Premiere Review: 'Get Out Alive With Bear Grylls' Is Man Vs. Wild Lite
Discovery and Bear Grylls parted ways a little less than two years ago. The final Man Vs. Wild episode aired November 29, 2011. Man Vs. Wild was Discovery's more exciting program of survival experts tasked with surviving in exotic places for a week. Les Stroud's series was consistently better. Any one who wanted to learn how to actually survive in the wild watched Survivorman; any one who wanted to see possibly crazy stuff watched Man Vs. Wild. Bear Grylls would skydive, swim in artic waters, eat ANYTHING he could find, climb rockfaces, make a toboggan out of the carcass of a wolf in Siberia, and so on. I wrote about the last two or three seasons of Man Vs. Wild out of delight for the things he'd do to survive. People are quick to remind any fan that Bear Grylls staged his stunts and stayed in hotels during an episode's shooting, but those facts didn't affect my enjoyment of the series.
Bear Grylls and his crew shot a number of episodes in New Zealand, which is where his newest reality series, Get Out Alive with Bear Grylls, is shot (specifically in New Zealand's South Island). The landscape is stunning, and the challenges are typical Man Vs. Wild challenges. Get Out Alive brings together ten teams to compete and survive. The teams are broken up into three units--for fire, shelter, and obstacle. Bear Grylls watches from random places like he's the Prospero of this land, and he basically is the Prospero of the show. He's responsible for everything. He plans the challenges, evaluates the performances of the teams, and then eliminates the weakest team at episode's end. The teams consist of parent/child, couples, and best friends. Each team member has his or her own special source of motivation. Almost all of the team members experienced personal tragedy. Some are fighting for themselves or for a loved one that dealt with cancer, a cataclysmic fall down the stairs, and the motivations are all relatable and worthwhile to hear.
The team members, though they stand out with their own personal stories for a few seconds, still become looped together. Reality TV shows transforms complicated and complex human beings into easily digestible archetypes so that families at home can instantly connect with player x, which is fine, I guess, for a summer reality TV series. "The Wild is Revealing" has jarring transitions to a team member's personal story. The former Miss Alabama's story of her car accident and near paralysis is brought about by the night's supper--a deer. She hit a deer, and she overcame the accident to win a beauty queen pageant and, now, compete on a nationally televised reality TV series. Bear Grylls reveals the prize money amount. The episode cuts to a few asides in which the teams explain why the money would matter to them. Their reasons invariably involve something sad that further connects the audience with the team member so that when team x wins the audience feels as happy and satisfied, and even fulfilled, as the winner.
"The Wild is Revealing" doesn't reveal much about the teams. The revealing parts are in the asides, but the wild reveals basically nothing about the teams. The challenges are Man Vs. Wild lite. The teams need to find dinner, cross a glacial river, set up shelter, start a fire, drink urine, skin a deer, and help each other out. Get Out Alive is like one of the Man Vs. Wild episodes wherein Bear brought in a celebrity or viewers to survive with him in a jungle or a desert or somewhere in Scandinavia. Bear watered down the challenges, which hurt the episode. Anything with Bear Grylls hinges on his insane challenges, e.g. crossing a waterfall using a tree branch. The action in this episode is slow. Barely anything interesting happens. The hypothermia scare is given less than two and a half minutes on screen because there's too much left to do. The glut of teams affects the development of a solid narrative, besides the 'let's not get sent home' narrative.
The teams don't really bond in the premiere. Man Vs. Wild had beautifully meditative moments halfway through an episode, after Bear made camp and built his fire where he'd sit and think and take in the beauty around him. One team member comments on the beauty of their surrounding. Bear made it clear in the opening of the episode that teams needed to help each other. Another team member thinks everyone will become best friends through the journey. The series is caught up in the generic reality formula. Teams fight for survival. The editing moves from challenge to challenge without pausing to reflect with the characters as they reflect on how they got there with everyone else. The episode connects the audience with the teams, but the teams don't connect with each other, and that's important for a survival series. Les Stroud played his harmonica and thought about his family at night, and Bear thought about his family. I wanted consistent heart instead of spurts in the asides that fade and are forgotten as folk drink urine or bicker about not preserving the meat.
Get Out Alive is disappointing. Bear Grylls as host isn't as fun as Bear Grylls as star. Bear's brand of survival will reach new eyes and ears, so his survival tips won't be repetitive for those folk; however, I've watched a great deal of Man Vs. Wild. Get Out Alive is just like an episode of the show, but it lacks Man Vs. Wild's fun and excitement. Bear is a charming and honest host, though. He's great when he's eliminating a team, and he's great when he's offering constructive criticism to the team. My favorite bit was Bear's "Don't jump into glacial waters without removing your only set of clothes because you might die" to the guy who jumped into the water with his only set of clothes. The father/son team did the best in this episode; they seemed like the only team that gave a damn about what they were doing.
Get Out Alive with Bear Grylls essentially is Man Vs. Wild in a new format.