How can I describe “Get Out Alive with Bear Grylls”? Imagine “The Amazing Race” without the travel (with the exception of the ten teams of two landing on a rugged piece of New Zealand wilderness). Then, a twist: teams compete against one another sometimes and work together as a group other times. Add in inspirational backstories for the teammates, a “Survivor”-esque elimination, “Bizarre Foods”-worthy snacks (fish eyeballs, anyone?) and pee drinking. Yes, pee drinking.
Does that sound like a convoluted mess? Ding, ding, ding!
This show, while ostensibly a straightforward survival-themed reality competition, isn’t quite sure what it wants to be. Is it a show in which teams compete against one another to, say, build a fire first or climb a hill fastest? Well, sometimes. It’s also a show about a bunch of people working together to build a camp, forage for food and cook dinner. It’s not about survival skill or physical toughness, though those tend to be helpful.
When Grylls calls the first meeting at his camp site to determine which team should be sent home, one woman admits no one has any idea what’s going to happen, which is absolutely true. While the players have been given clear instructions throughout the many, many challenges of the first episode, it’s unclear which screw-ups are most problematic. Two girls assigned to help with food preparation decide not to cook the leftover deer meat for the rest of the group so they can get a good night’s rest. Rude, sure, but as they point out, no one told them to do it. Another dunderhead jumps in an icy river with all of his clothes on. By risking hypothermia, he sets back the progress of the whole team. One player throws up. As Grylls sees it, all of these are sizable offenses, though the most important skill he’s looking for in the players is an ability to play well with others.
I’m sure this is quite important when you’re trying to stay alive in the mountains after a plane crash, or you’ve gotten lost during a hike, or it’s sixty miles to the next bathroom on your cross-country road trip. But harmony doesn’t work very well as a critical factor for a competition show. Still, this kind of muddled approach seems to be the one common thread in this show.
Many of the competitors pride themselves on overcoming considerable challenges — one woman lost 100 pounds, two competitors recovered from crippling car accidents, one struggled with addiction — but that doesn’t translate into concrete survival skills. These guys know how to make fire — but only by using handy equipment provided by Grylls. Some know how to skin a deer, others blanch and proclaim themselves vegetarian. Occasionally the show tries to provide some useful information for survivalists (there’s even a tip of the week), but this seems like an afterthought. Unlike “Survivor,” the players get a cozy campsite for one night, a freshly killed deer to eat another, and even a small amount of rice and beans. This isn’t so much surviving as it is camping.
Thus, the “survival” aspect of the show starts to feel like a series of random stunts in a very pretty location. Here, pee in a bottle! Later, pretend to be surprised that you have to cook it and drink it! Build a fire really fast! Go bushwhacking! Pretend to understand what that means! Find the campsite using… well, not a compass, but GPS. Not only is this camping, it’s a camping trip that comes with way too many high tech gizmos and tools to count as being particularly rugged. Let’s just say the survivalists who appear on “Naked & Afraid” would laugh thir asses off at these guys. Heck, anyone who makes it through two weeks on “Survivor” could afford to be smug.
Even Grylls doesn’t seem quite sure what to do with himself in this murky mess of a show. Sometimes he watches the players while hiding behind some trees, shaking his head like a prim Peeping Tom. Other times he’s explaining challenges or offering helpful hints, and at the end of the episode he’s sending people home for whatever reason is most interesting to him at the moment. He doesn’t seem like the survival expert we know him to be, but more like a less engaging Jeff Probst.
Still, it’s only the first week. Soon, everyone will be hungry and cranky and we’ll be able to watch them grudgingly work together while wondering what one another might taste like if properly cooked. It’s the only chance for “Get Out Alive with Bear Grylls” to survive for another season, I suspect.
Did you watch “Get Out Alive With Bear Grylls”? What did you think?