Can celebrities really hang with survivalist Bear Grylls on Running Wild: The Challenge? Now on its eighth season, the show documents Bear and a new celebrity guest each week out in a wild place doing wild things. On season eight, this includes things like sleeping on (and peeing off) a portaledge, starting fires with whisky, and collecting survival supplies left behind by cowboys.
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Bear and his guests always seem to have a good time on camera, but what does Bear really think about teaching celebs survival skills in extreme situations? What goes on behind the scenes?
Bear sat down with Outdoors.com to talk about this season of Running Wild. He shared which celeb everyone raved about, which one left the crew scarred for life, which star he was a little nervous about, and which guest is basically “a cooler version” of himself.
The first episode of the new season of Running Wild features Academy Award-nominee and BAFTA Award-winner Bradley Cooper. Bear and Bradley work through some mountaineering rope skills and sleep on the side of a cliff in the midst of a Wyoming winter.
Bear says it was one of the toughest weather conditions he’s had on Running Wild, but even in wet snow and sub-zero temperatures, the “coolest” part of the experience was actually Bradley Cooper himself.
“He was such a cool guy to adventure with,” Bear said. “He’s the only one who’s ever started off an episode dressed in exactly the same clothes and gear—everything that I had. I joked that he was basically a better-looking, cooler version of me when I saw him.”
Bear said Bradley should be proud of himself for doing so well in such extreme conditions—and the portaledge sleeping situation was no joke.
“[It was the] first time we’d done a portaledge, which is one of those hanging . . . sleeping systems that we could hang off the side of this 200-foot cliff above the river. That’s always an experience. We’ve never done that before,” he said. “You’ve gotta be pretty careful moving around that. If you roll over in the night and you’re not clipped in, you’re dead. It’s pretty tight quarters, tight sleeping conditions. You just pee hanging off the edge. But, you know, it was an amazing view, [an] amazing night.”
The Benedict Cumberbatch episode was one to remember for Bear—and definitely not because of the torrential downpour, the “boggy field” where they made camp, or the pair’s seaweed and sea snail supper. In episode two of season eight, Bear and the actor/Marvel star repel over a cliff to find caches with essential survival supplies.
Despite terrible winter weather conditions, this time in Scotland’s Isle of Skye, and the fact that the two had to sacrifice some of their whisky to get a fire going, Bear described his time with Benedict as “really good fun.”
“[Benedict has] been somebody who we’d really been trying to get on Running [and] invited for a few years, and he really wanted to do one in Scotland,” Bear said. “He said his grandfather had such a strong link to Scotland with his service with the Royal Navy during World War II as a captain of a submarine.”
The experience came full circle with what Bear called “one of the coolest extractions we’ve ever done.”
“We assembled these little portable kayaks and paddled out, and [Benedict] goes, ‘Where the hell are we going? It’s winter time. We’re going out into the sea. Scotland’s, you know, a long way that way. What’s happening?’ And I didn’t tell him,” Bear recalled. “And then the [Royal Marines] came in their boat and they took us out about 20 minutes to a undisclosed destination, and up pops this nuclear submarine that had been out on patrol, and we went aboard and got to to be on that for a while and meet all the crew and see around it and how they live and operate, and for [Benedict] it was really emotional. I said, ‘this is like your grandfather shining down on you.’”
Hanging out with Cynthia Erivo was a treat for Bear, and he called his time with her on Running Wild “inspirational.” The singer-actress was put to the test on episode three when she and Bear visited the highest mountain in Wales and rappelled into a series of caves. Cynthia eventually had to figure out how to escape a cave system on her own, and Bear said she did it all with a smile on her face.
“She had to definitely face some quite intense moments deep underground in these caves, where you’ve got to be mindful of rising water levels and carbon-monoxide levels and all sorts of dangers down there,” Bear said, adding that “her smile was infectious” and she just had “a big smile, however tough it got.”
Bear described the backdrop for his adventure with Cynthia in the Brecon Beacons Mountains as another “really tough landscape—boggy, wet, high mountains [with] notoriously bad weather.” He said the goal was to put Cynthia through some really specific targeted survival training.
“She got the full experience, again in winter time, crossing these frozen rivers and waterfalls,” Bear explained. “She got pretty cold, but she is like a fearless operator and an incredible athlete—very physical, and she really just rose to the challenge. She said you see so few black women doing this sort of thing, and she really wanted to be that inspiration and example—and she was.”
By coincidence, Bear had seen CODA for the first time a few weeks before he met up with the Academy Award-winning actor Troy Kotsur in the Scottish Highlands for episode four, and he said he and his entire family quickly became “massive fans” of Troy and his work. Since Troy was the first deaf guest on Running Wild, Bear also admitted that he and the crew were not sure how it was going to go.
“Everyone was definitely nervous for this one,” Bear said. “But [Troy] carried us, really is the truth. He really led the way, even though I was kind of helping him with some of the ropes and the skills and the root finding, he was leading in terms of communicating.”
Turns out, it was time for the student to teach the master some new tricks—in this case, about communicating in the wild.
“Communication in the wild is a matter of life and death,” Bear said. “You know, for us on Running Wild, there’s so much communication that you take for granted all the time in big moments when you’re crossing rivers, climbing up stuff, jumping off things—split-second instructions you’ve got to react to, and doing it with someone who’s deaf is super challenging, and I can’t imagine doing it with anyone as good, as talented as him in terms of communication.”
In fact, Bear said teaching Troy survival skills in the wild was really like getting “a master class from him on how to communicate when you can’t hear.”
There is one bit of sign language Bear said he walked away from the episode knowing really well . . .
“One thing he definitely taught me at the end in terms of sign language is ‘you’re an asshole,’” Bear joked. “Because every time he was about to have to jump off something or climb down something, he was always just giving me the same signal, so I did learn that one by the end.”
The guest for this season’s fifth episode is someone Bear says he’s kept in touch with— someone who left quite an impression on the crew of Running Wild: Russell Brand. The actor, activist, and author was almost a guest on an earlier season of the show, but Bear said he’s glad it worked out exactly when it did.
“Russell was somebody we almost got on the show right at the beginning, but it wasn’t quite the right time, and I’m so pleased we did it when we did it now,” Bear explained. “He’s had such a life journey in terms of his addictions and getting sober, getting off drugs, he’s found a faith, he’s got an incredible family. He has turned his life 180 degrees [around] from dysfunction to incredible community and rich in relationships and love and faith, and to hear that journey and to adventure alongside him was, for me, probably one of the most inspirational ones and also [one of] the most fun ones.”
As the pair adventured on a secluded Scottish isle in search of a 16th-century castle, Bear said Russell was “a total rookie out of his comfort zone” and “laughed at himself nonstop.”
“He’s so humble, you know, he’s not what you kind of think maybe from some of his past exploits,” Bear added. “He’s the humblest, nicest, gentlest person you’ll ever meet.”
As for how the crew of Running Wild received Russell, let’s just say, they won’t forget the experience any time soon.
“We did the whole journey in kilts together,” Bear laughed. “That has its challenges, especially when Scots would never wear anything underneath their kilts, and there’s a lot of going up and down rock faces. The crew is still saying that they’re traumatized by seeing the pair of us coming down that final cliff face.”
Kicking off episode six by jumping out of a plane, Bear and singer-songwriter and actor Rita Ora started their adventure off on a high—a high of 10,000 feet. Bear described the setting for the challenge, the Valley of Fire in the Nevada desert, as desolate, with very little water and hardly any food.
As for taking on desert survival with a TV show host and fashion designer, Bear said Rita was up for the challenge. Not only that, he said they genuinely enjoyed the experience and she was “just so fun, she really was.”
Nothing about the challenge was easy, and Bear said Rita faced some big fears—“big heights, big cliffs, Nevada—the red rock country—and some of those Nevada deserts are unforgiving terrain to operate in.” By the end of their time together, though, Bear had become another one of Rita’s many fans.
“She just has this massive global following and at the end of the journey, I could see why,” he said. “You know, she has such a positive spirit. She’s had a tough background, you know, [a] refugee background, but she knew what she wanted to do and fought for it with every ounce of her being, and she brought that same spirit to this adventure.”
Even though Bear described Hamilton star Daveed Diggs as “a total fish out of water” in Nevada’s Red Rock Country, he was quite proud of Daveed’s ability to step outside his comfort zone and be vulnerable—something Bear says is not an easy thing to do.
“He’s such an example of so many guests on Running Wild who are willing to be vulnerable and operate so far outside of their comfort zone,” Bear added. “And I’ve noticed on Running Wild how common that is. You know, most people, when they get successful, never operate outside their comfort zones, because they don’t want to be vulnerable. But I’ve definitely noticed with so many of these stars that they like to be outside of their comfort zone, because they know that’s where they thrive [and] that’s where they grow.”
Bear said Daveed was “incredible and up for everything.” He didn’t come on the show because he needed the fame or the money or the exposure. Rather, Daveed wanted the experience—even when the experience took him to new heights, literally.
Bear said he relishes those moments, when guests show him what they’re really made of.
“He really goes, ‘I love being challenged. I love doing things I’ve never done before that are so scary for me,’” Bear said. “At the end of it, I got the crew to bring in some parachutes, and we took off in the helicopter at the extraction point at the end of this journey, and he thought it was the end, and I kind of pulled out a parachute, and, you know, that was raw fear for him, and he had big smile, he goes, ‘let’s do it, come on.’ I love those moments.”
One of Bear’s favorite memories of the episode he shot with Daveed was a cool gadget they got to use.
“We used one of the coolest things I’ve used in a long time for getting up a rock face, which was one of these auto electric ascenders,” Bear gushed. “And one of the cowboys left it for us, and we kind of thought, ‘what is this?’ And I realized, hold on, this is one of these things we can use just to get up this rock face. [You] literally just clip into it and it rips you up this face. It’s normally used by special forces for accessing oil rigs and stuff . . . so that was pretty cool to use.”
For the season eight finale, Bear and She-Hulk star Tatiana Maslany met up in winter in the Laramie Mountains of Wyoming for what Bear called one of the crew’s favorite episodes to date because of their very special guest.
Bear described Tatiana as “a ball of positivity.”
“I think for many of our crew, they said that’s one of their favorite ones they did, with such a lovely, warm, kind, hard-working guest who again was willing to be vulnerable and outside of her comfort zone but give everything a go,” he said.
Tatiana told Bear that the creators of TV miniseries She-Hulk: Attorney at Law wanted somebody for the role of She-Hulk who came across as very normal, right up until the character turns into She-Hulk, of course.
“And that’s how she was on the journey,” Bear said. “She’s brilliantly and refreshingly, like, down to Earth [and] ‘regular,’ and yet then she has this kind of fearsome spirit she can dig into when she needs to and get laser-focused in the big moments, and it was really inspiring to see.”
Bear said at the end of their challenge, Tatiana did one of the toughest things of the whole season.
“We were in, like, minus 20 degrees cold conditions, but I got the crew to smash through the ice the day before near where we were getting extracted from, and we reached this frozen lake, and we were both shivering already [. . .] yet she stripped down to her undies with me, got in this freezing water that we had to keep smashing to stop it from refreezing,” he explained. “She had to answer all these survival-like questions under pressure in that water. [. . .] She was really nervous, but up for it, and tackled it with that She-Hulk spirit.”
Bear may be the expert in wilderness survival, but it seems he often learns just as much from his talented guests on Running Wild as they learn from him. Celebrity guests come to prove something to themselves, set an example for other members of their communities, or just to have an adrenaline-pumping good time. The only catch? They’ve got to do it all with the world watching. Thankfully, each celeb has Bear by his or her side, and he’s always rooting for their great success.