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Bear Grylls: Survivor or Conniver?

Updated on October 13, 2015
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Bear Grylls, star of popular former Discovery Channel television series, "Man vs. Wild," and current CBS television series, "Running Wild with Bear Grylls," is not your average, ordinary proclaimed survival expert. Unlike so many other proclaimed survival experts who have demonstrated their skills on television: Les Stroud on "Survivorman," Joseph Teti and Matt Graham on "Dual Survival," and Mykel Hawke and Ruth England on "Man, Woman, Wild," to name a few, watching Bear struggle to survive in the wild on camera rarely, if ever leads to a yawn by viewers. The places he ends up in, the heights he jumps from, the things he eats, and the stunts he performs never seize to keep his fans on their toes throughout every one of his televised adventures. But can programs so entertaining really qualify as reality television?

In 2007 former survival consultant of "Man vs. Wild," Mark Weinert, indicated to "The Times of London" as well to several other big newspapers that Grylls had spent various nights in hotels or motels while filming episodes of "Man vs. Wild" in which he was portrayed as being outdoors the entire time. The Discovery Channel later admitted that some "isolated elements" of the show were not "natural to the environment," and Grylls himself confessed, and apologized for some misleading portrayals of his survival experiences aired on television. These revelations, and confessions ignited a surge of criticism regarding the realism of "Man vs. Wild" episodes.

Despite these attacks, Grylls' popularity remained stable, his shows' ratings never once plummeting, until it was eventually cancelled in 2012, allegedly due to contract disputes. So why weren't his fans outraged enough by this to begin boycotting his show? Being deceived is not something people generally take very lightly. Why did the public continue tuning into Bear Grylls' adventures knowing they'd been lied to? I personally can think of two good reasons:

(1) They already knew it, and they didn't care. Any competent human being could easily have seen his shows were not entirely realistic. Anyone who's been in the wilderness for prolonged periods of time knows you don't just stumble over things that assist with outdoor survival, or make for a more exciting adventure, the way Bear oftentimes did in his programs. If you were dropped into some random location of a South American jungle, do you really think you would just happen to discover a deep, dark cavern, come face-to-face with a number of rare and deadly predators, and find everything you need to build a raft to sail down the Amazon all on your first day of hiking? If you're really naive enough to think that things like this can actually happen to a man on every filmed outdoor adventure he goes on, (as they did in "Man vs. Wild"), you probably think pro-wrestlers are just superhuman enough to take beatings that would otherwise send any average human being to their grave. It's just entertainment! It might have been a bit deceiving to have referred to it as reality television, but anyone of average intelligence could have seen right through that. Even people who had never been in the woods before had Survivorman's host, Les Stroud, at that time to display the reality of what being lost in the woods was all about. Nothing of much excitement ever really happens. It's like watching an amateur film of a man camping along a river. What would you rather watch: a film of a man on a camping trip, or Indiana Jones? Bear Grylls was, and is an entertainer, and a damn good one at that, and good fiction typically always sells better than the truth.

(2) What he did on camera was real. It may not have all been necessary for his survival, and a lot of it was likely rehearsed, and setup, but in addition to being extremely fun to watch, there's no evidence to refute the fact that everything Bear Grylls did on camera in his survival shows was real. It wasn't like a movie, with special effects, stunt doubles, and camera tricks to enhance its appeal. Bear really did eat all those disgusting creatures he was displayed eating on camera. He really made all those high jumps into water. He really ventured through all those dangerous places. A lot of those things he did were unimaginable in my view. As such, he could have spent every night he wasn't being filmed in a luxury hotel suite for all I care, and I'd still watch his shows with admiration on account of everything he actually did on camera. The world had never seen a real life character quite like this. We had purely fictional characters, like Rambo, but I think people always just assumed nobody was actually like that in real life, until Bear Grylls came along. Bear did the craziest things imaginable, and there's no evidence to indicate these actions weren't real. The same can be said about the tips he provided for survival. His programs displayed a lot of good tips for the average outdoors men and women. While I doubt anyone would ever try jumping eighty feet into freezing water, or sucking the juice from elephant dung just because they saw Bear do it on TV, the information displayed in his shows involving building fires and shelters, and finding safe things to eat were genuinely helpful to average people seeking advise on surviving in the wilderness. The reality of the things Bear did on camera, and the survival tips he provided are a second good reason why his popularity has never dwindled in the midst of attacks on the genuineness of his programs.

In conclusion, after watching so many different survival shows since "Man vs. Wild" was cancelled, including "Naked and Afraid," "Alone," "Ultimate Survival," and many others, I can still honestly say that none of them rival watching reruns of Bear Grylls. His programs consisted of the perfect combination of surviving and conniving to make for entertainment one can never get bored with. I for one think his show was the best program the Discovery Channel ever aired.

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