The news that reality TV is frequently faked shouldn't come as a surprise. But given that Bear Grylls is an outdoor expert who survived a massive fall while in the British Special Forces, climbed Mt. Everest before he was 25, and traversed the North Atlantic in an inflatable raft, he might get the benefit of the doubt. So, is Bear Grylls a fake, or are all those Man vs. Wild stories true?
He might have plenty of experience in extreme situations, but Bear Grylls is reportedly not above skewing the truth to make good television. The premise of most of Grylls's shows is that he is in a dangerous situation where he must rescue himself from being stranded or lost in the wilderness. To do so, he supposedly constructs equipment from scavenged objects, sleeps outside, drinks urine, and eats bugs. And sure, he does some of those things – namely, eating and drinking gross stuff. But evidence suggests Grylls fakes his show in other ways, frequently sleeping in hotels and enlisting the aid of his crew to make some of his gear. What's more, some of his survival tips have been called into question by other experts.
These harsh truths shouldn't keep you from thinking Man vs. Wild was one of the best Discovery Channel shows of all time or enjoying Grylls's over-the-top exploits. Just keep in mind the behind-the-scenes trickery the next time you're watching.
On Man vs. Wild (or Born Survivor, as it's known in the UK), Grylls is shown taking extreme treks through the wilderness and sleeping outside. But in 2008, the truth came out: Grylls often stays in hotels instead of roughing it. The star apologized for misleading viewers:
"We film these things over six days and, after filming the night stuff, we're back with a crew in a base camp lodge – whether it's a tented camp in the Saraha or in Sumatra poncho'd up in the jungle. The hotel [can be] four walls but not a roof, or a roof with no walls... we had a lot of those but when we're filming the live night stuff, we're out."
In one episode of Man vs. Wild, Grylls is supposedly stranded on a deserted island. He's shown building a traditional Polynesian raft out of natural materials like bamboo and palm leaves. The footage makes it seem as though he is actually constructing the craft – but in reality, survival consultant Mark Weinert and the show's crew put the raft together, then disassembled it so Grylls could "make" it on camera. What's more, Grylls was actually in Hawaii.
As Weinert put it, "If you really believe everything happens the way it is shown on TV, you are being a little bit naive."
Grylls does some pretty extreme things in the name of survival, from eating bugs to swimming in frozen lakes. These may look like spur-of-the-moment decisions he uses to illustrate potential scenarios, but they are actually planned out well in advance. Grylls even has a stunt tester, Megan Hine, who tries out the death-defying acts before he shoots them for TV.
In a Reddit AMA, survivalist Les Stroud discussed how Grylls's survival skills seem questionable:
"As far as the survival instruction and gimmicks shown... many of the actual survival skills taught are bogus... others are pure TV stunt entertainment and do not relate to the real world of survival... he is a TV host – acting out scenarios based on what he and his producers dream up and glean from books and from the on-location consultants advice they hired for an individual show.
I would even go as far as to say that some of the skills if followed and attempted in a real survival situation could result in worsening the situation... I am glad he has at least brought attention to adventuring in nature to the young fans – and I am sure he is a great outdoor adventurer and he seems to be quite the athlete – but my professional opinion on the subject of survival is that he is not an instructor I would ever suggest to be followed when survival skills are the ones you want to learn."