Sam Wood is sitting in the corner of a bustling Bills café in Sydney’s Surry Hills, looking every inch like a guy who starred on one of Australia’s most popular dating shows.
Lightly tanned with thick, brown hair greying around the temples, blue eyes and a perfectly proportioned physique, he greets me with a huge smile and hearty handshake, as we exchange pleasantries on the rain that’s tumbling down outside.
You’re immediately struck by Sam Wood’s lack of affectation or pretence, his down-to-earth demeanour and impeccable manners, a product, you suspect, of his Tassie upbringing. You can see why the producers at Channel 10 picked him as their prize paramour – and de facto embodiment of Australian masculinity – for the 2015 season of The Bachelor Australia.
And why a bunch of the country’s most beautiful women might want to date him and how one of them, his now wife, Snez, would fall for him. I had assumed Wood, 42, was one of those guys that women want. But, I wondered, did men want to be him?
The answer, I’m happy to report after a very pleasant hour in his company, is an unequivocal yes. And not just because he’s got a Marvel-level physique or because he sold a stake in his app, 28 by Sam Wood, for a gobsmacking $71 million. For me, it’s because once upon a time, before his life was hijacked by the kind of narrative flourish you might expect of a sozzled screenwriter, Wood was a shy, skinny teenager who had turned to the gym in search of confidence. Once he found it, along with a corresponding passion for helping others get in shape, there was no stopping him. When his big break came, he managed to turn potential and possibility – plus a frankly ludicrous premise – into the closest thing there is to a modern fairy tale.
“I was a pretty quiet, self-conscious kid from Tassie,” Wood tells me over a plate of zucchini fritters. “Even now I have moments of imposter syndrome and disbelief that this whole thing has reached the levels that it has and almost like I don’t belong here and the whole thing could come crashing down at any moment.”
You’d have to say that’s an understandable and probably healthy reaction to stardom. Feelings of inadequacy and doubt don’t just disappear when you find success. At least, you hope they don’t. It’s that uncertainty that helps keep you grounded. The thing about Wood is he’s never tried to fool anyone. Despite appearances, he’s not Prince Charming and if this is a fairy tale, it’s only when viewed through Instagram’s heavily filtered lens. Deep down, he’s still that skinny teenager looking to live his best life. In the crazy, confected world of celebrity glitz and glamour, he probably is an imposter. That’s the rub with authenticity: if you’re truly for real, when success and all its trappings arrive, you should feel like a fake.
Wood’s story begins in West Hobart in 1980, where he was the eldest of three kids. His sister, Hannah, is three years younger than him and his brother, Alex, three years younger than her. His dad owned a catering company, a job that saw him work long hours and weekends. When the family did see him, Wood says, he was grumpy or stressed.
For the most part it was an upbringing typical of the late ’80s and ’90s until Wood was 15, when his mum passed away from cancer. “That turned my world and our whole family’s lives upside down,” Wood says. “My dad, we didn’t know him that well because he was always working. When Mum passed away, he sold his business and just took care of the three of us. Didn’t work for three years until he ran out of money, basically. I have such respect and appreciation for the sacrifice Dad made and everything that he did for us in such a tough time for him, too.”
It was in this period, after his mother’s passing, that Wood would discover the gym. He’d always loved sport and did his best to play footy, cricket and basketball. His problem, he says, was that his beanpole frame made him awkward. “I’m 6’3 and 100 kilos now and I was 6’3 and 68 kilos at 17,” he says. “I was very lanky and I wanted to gain some confidence. I was probably more self-conscious about it than I realised.”
His quest to bulk up was slow and painstaking, he says. He barely added a kilo every six months. But he was fascinated by what the body could do if you challenged it and fed it right. He kept eating, kept lifting, kept poring over issues of MH for tips, slowly and methodically building his rig into something he was proud of.
As high school progressed, Wood was unsure what he wanted to do with his life. “I was the kid who, three days before we were meant to start work experience, I’m asking our PE teacher if I can hang out with him and he’s going, ‘Geez, you’re disorganised, mate – but all right’.”
After school, like many Tassie kids, he headed to the mainland, having decided to pursue the thing he was passionate about and study exercise science in Ballarat. While he was there, a trainer named Craig Harper delivered a talk on the world of personal training that would change Wood’s life – well, it seemed that way at the time; though, in terms of narrative heft, it pales in comparison to what would happen later. Wood was spellbound by Harper’s tales of a lavish, pristine facility catering to a hungry client base. “He painted this exquisite visual picture of this thousand-square-metre PT studio with a running track round the outside,” Wood recalls. “This was 2000. PT was relatively young. He’d established a pretty good studio, only did one-on-one training and he had 30 trainers. Back then, that was pretty incredible. He was a real pioneer.”
Wood “begged and pleaded” with Harper to let him do work experience at this mythical gym in bayside Brighton. “I just said, ‘Please. I’ll scrub toilets at 5am. Please’.” Harper was won over by the kid’s enthusiasm and it wasn’t long afterwards that Wood was showing up at 5 in the morning as promised, working through until 8. “I was just a sponge soaking up all this information and my head was exploding with the excitement of it all,” he says. “It was like, This is just like how I imagined it, but better.” By the end of the stint Harper had offered him a job with the caveat that he finish his degree in Melbourne.
Right from the beginning, Wood killed it at Harper’s gym, quickly amassing up to 60 clients a week. Harper was incredulous at his charge’s progress. “He said, ‘What, you’re earning $3500 a week?’ I said, ‘Yeah’. I was 20. He’s like, ‘Oh my god, what are you doing? What marketing are you doing?’ I said, ‘No, no marketing’. It was all word of mouth.”
Wood had quickly found that his best marketing tool was his passion. “It was like my enthusiasm just got me clients because I’d train these beautiful Brighton families and I’d tell them my life story,” he says. “I’d pour my heart out. I was pretty raw and honest and vulnerable. Next thing, they’re like, ‘You should train our neighbour. You should train our son’. It just spread.”
Wood worked in Harper’s gym for six years before deciding he’d like to strike out on his own with an idea for a kid’s gym. Harper would join him with a 30 per cent stake. “There was something a little bit comforting about that,” Wood says of having his mentor by his side. “We took over an old garage and we turned it into Australia’s first ever kid’s gym.”
‘Geckos’ as they would call it, was “a sport and exercise paradise” for kids aged 5-15. It quickly became a hit with local families, but the challenge came when Wood tried to expand and encountered a problem many young entrepreneurs face: there’s only one of you. “You can’t duplicate yourself,” Wood says. “The success of this one centre was very heavily based around the fact that I was there 70 hours a week and knew every kid and every parent’s name.”
He remembers launching a Geckos in Sydney to a lot of fanfare only to check in six months later and find it in disarray. “The equipment kit was all banged up in the corner and you’d say to people, ‘How’s Geckos going?’ They’d say, ‘What’s Geckos?’ It would really tail off and it wasn’t something I was proud of.”
Eventually he pivoted to a franchise model aimed at PE teachers and PTs who loved working with kids. “That worked much better because you had direct contact with the business owner and the buck stopped with them,” he says. He had 35 franchises by the time he eventually sold the company. He also opened his own premium space, The Woodshed, in Brighton East. Again, these were pivotal moments in his life but looking back now, they can seem, to an outsider, like minor, tertiary details. That’s because something preposterous was about to happen.
When looking at Wood’s life, it’s tempting to divide it into pre-and-post-Bachelor ‘epochs’. Indeed, that’s not just neat from a narrative perspective, it’s something Wood himself does, so seismic has been the impact of the show on he and Snez’s lives. “I’ve gone from being a 35-year-old guy with no girlfriend and no kids thinking, I really thought I’d be married or at least engaged by now, to married with four kids,” he says, shaking his head as if he’s still struggling to comprehend the startling trajectory his life has taken. “It feels like two years because it’s been such a wild ride. It doesn’t feel like seven.”
So, where did the fairy tale begin? Where you might expect: the gym. “I had a lady, Kelly, diehard member,” he says. “I’d be sitting at reception and she’d come in and quiz me about my love life. I’d say, ‘Look, nothing to report at the moment, Kelly’. She’d be like ‘This is ridiculous, Sam. You should go on that Bachelor show’.” Eventually Kelly wore him down and he submitted an application. “I did it thinking, It’ll keep Kelly happy – as if anything’s going to come from this.”
He would get a phone call the very next day. Soon he was flying to Sydney where he found himself in front of a boardroom of Channel 10 and Endemol Shine execs. “I remember as I left that meeting, the chief executive of Channel 10 said, ‘Don’t go and do anything radical with your hair or anything like that. I said, ‘This is pretty much how I am, mate. I’m not getting neck tattoos or anything over the next few weeks’.”
Three weeks later the gig was his, though Wood still didn’t really appreciate the enormity or, indeed, the basic premise of what he’d got himself into. Two days before filming, an executive producer asked him what he thought of the show. “I go, ‘I’ve never seen it’, and he goes, ‘What?’ I said, ‘Mate, I’ve never seen one minute of one episode’.” He said, ‘Let’s start filming and see what happens’.”
That first night of filming Wood had screech-owl eyes. “My head was spinning and there was a different girl coming down the driveway every five minutes and there were 500 cameras and I was totally spaced out,” he laughs. The producer quickly picked up on the potential of Wood’s guileless, unvarnished charm to win over audiences. “He loved it. He goes, ‘You know what, you’ve got no preconceived ideas, you don’t have an agenda, you’re not trying to act. It’s just you trying to work this fucking thing out. It’s making great TV because every reaction is a real one. This is the best thing ever’.”
Even better was the part that in a sorry script reads as cliched, but in the jaded prism through which most of us view reality TV is just plain fanciful: he met the love of his goddamn life. “You sort of get the impression when you’re part of the beast that is The Bachelor, that they either want a train wreck or a beautiful love story,” he says. “And because I fell in love with Snez, they were like, This is magic. Just let it happen.”
To this day, he and Snez, who was from Perth and had been convinced to go on the show by her then eight-year-old daughter, Eve, shake their heads at the ridiculousness of their meeting. “I don’t know if I was cynical but I was very much a realist going in,” Wood says. “I hoped that I would meet someone, but I never thought I’d meet my future wife. Even today – almost monthly, I reckon – Snez and I have a little giggle to ourselves. I think it was just meant to be.”
Calm with the chaos
Let’s face it, you’d be a mug to waste a platform like The Bachelor. Wood isn’t a mug. In the aftermath of the show, he was inundated with enquiries about The Woodshed and from people asking him to write them programs. He began to think about launching an online platform that could help people on their fitness journeys Australia-wide.
“I’d always looked at Michelle Bridges and at Kayla [Itsines] and gone, Pretty amazing what these guys do. I always had the belief that I could potentially do something like that if I had the reach. It was a very hopeful, fleeting thought.”
Wood saw a gap in the market for a less rigorous, movement-focused platform that would encourage participants to build slowly and gradually towards their fitness goals. “I felt like these other programs were too intense,” he says. “Train for an hour a day, count every calorie, and I’m like, that’s not my attitude. My attitude is I just want to help people move more, eat better, be a bit more mindful, take baby steps in the right direction. Progress not perfection.”
Having always worked in 28-day blocks with clients, it made sense to make the program geared to the same cycle, he says. He began with a website and didn’t do any advertising. The results were immediate. “We had 5000 subscribers in three months paying $50 a month and it just blew my mind.”
The site and later the app took off but it was during COVID that its popularity really exploded, as home workouts became a necessity-driven phenomenon. “28 went bananas because people were so much more aware of training at home,” Wood says. “Where it might have taken 10 years to get on people’s radar, it was all brought to a head in six weeks.”
Suddenly the business had become a very valuable commodity and with the help of his childhood mate, David Jackson, formerly of PriceWaterhouseCoopers, in May last year Wood was able to sell a stake in the company to DNA testing company MyDNA Inc. for $71 million.
At the same time as his business was taking off, Wood’s family was also growing at an exponential rate, with the arrival of Willow in 2017, Charlie in 2019 and Harper in May last year. “It’s definitely challenging, but the best thing ever,” Wood says of fatherhood. “I consider myself so lucky. Thinking back to my dad, it took a tragedy for him to get to know us as deeply as he would have wanted to. I didn’t want his regrets to be my regrets.”
Looking for a crack in the fairy tale? You don’t have to look that hard, Wood reckons. “We always get asked, ‘How do you guys get the balance so perfect?’ It’s like, You’re kidding. We’re a circus! You might see a nice picture on Instagram, but behind the scenes we’re as chaotic as any household.”
It’s a crazy life and sometimes, Sam Wood says, it can become too much. It’s during those moments that he’s lucky to be able to lean on the one person who knows just how much his life has changed. “There was definitely a period there, probably two years into 28 when it was really rocketing, that it was almost this out-of-body experience where you’re looking at it and going, This is not really happening to me. It was Snez that got me through that. We’ve both been through such a ridiculous experience. She was a real rock. She was just like, ‘No, trust your gut. You do deserve this. Keep doing what you’re doing’.”
She didn’t say it, but she might have added, Just keep being yourself.
Get Stacked Like Sam Wood
Sam Wood took three months to physically prepare for this MH cover. “I was in the best shape of my life,” he says. “I did a lot of extra work. I was very good with my food. I’m normally an eight of 10. For this I was a 10 out of 10. No alcohol, high protein, fewer carbs, and I definitely did more from a fat-burning perspective with extra cardio sessions. I’m like, This is only three months of my life. I don’t want to stuff it up.”
Wood mixes up his upper-body exercises but insists on having one from each of the following lifts:
1. Horizontal press
Bench Press, dumbbell press, incline press or push-ups
2. Vertical pull
Lat pulldown, chin-ups
3. Horizontal pull
Seated row, cable Pull
4. Vertical press
Dumbbell shoulder press, barbell shoulder press
Wood alternates between heavier lifting weeks in which he does
5 sets (2 warm-up, 3 working) of 5-8 reps with 2mins rest and a week of lighter/higher-rep sessions – 5 x 10-12 reps.
He also throws in supplementary arm exercises – dumbbell curls, triceps pull-down – as well as core work.