble.
Another one, please.
He's controlling his breathing, controlling his movements.
Everything is considered, is thought about.
Crate number seven is more than halfway
to the height of Tim's crate tower.
Eskil is speeding towards Tim's total of 12 crates.
It's just taken him
a lot less time to get used to each new step that he takes.
Eskil doesn't seem to have that fear factor.
He's completely in control of his movements.
See how he's using his breathing and his arms to stabilise himself.
But actually, the central part of his body is barely moving at all,
from the data I'm getting from the accelerometer.
So that's number ten, Eskil.
Ten crates in, and only now
does Eskil's tower show the first signs of wobble.
You're doing really well.
Eskil is now on crate 11.
Moving from crate 11 to 12
is the height that Tim lost his balance and fell.
But Eskil's still able to balance on the crates.
With Eskil, it's not about mind over matter.
It's not that he's frightened of this.
It's just the sheer challenge, physically,
of standing on top of a load of crates.
After only 19 minutes, Eskil is already on crate 15,
three crates higher than Tim managed.
He may be making this look easy,
but his body is working really hard to keep him balanced.
Eskil is now over five metres in the air,
plus his own two-metre height.
And with each new box, he's adding another 30.5cm to that height,
making the tower more and more precarious.
Amazingly, Eskil is now onto his 18th crate.
This is six crates more and almost two metres higher than Tim climbed.
And he's still standing and happy to attempt crate number 19.
Remarkably, the tower is now almost 5 metres 80cm high,
and it's become incredibly unstable.
Eskil managed to stay balanced at over two metres higher then Tim.
He got to an amazing 5.8 metres,
which is around the height of an average giraffe.
As Tim's results show, most people lose their balance
much quicker than Eskil, so what makes him able to do it?
When you're balancing, you need to keep your weight over your feet.
If you start to tip to one side, your brain signals to your muscles
to move the other way, to stop you falling.
But if you're balancing on something unusual,
you're likely to move too far and lose your balance.
Because Eskil has been practising
balancing on unusual things for over 20 years,
his brain has learned to tell his body
to do tiny movements, so he doesn't move too much and lose his balance.
'Tough test! But there are places
'where incredible balance is vital to survive.'
The Korowai tribe live in the Indonesian rainforest.
Balancing is second nature to them
because they live in tree houses over 35 metres above the ground,
taking everything they need up tall bamboo ladders.
If they fell, they would die.
But even the youngest children move with ease amongst the branches
without using ropes or harnesses.
Up high, they escape jungle floods, biting insects and attackers.
For the Korowai,
the higher your tree house, the more you are respected.
For this test, Dr Megan has taken Tim and Eskil
to the Aquatics Center in Pasadena, LA.
Take a look up there. That's a ten-metre-high diving board.
I think that one of the most important things about being able
to balance well is to overcome your body's natural fear of heights.
So to really up the fear factor for today's test,
you're going to be doing it without harnesses.
No harness! You're going to feel free today.
It's really high, Eskil. That's much higher than we were yesterday.
I really don't like heights.
-But you've got water underneath.
-I REALLY don't like heights.
To test Tim and Eskil's fear levels,
Dr Megan will be asking them to perform a number of moves
on the edge of this ten-metre-high diving board.
Move one is to stand on the edge looking out.
Move two is to stand on one leg.
Move three is to stand with their backs to the water
and their heels over the edge of the board.
Move four is to do a handstand right on the edge of the diving board.
I'll be fitting you both with heart-rate monitors.
We know that the more frightened you get, the faster your heart goes.
And I'll be fitting you with GSRs.
They'll show me how sweaty you're getting.
Guys, let's get you kitted up.
Diving boards can be really dangerous
and trying moves like this at such a height could kill you.
Dr Megan has safety lifeguards on stand-by, and Tim and Eskil
have been briefed about the best way to hit the water if they fall.
No-one should ever try anything like this.
Tim, if you can make your way up to the ten-metre board...
OK, I'm coming up.
An average human will feel fear
standing on the edge of something ten metres high
and your brain sends out an alarm to your body,
telling you to get down quickly.
If you don't, your heart starts to race,
your pupils open wider
and your hairs stand on end.
You start sweating.
Eventually, you will begin to panic and become confused.
If you get really scared, you could have a panic attack
and you might pass out and fall off the edge.
Falling from this height
would cause serious injury
and possibly even death.
-How you doing, Tim?
-I don't like this.
If at any point you really feel like you can't go on, that's fine.
-So if you make your way towards the edge of the board
-and just stand still at the edge for ten seconds.
I don't like this.
Tim is terrified of heights
and just standing on the top of the diving board
makes him feel scared - so walking to the edge is a real challenge.
So you can see if you look closely, his legs are already shaking.
He's struggling to stay balanced, even at this position.
His heart rate...
144 beats a minute.
That's over 50 beats a minute extra than what he was doing at rest.
OK, Tim. You did really well in that first position.
If you could step back for me...
-How did that feel?
Yeah, I'm not happy in this environment.
This is not a good environment for me.
Tim found standing at the edge of the diving board so scary
that Dr Megan is concerned that he won't cope with
the next stage of the challenge - balancing on one leg.
It's going to be much harder to balance.
You're already a bit shaky, even here,
so I think it's probably sensible
if you take off this extremely expensive GSR kit.
Do you think that? Did you get my sweat readings?
-We have so far.
Tim is sweating because he's scared.
And this is because when your brain thinks you're in danger,
it immediately starts sending signals
to adrenal glands near your kidneys.
These glands release a hormone called adrenalin into your blood,
which makes your lungs work harder so you breathe more oxygen.
Your heart beats faster to get more blood to your muscles
and two million sweat glands on your skin start sweating
to help you stay cool.
You react like this because when you're scared,
your body gets ready to run away fast from danger.
But will Tim be able to face his fear?
When you feel comfortable, if you can stand on one leg
and hold it for ten seconds, OK?
It's just not a job for a man with a chronic fear of heights!
This is real mind-over-matter stuff for Tim.
Every part of his body is telling him he's in danger
and he should run away, not balance at the edge on one leg!
With a ten-metre drop in front of him, Tim is working really hard
to overcome his fear, but can he complete the Super-Test?
Now, this is a concrete diving board
so if I feel that he's likely to fall and hurt himself,
I'm going to have to stop him. You can see how much he's shaking.
I just can't do this, Megan.
Tim can't control his fear, as his brain is making him feel scared
to keep him away from danger.
This is because your brain is made up of lots of different bits,
and there's a special bit that feels fear called the amygdalae.
When you're up high, your eyes send a signal to your brain
so you know you where you are.
Then your amygdalae check with your memory banks
to see what you know about heights.
For most people, your amygdalae decide that
you are in danger of falling and they'll make you feel scared.
This then triggers signals to your adrenal glands to start working
and then you get you ready to run away.
Tim, you were just so shaky
I think there was a real risk of you falling.
I'm not happy with you carrying on.
I don't want you to hurt yourself.
We need to keep you going for Super-Test Three.
-Aw, you care!
Tim's fear of heights eventually proved too much
and he attempted only two of the moves Dr Megan had planned.
But this is a normal human reaction.
Now Dr Megan wants to see how Eskil reacts.
So for this one, if you make your way to the end of the diving board
and just stand still for about ten seconds.
He seems completely comfortable.
Even just how quickly he walked to the end of the diving board.
So, how will Eskil get on standing on one leg,
which is as far as Tim got in this Super-Test?
In your own time.
So even trying to balance on one leg at ground level is really difficult.
This is a seriously dangerous challenge.
Even in your local pool, you should just NOT try this at home.
You've been amazing so far.
What I'd like you to do for the next challenge is stand
with your heels over the edge of the diving board, facing back at me.
Just getting into position for this move is dangerous.
Eskil's ten metres up but he doesn't seem fazed at all.
This is extremely uncomfortable to watch.
It might be uncomfortable to watch,
but Eskil completes the move as if he's standing at ground level.
So it's been absolutely incredible watching you so far.
-Do you feel ready to take the next challenge?
-Yeah, I'll do it.
Do you feel that you could do a handstand up here?
Definitely, I'll do it.
Eskil didn't think twice about that!
He's showing no fear about performing this handstand at all.
Human instinct is not to do this at all.
It's absolutely terrifying just standing up here.
Even at ten metres high, Eskil has so little fear
he confidently performs an incredibly dangerous handstand.
Completely in awe of what he's managing up here.
That was so impressive. How do you feel in yourself now?
This makes me happy.
Eskil wasn't at all scared
and easily managed to complete all of Dr Megan's four moves.
Unlike me! But I've heard of a man who would have loved it.
Charles Blondin was born in France almost 200 years ago.
When he was just five years old,
he started performing as an acrobat and was soon travelling the world.
When he saw the mighty Niagara Falls in America,
Charles wanted to be the first person to cross it on a tightrope.
Thousands of people watched as he attempted this incredible feat
across the waterfall on only a thin rope.
And he did it! Not just once, but again blindfolded.
Then again, carrying a man on his back.
And yet again, stopping in the middle to balance on a chair!
Dr Megan is combining balance and fear
in her third and most extreme test. She's taken Tim and Eskil
to some of the highest cliff faces in the world.
This is the unique Grand Canyon, Arizona.
From where we are on this ridge down to the Colorado river below,
it's a 1,200 metre drop.
This is a very serious and potentially dangerous challenge.
In this terrifying test,
Dr Megan has secured a chair to the Grand Canyon
and wants to see whether Tim and Eskil can do a handstand
on top of it, and on the edge of this 1,200-metre-high cliff.
It is a seriously dangerous undertaking.
They're both being connected up to a harness,
rigged to a special crane,
and I've got an expert in climbing on stand-by.
If they were to lose their balance,
I'd be able to stop them plummeting right down to the bottom.
I cannot stress enough how dangerous going near the edge of a cliff is,
and I would not be even thinking of running this test
without all the experts here.
Even with the safety harness and climbing experts on stand-by,
this is still a very dangerous test -
and not something to be copied.
With the safety harness in place, Tim is up first to face the Canyon -
but if he couldn't manage standing on a ten-metre diving board
in Super-Test Two,
how is he going to cope with a 1,200-metre drop
balancing on a chair?
-If you look behind you, there's a chair on a platform.
If you're comfortable, I was hoping you could stand on that chair.
Are you out of your tiny mind? Are you mad?
Remember you are in a safety harness, Tim.
If either you or I feel it's unsafe, we'll stop.
I will do my best, Doctor. I will do my best.
This is the most terrifying test so far.
Tim has to use all his concentration to walk to the edge -
and then go even higher.
Whoa! Incredibly, Tim has managed to climb the chair
and balance on the edge of this deadly drop.
It might be that he feels less scared cos he is wearing a harness,
or it could be that Tim has learned something
from watching Eskil over the last two tests.
How are you feeling, Tim?
I'm shaking. My legs are shaking.
My arms are solid. My legs are shaking.
So a bit shaky, then, but Tim's succeeded.
Dr Megan, though, hasn't finished yet.
Before she asks him to try the handstand finale,
she has one more test for him.
If you feel that you're able to,
I'd like to try and stand on one leg.
Are... Are you having a laugh?
Oh, my goodness me.
I'm shaking all over. This is just unbelievable.
It IS unbelievable. For an average person to perform this move
at 1,200 metres is incredible.
Ho, ho! That is a long way down. Can I step away now?
-Tim, please step away.
Tim has done amazingly well,
but he's decided this is as far as he wants to go.
Dr Megan will not ask him to try a handstand.
Now it's time for Eskil to attempt the test.
He normally performs without a harness but for this test,
he has agreed to wear one under his suit to catch him if he falls.
But Eskil has no fear of falling.
He's even asked for more chairs to make the test more difficult.
To do this test, he's asked for complete silence.
He must focus all his concentration. Anything less could be fatal.
Remember, even doing this with one chair at home
is extremely dangerous and should not be attempted -
but on the edge of the Grand Canyon?!
And unbelievably, he's now added a third chair.
He's made it to the top of the chair stack -
but can he now take the ultimate test and perform a handstand?
At this height, any normal person would be feeling
an intense fear of falling -
but performing a handstand over this 1,200 metre drop,
Eskil is as steady as a rock.
That is extraordinary, isn't it?
It's absolutely magnificent.
Eskil has done it - one man balanced on three stacked chairs
at the edge of the Grand Canyon.
It's an absolutely incredible performance!
Tim did manage to overcome his fear
and stand on one leg on one chair -
but Eskil really has taken this Super-Test to new heights.
Eskil, that was a phenomenal example of physical and mental strength.
How do you feel now?
This is probably the best feeling I can achieve in my life.
What you've done is truly extraordinary.
If I had not seen that with my own eyes, I would not have believed it.
I came looking for a superhero,
a real-life man with super balance and absolutely no fear.
I found one. Eskil Ronningsbakken, you are superhuman!
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Tim Fitzhigham meets the humans who defy science and puts their powers to the test - against himself. Tim meets Eskil Ronningsbakken - a man who has cycled along a tightrope over a 1km drop, performed a one-handed handstand on an ice cube over a waterfall and balanced on a ladder at the edge of a 550 metre cliff. But do these amazing balancing stunts make him a real-life Daredevil?
Tim challenges Eskil to three super tests in order to prove, or disprove, these death-defying superhuman powers. Can Tim and Eskil balance on the edge of the Grand Canyon in the USA, on a chair while doing a handstand? This is exactly as dangerous as it sounds, so Tim uses state-of-the-art technology, real medical science and his very own mission doctor as he prepares for his challenges.
Is Eskil Ronningsbakken a real-life Daredevil? Be prepared to be amazed by Super Human Challenge!