The following piece was written for my university portfolio, following a two-week work placement at Adventure Travel Magazine. As part of the placement, I was sent to Channel 4 studios to attend a press conference with Bear Grylls as he promoted the second series of The Island.
The Bear necessities of survival
Bear Grylls talks about series two of The Island, gender stereotypes, and what really matters in a survival situation.
Bear Grylls has many skills: he can light a roaring fire just by looking at two twigs and a piece of dried moss; he can catch fish with his feet; he can drink his own urine without getting violently ill. But the skill that Bear Grylls - real name Edward Grylls - is least lauded for (and perhaps deserves most praise for) is his ability to sell his work. He makes the wild, and all those dangerous situations he gets himself into, look like a good idea - something you might want to try with your other half one weekend.
Bear is at Channel 4 studios to talk about series two of The Island and he doesn't waste time getting into the role of promoter - although perhaps he should be expecting some difficult questions after allegations of sexism and fakery in the first series.
“Did you like it?” he asks the audience, referring to the preview screening of the first two episodes. “Think you could survive?” He has some of them nodding, but more nervously laughing and shaking their heads.
The new series of The Island sees 14 men and 14 women inhabit two separate remote Pacific islands for six weeks at the height of the rainy season. Bear equips them with no more than two days of survival training, a few machetes, and a one-day water supply. This certainly isn’t the usual bushcraft show we have come to associate with Bear Grylls. So why did he want to make it?
“I wanted to see if we have still got those primal skills?” he says. “Is it still in here [points to his chest] rather than learned out of a book or from a week’s training. I wanted to see if people can survive without 21st century comforts.”
He is quickly forced to defend the premise of the show when asked if two days' training is enough to ensure the islanders’ safety.
“You could definitely argue that it’s not enough. It’s absolutely bare bones minimum,” he says. “It’s enough to teach them how to not hack off their fingers. We purposely wanted it to be experiential. To me, it gets interesting when everything goes wrong. The question then becomes, can you and me get together and really use our brains? Because god damn it, she’ll die if we don’t build a boat.”
There are pockets of laughter across the room as Bear becomes more animated, but he is keen to show people he’s serious about the dangers the islanders faced during filming.
“I won’t give it away, but there were times when we were getting some genuine concerns from every safety person we asked. They were teetering on the borderline of not even being aware that their internal organs were going to start collapsing and they were going to die without knowing it.” It is difficult to know how much of what Bear says is for effect, but, it seems, the islanders did struggle with huge weight loss over the six weeks. It's safe to say that this was no holiday.
He is asked about gender stereotypes on the islands, and how the women compared to the men. “There were definitely a few noticeable gender stereotypes,” he says, choosing to answer a question that I'm sure many thought he would avoid. “On the boat ride to the island I was telling the women’s group, ‘eat the nuts, eat the crisps, you’re going to need the energy’, and they’re like, ‘oh no, I couldn’t’.”
On how the women’s survival skills compared to the men’s, he says: “I was surprised how long it took them [the women] to focus on shelter. The stereotypical vision, you’d think, would be that women would really get that community stuff going before the men....that’s not sexist to say, is it? No? Phew.” He looks genuinely relieved.
“It was a different story on the other island. In the men’s journey they really had to tone it down and realise that the ego doesn’t help. Some people get a glint in their eye because the hardship brings something primal out of them. You can’t call that. That’s not about being a man or a women. When that happens it’s always inspiring to see.”
Bear is quizzed about the setup on the islands and whether there is any truth in the allegations of fakery that plagued the first series. “I have this duty of care to make sure that there is enough food and water to sustain these guys. Yes, we put some extra crocs and black boar on the islands as food sources, and some artificial water sources, but it was still hell on earth. So no apologies for that.”
Bear tells the audience that he learned a lot about what really matters when people without the necessary skills and knowledge have to fight for survival. “It’s about humanity. I don’t care whether you’re a CEO or a supermodel, you start off at ground zero and the only quality that matters are the character qualities and how you react in the face of adversity. All of these things, you kind of think, does that really matter in survival? The answer is yes.”
Overall, he says, he has admiration for the men and women who made it to the end of the six weeks. “They’ve had the accelerated, on steroids survival course times a million, and they’ve had an experience that is life changing and hopefully life-enhancing. “
Still think you could do it?” he asks journalists as he prepares to leave for the airport. There are undoubtedly fewer people nodding their head.