Having climbed Mount Everest and tackled some of the world’s most extreme environments for his Discovery series “Man vs. Wild,” survival expert Bear Grylls is venturing into the wilderness again as the leader of an expedition and elimination competition called “Get Out Alive.” Premiering on NBC on July 8, Grylls will take 10 teams of two adventurers on a journey to New Zealand’s rugged South Island to determine which duo is worthy of a $500,000 prize. He shares some insights into the series and his life in this candid conversation.
MNN: What’s the idea behind 'Get Out Alive?'
: It isn't a test of physical courage. I'm taking you to a difficult place; you’ve got to listen. I'll empower you with these skills, but ultimately I'm going to send home the people I believe that on their own would never get out alive. I'm looking for the qualities of a survivor: resourcefulness and resolve, courage, humility, and kindness to each other. There's no blueprint for a hero. But if you doubt whether the American hero is still alive, the answer is yes.
You were in some dangerous environments. What precautions did you take?
We had a med team on standby. The wild is unpredictable, and it's all about being able to anticipate where mistakes happen. Accidents happen when people are tired, and they're exhausted and they just slip on a little ledge and then they're gone. You take rookies into the wild, it's always exponentially more dangerous. You can't get complacent. You'll only get it wrong once. Touch wood, everyone was OK, and no one was injured. If we get to do it again, it would be great to do it in different terrains and with different nationalities, sort of mix it up a bit.
Is there an element of sustainability or a conservation aspect to the series?
Definitely. Conservation starts with making people aware of how spectacular the world is and that’s one of the strong things in the show. We’re showing one of the most beautiful, remote parts of the planet. I say very early on to these guys, ‘Leave nothing but footprints and take only memories. You’ve got to look after this place.’ Along the way on the series we show you how to respect the environment and that covers everything from how to survive it to how to look after it. It’s about fire prevention and not leaving trash, simple stuff that’s important for young people to learn. Not every parent is teaching that. Hopefully along the way there’s loads of messages like that. Also it’s about life. Fortune favors the brave. Never give up. Hard work works. These are the sorts of things that apply to the wild and are important in every day life. That’s why moms and dads are going to want to watch with their kids. It’s not about encouraging manipulating and politicking. It’s about instilling great values within a hardcore, amazing adventure. That was always the vision for me.
Is respect for Mother Nature a key to survival?
It’s definitely a big part of it. Nature is always going to be bigger, badder, stronger. You’ve got to put your ego aside. Sometimes you need to back off and be patient. It’s hard sometimes. Also in the wild you’ve got to throw yourself totally, wholeheartedly, go all-in, and that’s when you stand a better chance.
Why did you choose to shoot in New Zealand?
There's such huge variety of terrain: high mountains to low gorges, to raging rivers, to glaciers, to rain forests. We definitely upped the ante every journey. We had huge traverses, crawling themselves along across these gorges. The fear of the unknown was always an element for them. There was very limited food. And everything becomes harder when you’re hungry. It's hard to do when you're hungry and you're tired, and it's been raining for days.
What food was available?
Every night I’d bring them a little dessert of things I found on the way: worms or grubs or fish eyeballs. They were working hard; they needed the energy. If you’re hungry enough in the wild, you’ve got to put your prejudices aside and eat it. That’s the attitude I’m looking for in them: People who can really go the extra mile despite their fear and the pain.
How did the women in the group adapt?
The women were incredible; the real unlikely heroes came to the forefront. Women are often stronger. They go through childbirth. When it really matters and the chips are really down, they’re often way better than the blokes, and the show really brought that out. I was super proud of how the girls did on this.
What prompted your love of adventure?
Climbing with my dad. He taught me to love the wild, and to sail and climb from a really young age. That was my way of being close to him, at age 5 or 6. We’d climb together. I loved “MacGyver” as a kid growing up, and Robin Hood. All I wanted to do was climb trees. So I feel very lucky to have a job doing what I always loved. Every day is an adventure. Adventure is a big part of my work life and my home life. I’ve got three boys — I tell them they’ve got to concentrate more on their mathematics than just climbing trees. We live on a boat in the Thames and on an island off the Welsh coast, no electricity or water. We collect rainwater on the roof.
You’ve had close calls, you broke your back while in Africa. How did that affect your attitude?
You realize that life is precious. I was lucky enough to get a second chance. If you’re lucky enough to get a second chance, you’ve got to grab life boldly and follow your dreams and not give up. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I’ve definitely made a load of mistakes over the years and you learn from the experience, you gain good instincts and you’ve got to trust that. But I never get complacent. No ego. You look after each other; in the end it’s all about coming home in one piece. That’s the only thing that matters. Cameras don’t matter, the money doesn’t matter.
You’ve climbed Mount Everest — only a handful have done it.
That was a huge dream of mine as a kid growing up with my dad. And when I broke my back I thought it was a dream that was out of my reach. But as I recovered I wanted to learn to climb again and suddenly Everest became a real focus for me. It was a long three months but we got there. We had four climbers lose their lives. Two died of cold; two fell. It rocks your confidence. But there are no guarantees up there. I came away very humbled and very grateful to be alive. I definitely found myself on that mountain. And silenced those voices that said I couldn’t do it.
Where else do you want to go that you haven’t yet gone?
I’ve got a long bucket list. Right now I’m focusing on making "Get Out Alive" work as well as this next Discovery series. It’s a show about people who have survived real life disasters. It airs in the fall. The working title is “Ultimate Survivors.” I’m also doing a new series for the BBC and “Wild Weekends,” which I do for Channel 4 in the U.K. I’ve been to seven continents. A lot of what it’s taught me is the value of home. I’ve been so lucky to see these incredible jungles and mountains and everything around the world, but I do love home.
You must get recognized in some unexpected places.
I take it all with a big bucket of salt. It’s a byproduct of being on telly, but it’s not the focus for me. I just try to do my job well and get home in one piece. It happens a lot more now but that’s OK, as long as it’s encouraging them to get out there and go for it.
Do you ever think about retiring?
The thing is, it doesn’t feel like work. I don’t want to retire from living adventures and having fun. I hope not to retire from that, not for a while, although I creak a little bit more and have a few scars.
You have a new book. What does it cover?
Yes. "A Survival Guide for Life: How to Achieve Your Goals, Thrive in Adversity, and Grow in Character." It was #1 in the U.K. It’s my lessons in life. Don’t listen to the dream stealers. You don’t have to have it all together, you just have to keep trying. Never, ever give up — those sorts of things, what’s kept me alive in the wild. Have a dream.
You also have an expanding line of camping and outdoors gear.
The Bear Grylls Ultimate Knife is the biggest selling knife in the world, four years in a row. There are tents, sleeping bags, backpacks, clothing. I’ve worked out over the years what works, what doesn’t work. We started really small and it’s just kind of worked. It’s grown and grown. But you have to focus on the important stuff, which is never the gear. It’s the attitude. It's all about spirit, not which knife you carry.
What are you proudest of?
I’m dad to three incredible boys, I’m still mad for the girl I love, and I’m still in one piece!