Behind the scenes with SI swimsuit model Kate Upton

Feb 17, 2013 at 2:45 p.m. ET

In an unprecedented endeavor, Sports Illustrated and Travel Channel teamed up this year to bring audiences a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the magazine’s iconic annual ode to the swimsuit. Airing tonight at 8 p.m. ET, "Sports Illustrated: The Making of Swimsuit ’13 – 7 Continents, 17 Wonders" follows the cast and crew as they traverse the globe in search of the perfect shots.

Kate Upton in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issueTo get the skinny on how this collaboration came to be, SheKnows chatted with Travel Channel general manager Andrew Singer, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit editor M.J. Day, and supermodels Kate Upton and Genevieve Morton.

There exists a preconception that models — particularly of the swimsuit variety — are all just lying around on a sunny beach somewhere. But in truth, there is much more to modeling than mai tais and suntan lotion. Just ask Kate Upton.

When Sports Illustrated decided to visit all seven continents to create the 2013 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition, Upton got tasked with baring her bikini body on the icy terrain of Antarctica.

"It really was one of the most difficult shoots I've ever been on," asserts Upton. "It's very difficult for a Floridian to, you know, go out in a bikini whenever it's below 70!"

To make it through the frigid shoot, the rising supermodel relied on mind over matter.

"I was thinking warm thoughts, and the whole team was there to help me and support me by bringing me blankets, and heaters, and hot teas, so it ended up working out," she explains.

But Upton — who suffered frostbite from her shoot — wasn't the only model to take one for the team.

"They captured the breathtaking imagery from the farthest corner of the globe,” says Travel Channel GM Andy Singer. "We had everything from battling sandstorms in the African dunes to traversing treacherous cliffs in China."

Echoes M.J. Day, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit's senior editor, "This is not a typical fashion crew. These are hardcore adventurers. You know they really have a lust for life and want to experience the things around the world that we do, because it's not for the faint of heart."

Modeling, says Upton, is likewise no joke.

"I think that modeling is not as easy as it seems," she says. "It takes a certain person to be able to feel comfortable in front of a camera, especially being in a vulnerable state — like freezing in Antarctica."

The degree of difficulty increases exponentially for a model, though, when she's asked to make history. Upton would be part of the first fashion shoot to take place on the uninhabited continent of Antarctica. The first day the crew landed, a full-blown blizzard made shooting impossible.

"The weather's unpredictable, and the pressure was on," exclaims Upton, who wondered if they would get the shot they wanted.

But they did. And one of those shots was ultimately chosen to grace this year's cover — a fact Upton found out via Twitter feed.

She laughs, "It was like a surreal moment. I was like, Is it true? Is it not? And I was just so happy to see a photo from Antarctica, because it was such an amazing shoot. I just wanted to see the final outcome, and that it was on the cover was even more amazing."

Upton's Antarctica cover made history within the magazine as well — following Christie Brinkley and Elle Macpherson, she became only the third model ever to land back-to-back solo covers.

Genevieve Morton in Sports Illustrated

Back-to-back covers or not, however, models and the inevitable crew and equipment they bring are not always welcomed with open arms by locals. Such was not the case here, according to Upton and her fellow supermodel, Genevieve Morton.

The locals, Morton believes, truly enjoyed having Sports Illustrated around.

"I think that they always feel quite willing to help us with everything that we want to do, and to be part of it, and proud to be part of it, and to be showing off their country and what they have to offer the rest of the world."

Certainly a departure from swimsuit editions of years past, the 2013 SI Swimsuit issue marks the magazine's 50th year putting out the special interest publication.

"It was a very ambitious effort that we took upon ourselves, and we wanted to do it because we kind of thought the moment was right," says Day.

According to Singer, partnering with the publication to create the TV special was a no-brainer.

"We think this is the perfect show for the Travel Channel," he exclaims. "Our mission is to provide programming that continues to reimagine the travel experience, and this special certainly provides more than just spectacular scenery."

This particular travel experience took over 230 hours, 90,000 air miles, 10,000 photos, and 100 hours of video to culminate. The crew lugged upwards of 35 to 45 pieces of equipment and luggage and between 400 to 800 bathing suits all over the globe. But, assures everyone involved, the end result was well worth the Herculean effort.

Says Upton of her leg of the journey in Antarctica, "It's the most beautiful place I've ever been. The mountains turn pink. The water is glassy. I mean, it's indescribable. Honestly, I could go on and on. You really have to watch the Travel Channel."

And if the special inspires you to visit such glacial vistas? Well, laughs Upton, "Keep your clothes on!"

Kate Upton image credit: Derek Kettella/Sports Illustrated; Genevieve Morton image credit: James Macari/Sports Illustrated