"Does Bear Grylls have to do all this stuff? No, but you might."
~ Tagline from The Discovery Channel's "Man vs. Wild"
As I'm sure I've mentioned several times in the past, I'm a recovering TV-holic. In fact, I might need to stop saying "recovering" and just embrace my pathology. I love television! And of the TV I love, The Discovery Channel ranks high on my list. Of the Discovery Channel fare I watch regularly, which includes "Myth Busters," "Ca$h Cab," and "Dirty Jobs," I have become an unredeemable groupie for a show named, "Man vs. Wild" which is "hosted" by a Brit named Bear Grylls.
Let me be clear. If one consults any dictionary worth consulting and looks up the word "stud" he will find this guy's picture. (If this truism somehow does not hold, said dictionary should be immediately thrown from the highest window available, after dousing it with gasoline and setting it on fire.) Please note: Cross-references between such designations as, "hard-core" and "ass-kicker" will also mention Grylls, if said dictionary is of an even higher quality.
By the typical American action hero standards, Grylls seems somewhat far from an imposing physical specimen. Then of course, there's the whole "Englishman" thing. I'm not sure if it's a widely held view or not, but whatever pre-existing feelings you may have had about the Brits being stand-offish, haughty, and well, sissies, leave Bear out of them! (While you're at it, you might want to exclude Sir Ranulph Fiennes as well.) For shear resourcefulness, unqualified moxie, and willingness to "stick out" some very tough situations, this guy is Indiana Jones meets 007 with an extra healthy dose of MacGyver thrown in for good measure.
Hardcore does not begin to describe his exploits in the name of demonstrating survival techniques. (That is exactly what he does: demonstrate vital survival techniques.) Not to put too fine a point on it, but I am certain he could hike across any desert on Earth, while carrying Indiana Jones on his back, and thereafter help John Rambo escape capture by running through the nearest jungle, armed only with his knife, his canteen, and his trusty flint striker.
He'd probably survive on slugs, leaves, flower blossoms, larvae, and small live snakes, all washed down with the "juice" squeezed from fresh elephant dung or his own urine. (He actually drank each of these "beverages" on recent episodes. I kid you not.) During most episodes, my middle daughter and I sit with our mouths agape in complete astonishment over the crap this guy does. My wife generally just shakes her head while saying, "I would just have to die!" under her breath.
When I first began watching the show I wondered where Discovery Channel found this guy, although a recent USAToday column solved that mystery. I don't know from whence the concept for this show originally arose. Even now, I don't even know if the show will last more than a few more episodes. Certainly Grylls has an infrastructure in place to make his exploits more doable. I know, for example, that while Grylls is the "presenter," another individual — an individual with the requisite local knowledge — is the "survival consultant" for the show.
I have little doubt that this incredibly skilled individual briefs Bear on particular issues for a specific episode. At very least this person familiarizes Grylls with survival knowledge that will be germane to the locale from which he will "escape." While Grylls is doing all the stuff he does, there is a two-man camera crew on hand, well, most of the time anyway. (They generally retire to relative safety and comfort at night.) I reckon if things really got off track — as I understand that they have in the past — these guys could intervene to save Bear's life, or call the rescue helicopter or whatever. I can't be sure about all that, but I know that it's Grylls and Grylls alone eating the larvae, swimming across the ice-cold rivers, or trying to sleep in the pouring rain in some rain forest.
I also know this. Bear Grylls is clearly one of the most macho of the macho, by any means of measurement available. What is even more fascinating and frankly, worthy of praise, is the matter-of-fact way he goes about his survival demonstrations. Throughout the show, there is an air of "hey, this sucks, but just in case you're ever caught in a similar situation, take heart!" As someone who has spent more than a few hours wandering in the woods armed with only a compass and a topographical map while enjoying a steady rain, I really appreciate that.
He is always thinking and planning and evaluating. Just as impressive for me is the respect he holds for the simple elegance of the native ways he demonstrates on every show. Whether he's in the Australian Outback surviving with techniques first used by the Aborigines or in Mexico warming himself with a fire normally used by the Native Indians of the region or in Iceland employing an old Viking trick to cook a meal, his respect for their skills never takes a back seat.
Should society ever devolve into some Mad Max scenario, we'll all be more likely to survive a lot longer with Bear's attitude, and just a modicum of his skill. In case there was any doubt, consider this essay an unapologetic salute from a fan.
Bear Grylls rocks!
Do yourself a favor and enjoy his exploits for yourself.
Wilt Alston [send him mail] lives in Rochester, NY, with his wife and three children. When he's not training for a marathon or furthering his part-time study of libertarian philosophy, he works as a principal research scientist in transportation safety, focusing primarily on the safety of subway and freight train control systems.