With Donald Trump going completely off the deep end (and yet somehow emerging as the leading Republican Presidential candidate by a wide margin), Bear Grylls has emerged as NBC’s most popular reality show host.
With Get Out Alive, The Island and Running Wild, the iconic survival expert has had three different shows on the network in recent years. And the recently launched second season of Running Wild, which pairs Grylls with celebrities such as actress Kate Hudson and New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees in often grueling wilderness environments, suggests Grylls isn’t going away anytime soon.
In our Bear Grylls Interview, Grylls– a former reservist in the British Special Forces (SAS) who later climbed Everest and crossed the North Atlantic and the Northwest Passage in an inflatable boat– recently spoke to us about the spirit essential to survival, his favorite (and least favorite) environments to explore, and Running Wild’s second season.
Can you talk about the survival spirit you look for among the people you feature on your shows?
I think the wild is always revealing, you know? I say to these guys right at the start, “Don’t impress me with your words, impress me with your actions.” I explain to them the qualities that keep people alive in the wild, and these are the qualities I’m looking for. It’s courage, resourcefulness, determination, teamwork, humility and kindness. It’s easy to show those qualities when everything’s going well– when you’re well-fed and the weather’s kind to and you’ve got all you gear. But it becomes harder to hide when you’re starving and the weather’s just torrential driving rain.
Do you think anyone can be taught to hack it as a survivalist, or does it require a certain type of personality?
We all have it in us. Some people come at it with machismo, thinking they’ve got it all, but when they’re pushed they actually don’t. Other people come at it saying,”I’ve never done anything like this and I’m terrified.” But you just give them a few pointers and hold their hand a little bit initially. Then, when the squeeze comes on, they fly. So it’s all about putting that squeeze on and getting to the real heart of people. We all have the heart of the survivor, but sometimes it’s buried under a lot of stuff.
What sort of advice do you give to people who want to learn how to survive in the wild?
Probably the most important advice I give them is at the end of their training. It’s really about the psychology of this brutal experience they’re about to go through. You’re going somewhere where there’s a bare minimum of everything. You’re going to be dehydrated, you’re going to be starving, sometimes not eating for days and days and days on end. You’re sleeping on the ground, which is rough. You’ve got snakes and bugs to contend with, and it can be really brutal. But remember the pain won’t last forever, and this is your chance to show what you’re made of. If you’re made of sterner stuff, you don’t crumble when the pressure is on.
For Running Wild, how do you select the location and celebrity to experience it?
We try and pick diverse wildernesses that will stretch these guys. And we kind of elongate it according to who we have. Some people are fitter and stronger than others. But the great thing about Running Wild is that it’s not really about how fit or strong people are. It’s about getting to know these guys in a really honest and open way, and then pushing them a little bit and empowering them with cool skills. Hopefully we get a great adventure along the way.
Can you talk about filming the first episode, with Kate Hudson in the Dolomites?
Filming in the Dolomites with Kate was super fun. It was demanding, but she wanted the full experience. She’s actually a really tough girl, and she’s into this sort of stuff. It was the ultimate adventure playground, really, with big mountains, sheer cliffs, snow, avalanches, forest, rivers, the whole lot. She should be really proud of how she did. She was amazing.
It’s obvious she learned a lot from you. Did you learn anything from her along the way?
A lot! She told me not to argue with the long-haired colonel, because the woman is always right. (Laughs) But seriously, she taught me not to judge a book by its cover. Just because somebody is a movie star and a girly-girl, it doesn’t mean they’re not also strong and determined. She was fearless and really went for it, which is inspiring to see. A lot of these stars live mega-busy and often complicated lives. I think for them to have a bit of space and time just to explore and express themselves is often quite a moving thing for them.
What’s your favorite extreme environment to explore?
I’ve learned over the years that the viewers’ favorite environments are different from mine. They like to see me up to my neck in the bad stuff, but I’ve learned to like the gentler ones. The jungle is always hard because of the unseen dangers. It doesn’t matter how big or brave you are, something always creeps up and bites on the backside, and you’re not always going to walk away from it. When you’re dealing with snakes and crocs and all sorts of creepy-crawlies, you’ve got to have your wits about you. So I’m always cautious in the jungle, and relieved when we get out of it. Drew Brees was a great person to take to that, because it is a demanding environment. You can’t take your eye off the ball for a second, and he really thrived on that.
What is your favorite part of filming the show and taking celebrities under your wing?
Getting to know the real people and being reminded that– whoever you are, however famous you are– everybody puts their trousers on one leg at a time. We all have struggles and doubts, highs and lows. It’s also about realizing that there’s a reason why these guys are at the top of their field. They might not have done this kind of adventure before, but they’ve excelled in their field because they have great attitudes and they’re determined. They know how to deal with risk and failure. It’s a great reminder that those qualities actually are what matters in the wild. You really get to know the real person when it’s been raining solidly for 24 hours, or you’re freezing cold and hungry and beaten up. That’s the great privilege of Running Wild for me. – by Bret Love