Bear Grylls plucks ‘The Falcon,’ ‘Machete’ stars out of their comfort zones
It may be the “wrong” TV show to get emotional about—after all, “Running Wild With Bear Grylls” is a survival-skills adventure series that features megastars tagging along its dashing 46-year-old host as they’re pushed beyond their physical and mental limits.
But, the show is as compelling for its do-or-die pursuits as it is for the intimate scenes capturing celebrities at their most “emotionally” vulnerable.
In his previous adventures, Bear’s lineup of guests is a veritable who’s who of movie stars and public figures, including Julia Roberts, Kate Winslet, Zac Efron, Channing Tatum, Shaquille O’Neal, Roger Federer, Brie Larson, Cara Delevingne and former US President Barack Obama.
For the seven-episode Season 6 of “Running Wild With Bear Grylls,” which premieres at 9 p.m. tomorrow on National Geographic, you’ll see former NFL linebacker and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” star Terry Crews descend a volcanic scree slope while avoiding a deadly rock avalanche in the Icelandic Highlands. Thereafter, Terry is tossed out of a plane at 12,000 feet.
Also in Iceland, Keegan-Michael Key (“The Prom,” “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”) skips through lava fields before he rappels off a perilous 200-foot cliff. For his part, “Machete” star Danny Trejo, who, at 76, is the show’s oldest participant ever, is stretched to his limits scaling massive boulders and traversing tricky canyons at Arches National Park in Utah in the blistering heat. He also had to be coaxed into eating—hold your breath—fried tarantula for dinner!
Superhero skillsMarvel Cinematic Universe star Anthony Mackie (“The Falcon and the Winter Soldier”) puts his superhero skills to the test when Bear takes him to the highest peaks of the Italian Dolomite mountains, where he’s tasked to hunt snow rats for dinner and climb an icy waterfall under freezing (-30 degrees) conditions.Radio personality Bobby Bones and his fiancé Caitlyn Parker hurdle a wilderness boot camp in the rugged wilds of the Eastern Sierra Nevada. And then, there’s racing driver Danica Patrick, the most successful woman in the history of American open-wheel racing. Danica must hurdle sheer cliffs and venomous scorpions in the Moab Desert.
Rainn Wilson’s trip to the aspen forest and alpine terrain of the La Sal Mountains turns his episode into the, uh, “most naked” in the history of the show!
But there’s more to these life-or-death adventures than meets the eye. After getting thrust into life-threatening situations, these stars, in rare moments of introspection, begin to pour their hearts out to Bear—also known as Sir Edward Michael Grylls, OBE—as they take stock of hardly discussed details of their otherwise stellar lives:The Juilliard-trained Anthony remembers what it was like growing up poor in New Orleans; Keegan-Michael weighs in on systemic racism in the United States, then explains his constant need to please as a result of knowing he was adopted. Terry opens up about dealing with an abusive father who used to beat his mom black and blue, his bouts with depression, and his porn addiction, which led him to cheat on his wife of 31 years.
And Danny’s story feels like it’s been culled straight out of a Mexican telenovela: He was given weed at age 8 and heroin at 12; robbing without getting caught; and served time in the San Quentin State Prison before getting his break in Hollywood, where he says he’s been “killed” 65 times as a “contravida”! Whew.
“High mountains in winter, deserts in summer and a challenging environment demand respect,” said Bear when asked about what he found most challenging about his latest adventures. “The extremes of temperature are always tough. They bring different challenges. It’s our job to anticipate that it’s our guests’ first time into environments like these, so you’ve got to be very respectful as much of the wild as of our guests’ capabilities.
“Danny Trejo, who’s turning 77 next month, was one of our oldest guests, along with 70-year-old Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India. So, you know that taking someone who’s over 70 into high elevation and scorching deserts is always going to be challenging.
“Danny had severe heat exhaustion on our journey, so we had to shorten his trip a bit. That’s why we don’t get too prescriptive with exact routes, because as I say, ‘Nothing survives first contact with the enemy.’ You have to adapt once you get into that terrain.”
For his part, Anthony’s trip in the mountains was special, because he admitted he was scared of heights.
“Anthony was so physical—it was like taking on Captain America with his shield (laughs),” Bear said. “He’s at the height of his power and physicality, so I loved being able to really push him. But he also knew he was out of his comfort zone. He was very nervous and honest about his fears.”
With great experiences too many to mention, does Bear have items on his bucket list he has yet to tick off?
“I still have a long list,” he admitted. “But ultimately, my real aspirations are rooted in friendships rather than just mere adventures—it’s about sharing amazing experiences with friends or family.
“So, of the many things on my list, No. 1 is always to stay alive. No. 2, empower those who are around me, and No. 3, have fun!”
Our Q&A with Bear:
Isn’t it difficult to convince celebrities to go on these high-stakes adventures with you?
They know we deliver something that money can’t buy, that’s why we always get such amazing people on the show. They don’t need the money or fame; they’re there for the experience and the amazing kind of insight into the wild. They learn skills while sharing their stories.
You don’t see this in chat shows, where it just becomes a performance of telling a funny story for three minutes—this is different, these stars come at a time in their lives when they want to share things. So, we’ve never had difficulty casting this show. Even through this COVID year, where travel and everything have been so hard, we’ve still got some of our best guests ever—and I’m really proud of that.
Do you feel you’re getting out of your comfort zone by doing this show? Or is the wilderness your comfort zone?The wilderness is a place I’m familiar with, but I’m never complacent in it. I don’t like comfort zones, because they’re places where people rot or stagnate in life. As humans, we’re designed to push the boundaries and deal with the uncomfortable.
So, I call it a “comfort pit,” not comfort zone, because there’s always some way you want to climb out of as quickly as possible. I live by the phrase that the British Royal Marine commandos follow as a motto: Being comfortable with uncertainty.
What is the message of the show? Is it to prove that the world is changing and, therefore, must be protected?
One of the strongest messages of the show is: The world is amazing—and we’ve got to look after it. I always feel that “Running Wild” stands on three pillars: One is its environmental message, that the world is amazing but fragile. I think the pandemic has been a reminder of what’s really important in life.
Two is that adventure brings people closer together and empowers your spirit after you come through difficult things. And three, you’re seeing superstars and celebrities in an honest, vulnerable, powerful and “unglossy” way. You once posted an image of your broken back. How do you go back to doing what you do after such an injury?
Listen, everybody deals with situations like that differently. I don’t want to arrive at the end of my life in a perfectly preserved body—that would be such a waste. I want to come skidding in sideways, waving and screaming, “Yahoo, what a ride,” while covered in scars and marks. It’s a sign of a life well-lived. INQ“Running Wild With Bear Grylls” Season 6 premieres tomorrow at 9 p.m. on National Geographic (channels 41/195 on SkyCable; and channels 141/240 on Cignal)
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