“There is no way that this is real, it can’t be. I’m so incredibly overwhelmed and thankful that I’m at a complete loss for words.”
With these words the winner of the Toyota Fortuner Challenge 2023, Jan Withaar, representing Independent Media and IOL, wrapped up two days of gruelling challenges in scorching Stellenbosch heat.
Withaar was chosen to represent Independent Media after sending in his application along with a few thousand other hopefuls and this year it turned out we had a winner on our hands.
He and three other competitors represented by Arena Holdings, Maroela Media and SuperSport would be teamed up with four “heroes” and tackle a series of physical and mental challenges that would test them to the limit for the ultimate prize of a Toyota Fortuner.
The four heroes this year were Toyota motorsport legend Giniel de Villiers, veteran Fortuner Challenge competitor and Toyota Cheetahs rugby player Oupa Mohojé, South African judoka, Olympian, and Commonwealth Games gold medalist, Geronay Whitebooi and Sam Sanders, a professional cyclist and marathon rider who has South African colours.
Teams were randomly paired by pulling a coloured ball out of a bag which saw him paired up with racing ace and Challenge veteran De Villiers.
From there it was game face on as they ticked off each challenge starting with a weights and mathematical problem solving by the heroes that allowed them to add or subtract weights from their own or other competitors. Turns out De Villiers doesn’t only have a knack for winning in the Hilux Dakar bakkie but also a head for numbers.
Balancing a tennis ball on a plank anchored by ropes and extending their distance from the ball in a limited time followed and if they leant backwards to ease the pain in their arms or back or didn’t move fast enough it was a disqualification.
By now the sun was beating down with spectators heading for the shade and it had only just begun.
Being blindfolded by welding goggles and put into a large plastic ball to be guided by the hero towards four Fortuners and asked product related questions was entertaining to watch but taxing on those in the bubble with all sense of direction and speed out the window.
Tethered to a pole by a bungee cord, picking up weighted medicine balls and placing them outside a marked circle had eight contestants exhausted before lunch with more to come.
A timed wheel change on the rear wheel of a Fortuner and putting a puzzle together in the rear of South Africa’s most popular SUV with the vehicle reversing every minute or so up a very steep metal ramp rounded off the day’s activities.
But like they say… That’s not all.
Just when competitors were admiring the sunset after a tough day a “stalk the Fortuner” challenge threw a spanner in the works.
They were dropped off, given the coordinates of where the Fortuner was and using their Garmin epix (Gen 2) sapphire edition smartwatch had to see who could get closest without being spotted by the instructors who were constantly roaming around.
“That was my favourite task of the day, we didn’t know whether to crawl, hide, make a detour or run but with only three minutes to spare we were the only team to make it,” a relieved Withaar said.
It was tight but things were looking up for team Independent but you never know how the judges score and there was another full day of challenges ahead.
It started with a cycle loop on their Specialized (crt) bicycles which was our man’s speciality as he slammed through the course and tapped De Villiers who then had to run 400 metres up a dirt road to answer a question. If it was correct, collect a tennis ball, run back, tap Withaar and the process would repeat itself four times.
If the answer was wrong another cycle loop and run up the hill awaited until all four balls were in the bucket.
It was also a lot warmer than the previous day so litres of water were being used to hydrate and cool aching bodies.
The balls had to be edged along a narrow plank and slotted into four different holes, not easy when you still have sweat in your eyes and sore muscles.
A doubles padel tennis match followed that saw Withaar and De Villiers take the laurels.
The final and probably the most taxing mentally and physically challenge awaited and you could see the strain starting to tell as the chance to win a Fortuner hovered over competitors.
Using their Garmins they were given a coordinate to find a key for the Thuli top box that had to be unlocked to reveal an inflatable stand-up paddle board. Pulling the board across a dam saw them find another set of coordinates to locate the paddle so they could follow a set route around coloured buoys.
Still, one challenge remained that involved careering around a cycling pump track to collect four golf balls that had to be manoeuvred up a large cut-out Toyota logo and dropped through a hole at the top of it by a curved piece of wood by a rope on either side by each team.
If the ball fell, except through the designated hole, another lap of the pump track was required to get it back.
It involved serious teamwork and communication and when the final horn eventually blew, eight exhausted competitors breathed an exhausted collective sigh of relief.
“I was thrilled when I got the call to say I had been selected but had no idea what to expect. It’s been an incredible experience and I can’t thank Geniel enough for his calm and tempered approach, he is a large part of why we won.
“I’m honoured to have been a part and it’s going to take a while for it all to sink in,” Withaar said.
Apart from the Toyota Fortuner fitted with Thule racks he also walks away with a Thule Chasm luggage set, clothing and footwear from Salomon, the Specialized bicycle, Garmin smartwatch and a R15 000 Total Fuel card.