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Baptism by Fire: Bear Grylls’ First TV Show Had Him Marching, Crawling, and Buried Alive

Bear Grylls became well-known for Man vs. Wild, but this wasn’t his first time on the small screen. His first appearance on a TV show was actually Escape to the Legion, which was broadcast in March 2005. The series showed what it was like to go through basic training inside the French Foreign Legion. 

Bear had previously undergone Special Air Service (SAS) training and served in the 21 SAS, part of the U.K. Special Forces Reserves for three years, from 1994 to 1997, so he was familiar with military training. 

The French Foreign Legion is a corps of the French Army, which was created in 1831 and is open to foreign recruits. The training is notoriously tough, so Bear wanted to see what it would be like to go through the basic training.

To film the series, he went to the Sahara Desert in north Africa with a camera crew to endure the simulated basic training. 

Marching, Crawling, Fighting, and Being Buried Alive

Image by Escape the Legion

So what was it like? “Gritty, exhausting and as hot as hell in the Western Saharan summer. Twelve of us recruits got whittled down to four at the hands of some of the most brutal and draining military training techniques imaginable,” wrote Bear in his 2011 autobiography Mud, Sweat and Tears.

Bear says they were marching, crawling, and fighting from dawn to dusk—shifting hillsides of rocks, being buried alive, and running everywhere 24/7. 

He says they were blister-ridden and sleep-deprived. “We ate camel skin stew and

stale bread, and day after day, week after week, we dragged our sorry carcasses through the desert until we dropped under the weight of our packs, which were full of sand,” he says.

“A month of being thrashed around the north African desert by French Foreign Legionnaires to show what it is like to go through basic training with France’s band of mercenary soldiers was a baptism by fire into the world of filming and TV,” wrote Bear in his second autobiography Never Give Up in 2021.

The Payoff

Image by Escape the Legion

Thankfully, the payoff was great. The show was a hit—Bear’s first hit on U.K. television, and it became the show that ultimately launched his TV career. 

“[Escape to the Legion] opened the door to allow me to do a big U.S. show for Discovery Channel. And therein was born Man vs. Wild,” said Bear.

While Bear described the experience on Escape to the Legion as both tough and grim, he also says he made a few lifelong buddies from some of the recruits and crew. In fact, he still counts Bobby Abedeen and Will Collis among his friends and says that camera operator Paul Mungeam (Mungo), whom he describes as “a legend of a man,” is still his lead cameraman to this day.

Watch the Full Episode here:

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