Revelations from Bear Grylls’ adventures with Bradley Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch
In the latest season of “Running Wild with Bear Grylls: The Challenge,” the dashing 49-year-old British survivalist is once again seen pushing the comfort levels of some of Tinseltown’s most accomplished celebrities, from the highest peaks of Scotland to the most unforgiving terrain in Wyoming.
But while the eight-part adventure series, which launches new episodes every Monday at 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. on National Geographic Channel, remains compelling for its do-or-die pursuits, it also captures Bear’s superstar companions at their most “emotionally” vulnerable moments—a potent formula that is utilized to great effect this season.
This time, Bear takes his guests to places that are as visually stunning as they’re dangerous: Bradley Cooper in the Wyoming Basin; Benedict Cumberbatch on the Isle of Skye; Cynthia Erivo in the Brecon Beacons Mountains; Oscar winner Troy Kotsur in the Scottish Highlands; Comedian Russell Brand in the Hebrides Islands; singer-actress Rita Ora at the Valley of Fire; “Hamilton” and “The Little Mermaid” actor Daveed Diggs in the Great Basin Desert; and Emmy-winning “She-Hulk” star Tatiana Maslany in the Laramie Mountains.
But adventure is just half of the series’ major lure: When these celebrities aren’t pushed to their limits, they’re seen sharing little-known or seldom-discussed details about their lives.
For instance, while recuperating from his second bout with COVID-19 two years ago, Bradley said he binged the show and reached out to Bear because he wanted to push himself to the limit.
So barely a week after he wrapped up filming for the upcoming biopic “Maestro,” where he plays Leonard Bernstein, Bradley was already braving 50-mile-per-hour winds, rappeling down a 400-foot gorge in the dead of winter, and spending the night hanging and sleeping off a cliff with Bear to avoid ravenous mountain lions that prowl in the dark.
Aside from sharing that he saw the movie “Platoon” 18 times, he also revealed that he only turned his back on drugs and alcohol at age 29 and has been sober for 19 years now. “I got my role in ‘Hangover’ when I was 36,” he disclosed.
Meanwhile, Benedict likened his trip with Bear to a “deeply moving communion” with his submariner grandfather. He mused, “The dangers are very real here. It’s not the same as doing stunts on a Marvel film.”
And just before he ended his adventure with Bear, the deeply moved actor was caught silently wiping his tears away as a submarine emerged from underwater to whisk him off to the bottom of the ocean for a quick dive.
Cynthia talked about coming out as queer, then shared details about playing Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, in the upcoming movie adaptation of “Wicked.”
For her part, Rita Ora sang and talked her way through her doubts and fears.
‘Do the uncomfortable’
It’s obvious how empowering the trips turn out to be for the acclaimed survivalist’s celebrity companions. So when we spoke to Bear last Wednesday, we asked him what his takeaway was from these stellar interactions with his guests.
“I realized that, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who they are—whether how famous, successful, rich or powerful they’ve become—everyone has his or her own struggles and fears,” Bear said. “There are similar character traits that run through these people, and a big part of that is the willingness to be vulnerable, to do the uncomfortable. They have the drive to keep going despite the [seemingly insurmountable] odds.
“I see these traits universally, even though they might be from very different backgrounds. There’s a commonality of determination, of being able to overcome fear and knowing the value of trust and teamwork—and that’s always inspiring to see.
“I’ve also learned that you don’t really have to be too scared of people. You know, I used to get so nervous of meeting these celebrities, but I realized they’re all just regular people. In fact, they’re much more nervous of the journey ahead, because it’s very much out of their comfort zone.
“So it’s part of my job to spend a lot of time reassuring people. Every regular person has [his strengths and weaknesses], but these champions tend to have certain qualities that shine bright, and they use those in the wild as much as they use them in their day jobs.”
Our Q&A with Bear:
Which of the eight episodes did you find most challenging this season?
It’s the episode with Bradley Cooper. First of all, Wyoming in winter is unforgiving because the weather changes really fast. We had all four seasons in one day! Much of what happens in “Running Wild” comes down to the conditions on the ground, so you’ll find your plan often adapting to them.
I was nervous about this episode because I know that it meant a lot to Bradley, so I wanted it to be special. I wanted him to have a challenging but fulfilling and empowering experience, and he did!
The good friendship we’ve shared since then is a testament to what happens when people work hard together. You share great experiences and create strong bonds. At the end, Bradley said it was one of the best experiences of his life.
Could you talk about Benedict’s episode in Scotland?
Essentially, “Running Wild” is US-focused because it’s an American series. So, it was fun for me to do an episode with a Brit and film it in the United Kingdom. For me, to have two Brits this season—the other one being Russell Brand—was great.
Benedict’s adventure was on the Isle of Skye in winter. He said, “I really want the full experience”—and he definitely got what he wanted. He talked about his grandpa, a submariner of the Royal Navy, who had a big influence on him growing up.
Winter on the Isle of Skye can get super gnarly and tough, so Benedict was really out of his comfort zone. But he was amazing. He was fun, honest, and he gave so much heart and soul to what we were doing. So for me, that was one of the best endings I’ve ever done on this show.
You know, one of the roles that I do is that of an honorary colonel in the Royal Marines. So I managed to put in a request to the Royal Navy for a submarine … So, just as Benedict thought our trip was over, Benedict and I left the beach on a collapsible canoe and paddled out into the middle of the ocean.
He said, “What are we doing? Scotland’s 20 miles away … and the mainland is a long way from here.” I said, “Just trust me.” He didn’t know anything about what was going to happen until a tower of this submarine emerged to pick us up! It was a super cool extraction.
Understandably, Benedict got really emotional. And I said, “Your grandfather must be smiling down at us at this moment with real pride.” It’s a journey that both Benedict and I will never forget.
What drives you to dedicate a large part of your life to this contact with nature. Could you explain this choice in lifestyle?
First of all, it’s the only thing I’ve ever been good at in my life … I love it. The spirit of adventure is a state of mind. While it covers jungles, deserts and mountains, it also covers everyday life … how we approach our relationships, goals and aspirations. I’ve always tried to live like that, whether back home or in the jungle; then it becomes a habit.
What’s the appeal of bringing other people with you in the wild?
For many years, I did a show where it was just me with a small team—and I loved it. But it really came alive when I started to take people who had never experienced anything like this before. They may be movie stars, sports luminaries or world leaders, but at the end of the day, they’re just rookies in the wild.
With this show, they get to face some obstacles with me side by side. In the end, all of that brings a light in their eyes. It’s something money can’t buy you, and you earn it through mud, blood, sweat and tears. It gives my guests pride and confidence—and I get a kick out of that.
Troy Kotsur is the first deaf participant to take part in the show. Could you talk about how that episode went?
Yeah, we’re really proud to do that one. I’ve been a huge fan of his film, “Coda,” which blew me away. Troy was very like his character in the movie … he’s hilarious, honest and fun, with no ego. Obviously, communication in the wild is everything, especially when you’re halfway down a cliff and crossing rivers.
You tend to take for granted how important the little nudges and instructions and words of encouragement can be at critical moments. So when that’s taken away, it’s hard. And so we had to adapt. So we also had his sign language guy with us. But Troy is a master communicator … and the truth is, he didn’t even need his interpreter there with us. He really stepped up! INQ
Catch new episodes of “Running Wild with Bear Grylls: The Challenge” Season 7 every Monday at 9 a.m./9 p.m. on National Geographic (channels 41/195 on SkyCable and channels 141/240 on Cignal). Previous seasons of the show are currently streaming on Disney+.