Face of Flanders: Tom Waes


TV personality Tom Waes has won this season's TV quiz show De slimste mens ter wereld, coming back from a crushing defeat five years ago

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The first time he appeared on the celebrity quiz show De slimste mens ter wereld, Tom Waes survived for only two appearances before being eliminated. That season was won by the VRT journalist Linda De Win.

Five years later, and Waes was in the final, the leading scorer to date with a record-equalling 11 appearances, and he was facing two VRT journalists – Kobe Ilsen of Volt and Danira Boukhriss Terkessidis of Koppen XL. And this time he was victorious, the first candidate in the show’s history to come back and win.

Waes was born in Antwerp in 1968 and studied German languages before taking a diving course in Scotland and working for seven years as a diver off North Sea oil platforms. It was an early sign of his taste for adventure.

Waes is now famous for his derring-do: on the day after his Slimste mens win was broadcast, he was already off filming a new series of his travel show Reizen Waes (Traveling Waes) in the jungle of Bangladesh.

That spirit has also seen him take on the Marathon des Sables, a 250k race through the desert of Morocco over six days. He holds the Belgian record for ski-jumping and for a time held the pizza-eating speed record. In 2014, he represented VRT in the programme Wauters vs Waes, in challenges chosen by viewers against singing star Koen Wauters (representing VTM). There was sauna endurance, the Bordeaux-Paris cycle race on antique bikes, cliff diving and a modern pentathlon (in which he sustained bruised ribs, torn stomach muscles and two kicks from his horse).

Waes is, you might not be surprised to learn, fiercely competitive. He turned up for the entire final week of De slimste mens to get back into the zone, even though he wasn’t scheduled to appear until the last episode. “Tom Waes has the willpower of a top athlete, without being one,” sports doctor Peter Hespel, who trained him for the Marathon des Sables, told De Standaard.

“He could never get over the fact that he was out so early five years ago,” said his partner Mieke Morel. “That was not going to happen twice.”

Photo: Jokko/VRT