It’s a rainy Friday in New York, and I’ve quit work early to venture into Manhattan to get a few minutes of face time with “Man vs. Wild’s” Bear Grylls, who’s speaking with real journalists and even a few lowly bloggers to promote Fan vs. Wild, a competition sponsored by Degree in which four supposedly “lucky” fans compete in wilderness challenges, with the winner appearing in a special episode of “Man vs. Wild” next fall.
After an initial spiel in which Grylls enthusiastically describes the details of the promotion — a relationship that dates back to the Sure/Degree commercial he did after climbing Everest, the ad that got him noticed by Discovery Channel — we rotate through for one-on-one interviews. He greets me warmly, his climbers’ forearms bulging with veins. Even at the end of winter, he is tan. I feel unattractive.
Warming Glow: I’m going to show you some pictures, and just tell me your first thoughts when you see it. Here’s the first one.
Bear Grylls: It was minus-30 in Siberia, and I’d just killed this yak, and literally within five minutes of this beast dying, it started to freeze. For the first five minutes, I had my hands in its guts warming my hands up.
Do you have that picture framed in your house anywhere?
No, no, that’s banned from being in my house.
Here’s one from one of your last shows this season.
Frogs in China. In the jungle. We’d just been hit by a hurricane, actually. And a jungle is a bad place to be in a hurricane… Yeah, I was hungry at that stage, and any frog’s a good frog.
This is one of my favorite ones right here.
In a hurry! Because that had just been taken down by a pride of lions. They’d fed off all the soft organs, had all the blood, left a lot of the meat, and then gone off to drink. So I got in there, grabbed as much meat as I could, and got out of there.
This is my favorite episode from this last season. You stole my heart, Bear.
[pause] I’m trying to think where that… uh…
Think Scandinavia. Do you even know what kind of animal that is?
Um, is that– is that the elk?
Reindeer. That’s terrible, forgetting that.
You stabbed the reindeer in its head, drank blood from its throat, and pulled its heart out. [NOTE: HOW DO YOU FORGET SOMETHING LIKE THAT?]
And I had that tree break on me. [He tumbled down a steep hill when a tree broke instead of bending, as he’d planned.]
And you had some hastily made skis that didn’t work out so well.
Yeah, they were a disaster. It was a hard show, that one.
How was the reindeer actually caught? Did one of your traps work, or…?
What did we do? I had the Sami people up there. It was one of their herds, so they kinda helped me with that.
Your show took some flak when there wasn’t full disclosure about what was happening behind the scenes on “Man vs. Wild,” but you should know that “Survivorman” has a little bit of dishonesty, too, as this picture shows:
He’s CLEARLY not in the wilderness by himself.
[laughs] Yeah, there you go.
You had no idea that he was taking cats out there.
He’s a good guy, Les, and that’s a great program.
[At this point, I get told by one of the Degree reps to wrap it up.] Okay, we’ll skip you being naked [I put away two pictures of a nude Bear Grylls and pull out another]… There’s that:
Another low point in my life, yeah. Sometimes you’ve got to just lie back and think of England.
My roommate says he’s going to start a band called Guano Enema. Now, this last one’s actually for you if you want to keep it.
Thank you very much [laughs]. Excellent. Indeed, the bear grills.
Your sister gave you that nickname, yeah? I feel jealous because bears are so popular now.
Yeah, they are.
If my older sister had only named me Sharkman, I’d be set for life.
I used to hate it as a kid. I used to be, “Oh, why can’t I have a normal name?” But actually, it could be way worse.
And it couldn’t be any better now.