It’s not a normal Monday morning. We’re at the Channel 4 central London offices burning stuff in the garden. Surprisingly, there are no sounds of sirens or security guards trying to escort us from the premises; we’re here with Megan Hine, one of Bear Grylls’ survival advisors.
“Always remember the rule of three,” says Megan. “In any survival situation you can not survive for more than three minutes without air, three days without water or three weeks without food,” she warns, while pulling apart a tampon.
We’re here for a survival taster in association with The Island with Bear Grylls, the new show that sees 13 ordinary men dumped on an island in the Pacific for a month – all they have to do is make it out alive. Bear wants to find out if modern man has any innate survival instincts. Can he survive without his smartphone, iPad and hairdryer?
Although we’re safe within the confines of the Channel 4 perimeters, far away from man-eating crocodiles and poisonous snakes, we’re still having trouble surviving. Megan doesn’t give us a lighter or box of matches, she gives us a flint. Our task? To ignite the cotton tampon she’s wielding. “Tampons are excellent fire starting material,” she says, “rub some flammable petroleum jelly on the cotton and it should go up straight away.” She demonstrates with one fell swoop of metal against the flint. Fire.
We try the same thing. Sparks but no fire. Again. The same. After a dozen attempts, the cotton finally catches. We’re satisfied, but this is the easy option. In the first episode of Bear Grylls’ new show, the men on the island spend more than 10 hours making fire, using the ‘bow drill’ technique (a wood rubbing and friction method). Without fire they can’t sterilise any water and without water they will die of dehydration, quickly. So far we have one of the four things we need to survive. Now we just need water, shelter and food.
Megan is pointing a sharp knife at us. In other circumstances we’d be handing over our wallets, but luckily for us our instructor has other ideas. She shows us how to use the small knife like an axe – handy when chopping wood. Instead of swinging the blade around, we position the sharp edge on a piece of wood and whack the top with a solid block. The wood splinters into matchsticks-sized pieces. We feed the fire.
As the flames grow and crackle, Channel 4 staff peer out of their office windows, wondering what on earth is going on. “Now we will cook our fish, but first we have to gut them,” says Megan.
We need to focus. “If you cut it wrong, you’ll burst the intestines,” she continues. We pull the knife from tail to head and watch the fish fall open, then rip the guts out of the tiny morsel beneath us, our fingers dripping with blood. “If you were in an actual survival situation you should keep all the innards, don’t throw them away,” says Megan, “you can use them to catch bigger fish.” Good tip.
Innards removed, we stuff the fish with wild garlic, a common herb found throughout fields and gardens in the UK, wrap the fish in newspaper and dip it in water (we’re cheating, there’s an abundance of H2O at the Channel 4 studios), so it slows down the cooking and stops the fish from burning, and place it on the fire. “These fish should take around 40 minutes to cook,” says Megan.
The first bite is delicious; it has a subtle garlicky kick. We now know we’ll not go hungry at the Channel 4 studios! “My best friend Megan, at the back, is the most incredible bushcraft, climbing and mountain guide you’ll ever meet,” says Bear after the screening of The Island, which followed our survival taster session. “She’s stronger than 99 per cent of the men I know, she’s incredible.”
Despite being well-equipped, sheltered, with free flowing water and freshly caught fish during our challenge, we’re pretty sure we could have poisoned ourselves, burn the place down or cut a finger off without Megan’s guidance. And still, we’d sign up to do it all over again.
Could you survive in the wild? Tune in every Monday at 9pm on Channel 4 and see if you could hack it on The Island with Bear Grylls.