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Running Wild Recap: ‘Wicked’ Star Cynthia Erivo Battles Eerie Caves and Bewitching Waterfalls

British Special Forces vet Bear Grylls teams up with performer and Wicked star Cynthia Erivo and imparts essential lessons on how to survive in the Brecon Beacons mountain range in South Wales on the second season of Running Wild with Bear Grylls: The Challenge (Sundays on National Geographic at 9/8c). 

This beautiful but rugged area is where Bear trained over 25 years ago with the British Special Forces. It’s a land of raging waterfalls, thick forests and deep caverns. It’s also where, on the first day of a two-day challenge, Cynthia must learn to rappel into caves and traverse rivers. After a night’s rest, she’ll go off on her own with her new knowledge she’ll need to extract herself from the wilderness.

“I’ve never done anything like this before, and I tend to be the person who is willing to try anything once, at least, because life’s too short,” Cynthia says.

She’s also keen on leading by example. 

“There aren’t very many young Black women that I see doing things like this and who aren’t afraid,” explains the actress who will soon portray the Wicked Witch of the West in the film Wicked, “and I want to encourage them to do the same, to take chances and get out there, and try things.” She adds, “I want to see more of us out there.”

Day One: In Too Deep?

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Image by National Geographic

Cynthia is bundled up against the cold when Bear arrives to pick her up in a helicopter. They fly their way twelve miles into the Brecon Beacons, where Bear plans to teach his newest celebrity survivalist student how to navigate a complex underground cave system and pass through a dense forest and raging waterfalls — all in freezing conditions. 

The two are dropped off at their remote starting point, and Bear explains to Cynthia these mountains, with their cold, wet and unpredictable weather, are the perfect place to test and learn survival skills. 

Bear and the Grammy Award-winning singer begin their trek and eventually stop to gather thistle roots so Cynthia, a vegan, will have something to eat at night. Bear points out that while there is a nearby patch of mushrooms, it’s better to err on the side of caution and leave the fungi behind since there are six that can kill in the United Kingdom.

The two continue to hike the increasingly rocky landscape and come to a narrow river valley, where they must find a way into an underground maze of caves. After spotting a promising opening, Bear has Cynthia drop a flair down into the crack. The cave runs deep, and Bear gathers extra rope so they can safely descend. “The good thing about caves, it’s much warmer,” Bear says of the relatively constant temperature they’ll enjoy underground after leaving the cold weather above. 

“I want to see what it’s like, to see if I can actually do it,” Cynthia says of spelunking, joking, “Hopefully, I’ll still be alive by the end of it.”

To ensure nothing goes wrong, Bear instructs that the most important thing to keep in mind is to protect the rope she’ll use to descend, especially from jagged rocks that can saw through it. He then secures the rope around a rock outside the opening with a series of simple granny knots, uses a fleece jacket to protect the rope where it goes over the edge and tosses it down the opening. 

Bear descends first and realizes that it’s a lot further down than he initially thought. Next, it’s Cynthia’s turn, and she makes it down to the bottom. “It feels like we’re in the depths of the Earth,” she observes of being inside the dark and “eerie” labyrinth. 

Bear tells Cynthia the key to getting their bearings and finding their way back out is by heading into the opposite direction air and water are flowing inside the cave since both generally enter from the surface. “I hope Cynthia’s a quick study,” Bear notes. “Without these skills navigating a cave can be deadly, and tomorrow she’ll be on her own.”

As they slowly head upstream, the passage they’re trekking becomes narrower and narrower. At times, the two must shimmy and crawl along on their bellies through giant slabs of rock. Finally, they spot daylight and emerge from the cave system unscathed. Their celebration? Cups of tea served from thermoses. 

The warm drinks probably aren’t going to do much to protect against the next challenge: crossing a raging frigid river crowned with waterfalls. The pair put waterproof shells over their clothing and Bear decides their best bet is to cross underneath the pounding waterfalls fed by recent storms. Though the path forward could be dangerous, it’s an unavoidable risk they have to take. Bear then takes the precaution of attaching Cynthia to himself with a rope and carabiner since a slip on the slick rocks could lead to disaster.

Once safely across, the two continue hiking up steep slopes before finding a suitable spot to set up camp and start a fire to warm up. Cynthia calls the challenge so far “tough” and “definitely a test” of her abilities and mental fortitude.

Day Two: Bright Skies Ahead 

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Image by National Geographic

The next morning, Cynthia is “excited for the adventure” of heading off on her own to confront this merciless terrain without Bear’s help. 

Bear leaves her at camp, and the actress readies herself to show off her survival chops. “All the things that we were learning yesterday — tying the knots in the rope, rope protection, finding out which way the air goes when you’re in a cave — is now coming in handy,” she says.

At the opening of the cave that she must descend alone, Cynthia expertly prepares her ropes, drops a flair down the cave opening and descends into the depths.

She then climbs and shimmies through a series of undergone obstacles with little trouble — until an alarm on a device measuring oxygen levels begins to sound. Plummeting levels of oxygen means she has to find another way out. Communicating by radio, Bear advises her to use the flow of the breeze inside the cave to determine which direction to go. After a course recalibration, Cynthia spots an opening in the distance. 

“She did the right thing, followed that fresh air, fresh oxygen” and “made it,” Bear says.

Cynthia’s final obstacle is ascending the steep cave wall so she can exit the opening. Though she appears to struggle at first, Cynthia manages to climb up the rope and out the cave like a seasoned pro. 

After her challenge is over, Cynthia reflects on the importance of not giving up since there’s almost always “definitely a brighter spot at the end.”

“We’re meant to discover what the world has to offer,” she says. “So come out; see; play.

More Recaps:

• Running Wild with Bear Grylls: The Challenge – Season 2, Episode 1 Recap (Bradley Cooper)

• Running Wild with Bear Grylls: The Challenge – Season 2, Episode 1 Recap (Benedict Cumberbatch)


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