Bear Grylls is a straight-up doer. No excuses. No “I’d rather be on the couch.” The man freaking goes for it and has an adventure resume that’s virtually unmatched (collecting some gnarly injuries along the way). He’s been the world’s most famous survivalist for the better part of two decades now, and he doesn’t seem to be slowing down much. The adventures keep coming and — just as importantly — the thirst for life remains strong. Whether on TV, in his writing, or on the phone for an interview, he presents a man who is fully engaged in the multi-sensory experience of seizing the day.
This week saw the premiere of season five of Bear’s celebrity survival-based show, Running Wild. The project, which has moved homes a few times and now seems to have found a perfect fit at NatGeo, sees the bold adventurer testing the mettle of his famous friends — from Brie Larson to Joel McHale and Channing Tatum to Cara Delevingne. The dynamic created is an endlessly fascinating and deeply enjoyable one, as viewers learn that famous people are, to generalize, just like us. They’re not as brave or fearless as they seem on screen and they need Bear Grylls to guide them in their wildest exploits just as much as John Q Viewer might. The result is a show with a surprising amount of humor, genuine thrills, and deep sincerity — even more satisfying that Bear’s original Man v. Wild series.
With the Brie Larson episode of Running Wild dropping this past Tuesday and the show set to launch next week on Disney+, I spoke with Bear about survivalism, his passion for stewardship, and how regular people can live lives of adventure.
As someone who has personally been very much into survivalism and exploration, as I watched through this season I witnessed this human desire to be part of this moment of kind of pushing ourselves and our relationship with the natural world. You’ve tapped into that better than literally anyone on earth, so where do you think that that comes from? Right now humans are living very domesticated lives but they also long to “go walkabout” don’t they?
It’s so interesting, isn’t it? I think you’re right. I think in a way, the more sanitized society becomes, the more our innate, ancient hunger for the unpredictable, the uncertain, and the wild becomes, and the more appealing it is, even if it’s just to watch it on the TV. You have to go through thousands and thousands of years of wild DNA to suddenly reach this kind of perfect and clean and neat and technology-driven place we’re at. I think it’s pretty universal — especially in young people — for people to want to know what would happen if they’re tested. Where would they be if it all was taken away from them?
The “do I have the stuff?” type of mentality.
I think that’s universal, and I see it so much in the Hollywood stars, as well. As you kind of get more cultivated and well looked after, there’s still a hunger that says, “But actually if it was all taken away, what am I made of?” And so many of these stars, they don’t need the money or the fame. They want the experience, they want the raw, muddy, gritty, in-depth experience of big push in a really wild, remote part of the world — while at the same time knowing that they’re with good people and that they’re safe and they’ll be encouraged and they’ll be empowered and at the end of it, they come out really proud of themselves. That’s something that money can’t buy in the modern world, and I love that part of the show.