The Island with Bear Grylls isn’t entertainment – it’s a warning

Take away the conveniences we rely on and it would seem it's an almighty achievement just to stay alive for a few weeks, says Ellie Walker-Arnott

The Island with Bear Grylls must be an entertaining show, it’s got the golden Bafta statuette to prove it. Bear’s latest survival adventure won best reality or constructed factual earlier this month at the TV Baftas, beating The Apprentice, The Undateables and I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here.


But I find an evening in front of it anything but enjoyable. 

When Bear’s concept first aired last year I was fooled. The islands, edged with soft white sand, looked like somewhere I’d quite fancy going on holiday. I’d get a proper good tan on that island, I said.

I could just see myself, complete with a beachy hair do and flattering bikini sipping a cold cocktail while feasting on fresh fish. But how wrong I was. Unless there just happened to be an instant BBQ (and a lighter) hidden under one of those mangroves and a Tesco Express around the corner, I’d be screwed. I’d have a great tan, but I’d be dead within days.

I regularly get dehydrated in central London where I’m surrounded by filtered, chilled and bottled water. My arms hurt when I carry my food shop through the park on the way home. I struggle to light a scented candle with one of those extra long matches, for crying out loud. And I don’t think I’m especially incompetent.

Two seasons in, The Island troubles me. It’s a gripping series, yes, but it’s also incredibly stressful. I don’t understand why we are entertained by the fact that modern westernised humans clearly can’t survive without the structure of society.

This year Bear super-sized his social experiment, dropping double the number of contestants on two remote uninhabited islands in the Pacific ocean, for six weeks, instead of four. And in storm season.

They killed crocodiles, slaughtered pigs, made almost fatal errors with their water supply, fought, bickered, fell down and cried. But however much Bear tried to insist, by the end, that they were thriving, they weren’t. They were surviving. Just. With the help of urine tests, suspiciously placed tins of baked beans and an emergency medical team mere minutes away.

The Island is an exercise in endurance. It’s a test to see how long you can live off coconuts alone or how little water you can consume before your organs give up on you. When it comes to living without Google, smart phones, plumbing, central heating and Chinese takeaways, it reveals our shortcomings in an alarming way. Take away the conveniences we rely on and it would seem it’s an almighty achievement just to live for six weeks. 

We are being shown, clear as day, that the majority of the human race has been rendered inept. The Island isn’t entertainment – it’s a warning. 


The Island with Bear Grylls concludes tonight at 9:00pm on Channel 4 

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Bear Grylls on The Island: You could totally argue there’s insufficient training