Surviving the Arctic and the desert: Meet the explorer who makes Bear Grylls look like Barbie

Channel 5’s new show sees Chris Terrill travel to the most extreme environments on Earth, to meet people who endure ferocious conditions all year round

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Quite frankly, Chris Terrill makes Bear Grylls look like Barbie. In his new two-part Channel 5 show Surviving the Arctic (9pm, November 28) and Surviving the Desert (9pm, December 5), he travels solo to some of the most inhospitable places on earth. Just him and his camera. Terril meets militant extremists, mends his wounds with super glue, and that’s before he eats dried reindeer penis, fried goat’s brains and sheep’s eyeballs for dinner. Why do it? In the name of anthropology. 

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“My main interest is in what makes people and communities tick, wherever they might live on the planet,” explains Terrill. “I prefer the lone wolf approach as it gives me more freedom and a better ability to become accepted by the people I am filming. I see my job as a filmmaker is to help cast light on the human condition and to help us all understand people outside our own terms of reference.”


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While travelling to these remote regions, Terrill meets people all over the world who have had to exist in the path of natural hazards and have learned to cope with the constant threat of dangerous weather conditions, from hurricanes and typhoons to tornados, firestorms and monsoons. Luckily, Terrill is a trained survivalist. “I started early on as a sea scout,” remembers Terrill, who later trained as a Royal Marines Commando just so he could film new recruits on the front line in Afghanistan. “In order to embed as deeply as possible I felt I needed the full combat training, for which I was awarded the famous Green Beret.” He takes his Green Beret with him when he travels, as a good luck charm. “It keeps me safe,” explains Terrill.

When Terrill travels there is no safety net, no chopper to fly him out or trained medics to hand. “I am invariably out of range of phones and I don’t carry a radio. I prefer it that way,” he says, explaining that some people may call it reckless, “but I want the experience to be as authentic as possible.”

By “authentic” Terrill means following the great reindeer migration across Northern Norway over melting ice sheets, and meeting members of militant Islamist groups, al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab, in Somalia. “A white man wandering alone in some parts of Muslim Africa is always a potential target for a bullet or for kidnap these days,” he says.

For Terrill, telling the stories of the people he meets far outweighs the risks involved in his quest. “There is nothing more satisfying than bonding with people who you thought were a world apart,” says Terrill, “In the West, we are developing a very twisted attitude to Muslims because of the actions of some extreme fundamentalists.

“In my experience, most right-minded Muslims are shocked and shamed by these people and are the first to dissociate themselves from their actions… I have a great and growing respect for Islam.”

On his trip, he’s rewarded for his efforts with rolling sand dunes, great salt flats and the scrublands stretching to the horizon in the desert. Meanwhile, in the Arctic, he sees mountain peaks, meltwater rivers and low-lying golden sun piercing through the clouds 24 hours a day.

After watching the series, he hopes people might be inspired to get out of their comfort zones and visit more challenging environments. “Rather than holidaying in the Costa del Sol, I would always recommend travel to exotic places,” he says, “not just to see incredible landscapes but to meet different people and experience new cultures – it’s much better for the soul!”

Watch Surviving The Arctic with Chris Terrill at 9pm, November 28, and Surviving The Desert with Chris Terrill at 9pm, December 5, on Channel 5

 


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