It seems reality shows of late aren’t just looking for a winner, they’re looking to come out the other end with all of their celebrity contestants in one piece. An unnerving number of famous faces have crashed out of Channel 4’s The Jump and Bear Grylls admits there were some “genuine very near misses” on his brand new series of Mission Survive.
“There’s no doubt that our shows, across the board, are the most dangerous shows on TV,” Grylls told RadioTimes.com. “There’s a hell of a lot of danger all the time, it’s the nature of it with cliffs, rivers, snakes and sharks everywhere. You’ve got to be on it. But we pride ourselves on the fact that we get things right and we look after people.
“The higher the risk the more you’ve got to be on it. We have an incredible safety team and I think the power of Mission Survive is that they’re in a hell of a lot of danger all the time but the cast at the time don’t know the measures we go to to look after them behind the scenes.
“I’ve learnt from a lifetime of dangerous places, you only get it wrong once,” he added, ominously. “On The Jump you can get it wrong the whole time, and you’re going to bust a shoulder and bust a thing, but you’re not going to kill people. We get it wrong, people die.”
Grylls says all of this while quietly sipping a cup of tea. It’s unusual to see him inside and, frankly, not guzzling down his own urine. But, kitted out in his own branded outdoors gear, there is an uncomfortable sense that at any minute he’s going to yell, ‘LET’S GO’ and you’ll realise you misread the invite and the interview is going to transform into a ten-hour hike with no food or water.
But, even with all of the necessary safety procedures in place, they’ve upped the ante on this second series – limited food, limited kit, tougher terrain – and it wasn’t a breeze for Grylls’ team. “There were a few occasions with genuine very near misses,” the adventurer admitted. And, as he pointed out before, “near misses” on this show don’t mean someone nearly tripped over their laces. There is proper peril, with this year’s challenge set in one of the most dangerous wildernesses on the entire planet: the South African bush. Even Grylls had to put himself in danger to rescue this year’s celebrity survivors, which include actor Neil Morrissey, former England football captain Stuart Pearce and actress Michelle Collins.
“They were building rafts in the river – and I know there are sharks in this area – and I say: ‘Do not get these rafts wrong, do not build them so they fall apart. You’re travelling down a river, you do not want to be in the water.’ A couple of hours later they’ve built this thing, you see them floating off, and they’re all in the water… I’m not saying this as a joke. I’m saying this as ‘I don’t want you losing legs because you’re big idiots’. So then I have to get involved: now I’m in the river, now I’m swimming in a river I shouldn’t be swimming in to get them out and then they wonder why I’m annoyed with them on a river bank.”
Grylls admits that all of this year’s celebrity intake wanted to quit at some point – and that there were plenty of complaints that the show was harder than it looked on TV last year. He happily compares it to the Hunger Games, pointing out that you have to initially work together as a team before thinking about being the only one left standing. “The s**ts isolate themselves anyway, kill them off first…” he teased. But he laughed off my suggestion that people would watch and not want to sign up.
“I’ve seen it on The Island [Grylls’ Channel 4 series]. You think, who would watch The Island and want to go on it? It’s just absolutely f***ing grim. But Big Brother, I think the most they ever had apply was 50,000 – we had 130,000. People want to be tested: ‘what am I really made of when push comes to shove?’ Mission Survive is the same.
“We had incredible people wanting to do this and we cast carefully because we want a cross section of regular people, we don’t just want He-Men or He-Women, we want people who really want to challenge themselves, find out something about themselves. That can be inspiring. That can also be ugly at times.”
Grylls had no interest in offering a cash prize, dismissing suggestions from ITV that there would need to a hefty lump sum for the winner.
“They were like, don’t we need to give them a million pounds at the end? Every other show you have to give them a million quid or however much. It’s the same with our American shows, everyone says you have to give them a million dollars and you go, actually this is more than money. That’s why it’s powerful doing it with celebrities because it’s powered by a lot more than money. That’s why as a viewer it becomes interesting.”
“I mean look at last year, Vogue Williams won: you never would have called that on day one with all these Mike Tindalls and all these strong guys,” Grylls added. He goes onto explain how we’re all like grapes – we need to be squeezed to know what we’re made of. This ‘squeezing’ comes via his classic test of urine drinking as well zip-lining from eye-watering heights and camping among hungry wild animals.
“The heroes in the movies, you know what they look like, they all look the part. But in survival and every day life it’s not like that. At the start they’re all wide-eyed, useless, they’re not used to being resourceful, they’re not used to being positive when it’s really grim. But by the end those three that are with me in the final journey, and that final winner, it brought tears to my eyes. It’s inspiring. You see genuine courage, kindness and heroism and it’s amazing. Total respect. But first of all, to get to that stage, you’ve got to get through the pain […] these guys went through the mill.”
See Bear Grylls: Mission Survive this Thursday at 9:00pm on ITV