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Running Wild Recap: Pop Star Rita Ora Sings Nature’s Praises and Dances with Bear Grylls in Nevada’s Valley of Fire

British singer-songwriter Rita Ora gets out of the studio and into the Valley of Fire on this week’s Running Wild with Bear Grylls: The Challenge (Sundays on National Geographic at 9/8c). The performer arrives ready to rock the survival skills Bear Grylls must teach her on her first day in Nevada’s desolate 46,000-acre Valley of Fire — everything from navigation to rock climbing — before she heads off on her own to earn her extraction from the desert. 

“I have no idea what’s going on,” Rita says while waiting alone on a tarmac at an airport somewhere outside Las Vegas. “I can’t believe I’m here.”

Meanwhile, on a plane zooming overhead, Bear explains Rita recently wrote him an email requesting an adventure. “Be careful what you wish for,” the survivalist says, warning Rita’s impending challenge will be tough.

Day One: Concert in a Canyon

Image by Ben Simms for National Geographic and Disney+

“It’s happening!” Rita shouts when Bear’s plane comes in for a landing and he hops out to help the “Anywhere” singer into a pack containing a parachute. The two immediately head back into the aircraft, which takes off and ascends 15,000 feet into minus-20-degree temperatures. 

Tandem jumper Rita enthusiastically tumbles out of the plane, followed by Bear. Her succinct two-word assessment of the situation: “Holy s***!”

The pair glide down and reach Earth safe and sound. “I could do that a hundred times over,” Rita gushes.

It’s now time for Bear to give Rita her first lesson in this rugged and disorienting desert landscape. He tells her to take note of the positions of several distinct rock formations and the sun, which will help with orientating themselves since everything out here, as Rita later notes, looks the same. 

The pair are facing an 11-mile trek across the Valley of Fire. Rita’s adventure will include lessons in how to scale imposing sandstone ridges and find water in the arid desert. “I’ve never done anything like this before,” Rita says, adding, “I’m very, very nervous, I have to say.”

Despite her frayed nerves, Rita and Bear forge ahead. Seasoned survivalist Bear quickly gets the chance to teach Rita her first skill — how to find water in the desert. He explains there are two key things to look for when in need of liquid: vegetation and areas located in shade for the majority of the day.

In a spot that features both, Bear digs into the sand, which he notes is like nature’s filter, until he hits water. He then gets a sock, dips it in and squeezes out the water into a mug. “It doesn’t look great,” he says of the brown water, “but it’s going to be clean” when they boil it later.

They continue on and reach a cliff face that requires Bear to show Rita two more essential survival skills she’ll need on day two: the ability to tie a figure-eight knot to secure herself to a rope system as well as chimney climbing. 

A chimney climb, Bear explains, uses opposing forces to allow a climber to ascend a crevice using a three-point contact technique that relies on pushing the back against one side of a rock and the legs and hands against the other.

“I can’t lie and say I’m not scared,” Rita says. Despite those fears, she proudly masters the technique and makes her way to the top, where she’s treated to an unbelievable view as her reward. 

The pair push on along a soaring ridgeline, keeping track of the sun’s position and the landmarks they noted earlier, until they’re forced to descend the terrain using ropes. “I have never done this before,” Rita says. “It’s very, very scary; it’s incredibly steep. I am petrified.”

A nervous Rita positions herself at the cliff’s rounded lip, says a prayer and then begins inching her way over the edge. The entertainer hesitates and has to remind herself to calm down. As she continues, Rita gains confidence and slowly descends toward the bottom — never looking down. Bear tells her enroute to collect a dead pigeon, likely killed by a bird of prey, laying in a cliffside cave and now destined to be their dinner.

“I can’t believe you made me do that; I can’t believe I did it,” Rita tells Bear at the bottom, staring up at the sheer cliff she just conquered. “I did that myself. Smashed it!”

After a dance break and some song along a steep ridge — “If you trip here, you’re dead, but the singing is quite nice so I’m quite enjoying it,” Bear says — the two continue their grueling hike.

The day is coming to a close, but Rita gets one last adrenaline rush when Bear grabs her and points out a rattlesnake nestled in a rock nearby. “That rattlesnake was genuinely a shock,” she says. “That really got me. My heart!”

As the sun and temperature dip, Bear and Rita find a natural shelter formed by an indent in the red rocks and they set up camp for the night. Rita saves the day by providing fuel — tissues and lip balm — for a fire. She helps Bear prepare the pigeon they found, and they settle in for the night, talking about everything from Rita’s experience immigrating from Kosovo to England as a child to her career and marriage.  

“Being out here all day just made me really grateful for nature and the Earth around us,” Rita recaps of the experience so far. “I think sometimes when you live in a city, like I do, you don’t remember all these incredible textures and smells and feelings of just sort of being at one with nature.” She adds, “I loved every second of it.”

Day Two: Is It Tea Time Yet?

Image by Ben Simms for National Geographic and Disney+

After a quiet night and good sleep, Bear and Rita’s second day in the desert dawns bright. Bear gets ready to move ahead without Rita and tells her she’ll need to find water in order to decipher a map written in invisible ink.

Rita sets out alone, singing, until she comes to a shaded spot filled with vegetation and sand. The star jokes she “feels like Bear” when she spots water in a crevice and uses the liquid to dampen and decode her map. 

With the map revealed, Rita must follow an orange line on it to find a series of cans Bear’s left for her. Then, she’ll have to use her new route-finding skills to locate piles of rock, Bear and one final challenge. 

On her own, Rita weaves through red-rock canyons. “I’m going to need a big cup of tea after this — with some alcohol in it, please,” she jokes.

Reaching the top of a ridge along her path, she pulls out the map and accidentally rips it. Still, she continues along what she hopes is the right way. “Who needs Bear, you know what I mean?” she asks.

Slowly working her way down a canyon, she spots the man himself perched high above a crevice. Bear tosses Rita a rope, and she ties a figure-eight knot and clips it to her harness. After positioning herself between the two sides of the crevice, Rita uses the chimney technique to begin wiggling her way up the cliff. At times, she doubts she can accomplish the feat, but Bear guides her and she succeeds. ”Definitely not the right manicure for this,” she tells Bear of this “no joke” climb.

Together, Bear and the “Let You Love Me” songstress make a last push up a hill, where they’re greeted by a helicopter and whisked back to civilization. 

“I’m so happy I had the opportunity to see and understand what it physically, mentally takes to survive,” Rita says. “And, more than anything, I’ll think back on this and know that I can conquer anything now.”

Bear notes Rita’s incredible life journey has included coming to England from a war-torn county as a young child and achieving superstardom. “She kind of lives in the same way she sings,” he says, “which is with a big smile, big heart and with real openness.”

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