Bear Grylls' trek across the desert is about as credible as a date with a prostitute, says Mark Lewis
In his latest programme, we are asked to believe that Bear Grylls is a Born Survivor (Sunday, 8pm, Channel 4). But hang on! Isn’t the fact that that he was named Bear rather than, say, Ray a little unfair? Perhaps he wasn’t a born survivor after all. Perhaps he had survival thrust upon him
Being a Bear surely lends him a certain fierceness; a love of honey and a tired grumpiness in the winter months. Had he been called Dog Grylls we might expect a bit more truthfulness and spontaneity.
Alas Born Survivor is about as spontaneous as a crack at the world dominoes world record, and as honest as a human resources advisor. His trek across barren Saharan desert to the cool of the Atlas mountains has all the uncertainty of a proposition to a prostitute.
Even if you miss the disclaimer at the beginning of the programme telling you about the health and safety support and dramatic set-ups in the show, the over-dramatisation would blow the whole charade apart anyway. The opening sequence in which Bear talks earnestly over theatrical music has more cod drama than an Icelandic soap opera.
He says things like, “having the right survival skills can mean the difference between life and death,” and “being stranded here is like being cooked alive. Only the toughest survive.”
And he proves it by making his way from the helicopter to the surface of the Sahara by parachute. The not-quite-so-tough camera crew and equipment presumably land in the helicopter shortly after.
And Bear keeps on happening upon things in the Sahara desert as if he has just stumbled on it. “I’ve been looking for something like this,” he says, pretending to stumble upon a dried up river. “These are incredibly rare,” he adds, almost as if he had deliberately taken his film crew and headed for it.
“Woah, there’s a cobra,” he says, spotting a cobra and taking a little jump back, before telling us in his voiceover that the snake has actually been specially bussed in so that he can show us how to deal with it.
And this, perhaps, is this biggest charade of them all. Every now and then, the programme pretends that it is a public service announcement. Bear advises us that conserving water is paramount. Rather than swallow it immediately, you should keep it in your mouth, to keep your throat and tongue hydrated. Narrating an hour’s worth of film and wasting enough water to jerry up a slick of quicksand is probably not part of the advice.
“Whenever you are in a survival situation it is critical to keep body and soul together,” he says, which means removing your shirt, flexing you muscles and doing yoga poses while the sun sets in the background. “When you’re stuck in this part of the Sahara desert, your only chance of survival is to head for the Atlas Mountains,” we are told earnestly to the sound of millions at home jotting it down in their diary next to advice about looking left and right at road crossings.
With Ray Mears there is at least a vague sense that when he munches on a berry or rubs a couple of sticks together, he believes he is imparting something vaguely useful. And there’s the rub. It doesn’t matter how many times he pisses on his t-shirt and wraps it around his head, how many scorpions he eats for breakfast, or how many times he is filmed with his shirt blowing in the wind atop a Moroccan sand dune, Bear Grylls still just a thin Ray Mears.
He might look better with his shirt off, but the manufactured scenarios and camp dramatisations are just tics and affectations which detract from any substance, and appeal only to people whose favourite book is Bravo Two Zero.
Far from public service, this is entertainment for the moronic majority. As uncomfortable as making a programme in the desert no doubt is, the set-up here is faker than the applause for an Oscar winner, and even the programme makers know it. Desperate to sex up the safeness of the whole affair, Bear goes to great lengths to talk about how dangerous it all still is. Two of the film crew are evacuated during the programme with heatstroke, we are told - left wondering whether it is the poor suckers who are made to carry the heavy cameras while Bear looks handsome in the desert breeze.
The real calamity is that there might be a worthwhile programme in here somewhere. Even if his face betrays an I’m A Celebrity grossness when he does it, Bear, like Ray, is quite prepared to eat all kinds of horrible creepy crawlies just to keep us entertained.
The only question is this: had he been called Panda rather than Bear when he was handed a poisonous spider, would he have stuck it in his mouth, or ineffectually tried to mate with it?