Last week I had the opportunity to sit in on a conference call with Bear Grylls. The survival expert has a new show, “Running Wild With Bear Grylls,” that premieres Monday on NBC. In the series Bear takes celebrities on an outdoor adventure and tests their mettle. Below is a transcript of the conversation, which includes a hilarious anecdote about Channing Tatum. Other celebrity guests this season include Ben Stiller, Deion Sanders and the premiere episode’s first brave celeb, Zac Efron.
Q: Is there any celebrity that you did not get that you wanted? And do you have plans for a second season?
Bear Grylls: We do have plans for a second season. And as for the guests, I just feel really lucky that we got such incredible stars to join us. And total credit to all six of the guests we had. They threw themselves into it 120% – nobody said, “Hold back”. I said, “Come on your own. No entourage and just trust me.” And they did that. And the show is a real credit to them. I think I’m certainly really proud of them.
As for celebrities we wanted and didn’t get? We wanted to take Kristen Wiig. I’m afraid she suddenly got injured literally a couple of days before. So, that was sad.
Q: Of all the places you’ve been and you’ve been all over the world, what’s the place that you connect with the most?
Bear Gryll: Home. I think a lifetime of doing this has taught me two things. One is that – I do love it. I love the adventure. I love being out there. It’s where I come alive and it’s where I perform at my best. I love the wildernesses around the world we’ve gone to and it’s such a privilege.
But also going away, a lot has taught me the value of home. When I’m up a mountain or in a mystical jungle, it’s a shining light making me work hard and get out of there in one piece. I’ve got a lovely family, three young boys and you see it’s a real lesson of going away. I said, “Home is good, eh?”
Q: Have you had a chance to take your boys on any of these adventures?
Bear Grylls: Yes. I mean I get to do that the rest of the year when we don’t have TV cameras around us, so they love it. I mean where I am right now, looking at all three boys, stark naked in the sea, in a pour, in the rain and I’m sheltered under a fallen tree trying to keep out of the rain talking to you so they love it. They live it. And I’m – it’s in their DNA for sure. (Bear was conferencing in from the shore in the south of England while watching over his sons. I could hear him talking to them periodically.)
Q: Has there been any one place that was just so incredibly difficult that you have no desire to ever go back?
Bear Grylls: Probably the black swamps of Sumatra, where the tsunami hit in 2001 decimated a big part of the island. It’s just full of this stinking black rotting swamp with all of these crocodiles feeding off the 6500 human corpses. They lost a lot of lives in that disaster and a disease-ridden, crocodile-filled, snake-filled place. But, yes, I’m not going to hurry back to that one.
Q: I was wondering what was the process for choosing the celebrities that participated. And, also, were they given any kind of training beforehand to prepare them for what they’re going to go through?
Bear Grylls: Well, we draft a list of people we really think will be great on this show, people we thought would dig it, we wanted interesting guests, who’ve got a great story and a big following and who would enjoy these sort of things.
And when it comes to training we said, “You know what? You’ve just got to bring two things; a big bag of fortitude and a big backpack of enthusiasm and we’ll do the best when we’re out there.” And the fun thing is that they’re not too prepared, you know? And you wing it together and you see them on camera learning together and making mistakes together and that’s the fun real part of it.
The only training I did with any of them was with Zac because I wanted to skydive with him so I gave him some training beforehand for a couple of hours the day before. But beyond that, everyone else just arrived with that fortitude and enthusiasm and I said, “We’ll just do it altogether.”
Q: The editing gives you a rushed feeling. Can you talk about finding a balance between safety and making the show feel intense? And does a production throw things at you that you don’t know are coming or is the two days pretty much laid out for you?
Bear Grylls: It’s not laid out at all and there isn’t a production, which is, for me, how it makes this so fun. We have two camera guys, two sound guys and we have a story producer, who’s making sure that we’re kind of watching what I say or what the guest says so it kind of makes a complete package and makes sense.
But beyond that, we’re super a small crew. We scout the area from the air over a few days before so we have good idea of the route and I have a good idea of what we want to do, “Let’s get across the river. Let’s get across this river, we try and get out one of these rock faces here and somewhere around there will be a good place to camp. That’s going to be great extraction point because we get a helicopter in there and we’ll start off the journey on this high peak there.” And beyond that, we just get in to it and do it.
And that’s what I think all of these guests have loved because they all come from a world where everything is rehearsed and pre-planned. And all of them have loved the vibe that we’re just winging and we’re doing it and some of the stuff works and some of it doesn’t. We have some cool resources to make it exciting. We have some helicopters and all of that stuff. As I said, they all come from this background where everything is so rehearsed and almost, invariably by the end they go, “I can’t believe I jumped out of a helicopter or I did this or I climbed up that.” There was no practicing or warning of – and that for me is a fun part of it.
One of my favorite bits from the whole thing was with Channing at the end of it. I said, OK, you’ve done all these crazy things. You back-flipped from a helicopter into a lake, you climbed and slept on a rock ledge. You’ve done all of this, chased a rattlesnake, you name it. What was your favorite bit? He said, “When we were sitting on top of the mountain and the camera crew was gone, and it’s just you and me and you’re cooking the remains of the rattlesnake over the fire. You had your pants off because you were drying it on the rocks. You’re bent over the fire, your bum was right next to me, and one of your testicles drops down in front of me out of your underpants. And that’s when I knew this goddamn adventure is real.” So, that made me laugh.
Q: Could you tell me, was there ever a point during filming where you thought that you wouldn’t be able to go on and finish the episode, either that the celebrity was scared or it’s just too dangerous?
Bear Grylls: Yes. I mean, the truth is most of the journeys have moments on it where the person felt like this. I mean, even the first time we filmed, it was with Deion. And he was – we were halfway out of this big old 500-foot sheer rock face and just total fear came over him. And I’ve seen a bunch of times that people just need time, you got to sit beside someone and be patient with them and trying to sort them through it.
He was speaking in tongues and everything by the end. But actually, what a privilege, you know. Because you can’t fake that. That’s just raw emotion. And credit to him. He calmed down and together we started to move and kept going because he can’t go down and he reached the top of it. And what a privilege to be beside him during those times and to see it so viscerally.
We had another time with Ben. We were filming at Scotland and we had a very long – what do you call it? Jumar ascent, which is where you’re just climbing up this rope and it’s very tiring. I’ve done a bunch of it in the military, and it’s draining. And Ben digs deep, and he keeps going, and it takes forever and (eventually) after another hour, we get over the top. And he’s just so proud. He’s so proud that he goes, “That’s the most demanding and frightening and exhausting thing I have done in my life. I just didn’t think I could do it, but I’ve done it.”
And that’s where the genuine sense of pride comes from because it’s real. It’s not make believe in the movies. There’s no one there to help you if it all goes wrong. It’s just you and me, we got to do this together. And that’s a pain, but it’s also the magic of this show.
Q: When you think celebrity, you think of someone who is used of being driven around in fancy cars, fancy clothes. So, what do you think it is that would make a celebrity want to do this kind of adventure?
Bear Grylls: Well, it’s such a good question, and it’s a really good one to kind of wrap the chat on actually because it is the intangible. Because they’re not doing it for the money, they’re not doing it for the fame, and they’re not doing it for the recognition or the exposure. These guys have all of that. They’re top of the game. They don’t need to take risks.
And the truth of doing this, it can be seen as a risk because you’re officially risking it. You might look like you’re not brave or you’re not going to look strong or whatever. But the amazing thing is these guys really wanted to do it. And I think that it is a testament to people, at heart, love to challenge themselves. I think we all still have that yearning inside that could we actually really do it if it wasn’t a movie and it wasn’t make believe, if our lives or our family’s lives are really on the line, have I got it? Away from the trailers and the chauffeur- driven cars and the money and the – could I still test it?
And I think this a great arena for these guys to come out, learn some skills that maybe they have always wanted but they’ve never had, to really challenge themselves, to really refine themselves and reconnect a bit. And almost all of these guys have – they said, one of the best bits was just having that space and that time to kind of think about life and that they, you know, how lucky they have been and how – there’d be so many ups and downs.
And the wild does that. The outdoors does that. It creates bonds and it gives us space to breathe. And at the end of it, all of them had a smile on their face and there’s light in their eyes that money can’t buy. And fame doesn’t do it, and drugs doesn’t do it, and booze doesn’t do it. It’s the kind of light. And I’ve seen it a ton in people.
It’s a God-given thing from the outdoors when you overcome a few obstacles in your life. And for me, it’s the real pride of this show. It’s taking people who we think are the world’s superstars and reminding ourselves that they’re all just normal people, they have their fears and struggles that – they have this tenacity.
They’re all tenacious, and they want to go for it and prepare to take a few risks. And so many of us don’t want – people don’t want to take risks. They don’t want to look stupid, you know. But you’re not going to get anywhere if you don’t take risks. And this is really the lesson these guys kind of remind us of, that you’ve got to go for it. Life is precious. You might fall down a few times, but at the end of it, you’ll have that light in your eyes and you’ve earned it.