Preface: I wrote this piece in July. Now its November…..and this post still gets more hits than almost anything else that I’ve written. Anyway, I’m not going to change anything that I’ve written, but I will say this: my opinion has changed.
Bear Grylls basically hid in a corner for this entire period. It might have something to with the Discovery Channel wanting to totally bury him, but despite this: there was no statement, written or otherwise, that I heard about, explaining the situation. So, due to the fact that Bear Grylls seems to be avoiding everyone, and some interesting video clips posted on this post, I will officially say this: it seems like Mr. Grylls was up to no good.
But that’s all I will say. I’ll leave this post up as is. Let’s just say…..I’m a little disapointed.
(Long live Survivorman.)
Okay….it’s time to address what I’ve been hiding from.
That’s right…..the whole “Bear Grylls is fake, Man VS. Wild is fake, this is guy is a phony” dilemna that has swept the newswaves and blogwaves by storm.
I feel I should write about this, seeing as how I wrote a post about two weeks ago pretty much saying that the guy is the man. And lets get something straight right now….Bear is the man. Plain and simple.
I first heard rumblings on Monday night, while I was a enjoying a Chicken Fajita at the Daly Planet in Burlington, VT. My buddy who reads my blog called me to tell me that the London Times was reporting that Man VS. Wild was fake; he just wanted to give me the heads up since I had just kissed Bear’s ass a week before. That was nice of him.
When I returned home, one of the first things my roomate did was start rubbing the “Bear is a faker” story in my face.
“Heeeeeeey, did you hear the news, MAN VS. WILD IS FAY-AKE, MAN VS. WILD IS FAY-AKE.” Then she started asking if I got her email she sent me, which was a link to the BBC story about the controversey (here’s an updated version).
So okay, we all know the details…..allegedly staying at motels, claiming horses from a ranch were wild, claiming they were in Hawaii when in fact they were in Figi or someplace.
I’m not going to sit here and try to say that this stuff didn’t happen: who am I to say that? But I will say this, as everyone and their father tears Bear to pieces: these are only allegations, made by one Mark Weinert, a survival consultant from the U.S. If there’s anything I’ve learned from watching ESPN over the last few years, its that allegations, are, well, allegations. Remember when Kobe was accused of rape? And all the Sportscenter announcers came out and said, “It’s important to remember….these are only allegations.”
Well, its the same deal here….these are only allegations.
Am I accusing them of being false allegations? Ofcourse not. I’m just saying, that’s what they are. And while we’re at it…lets take a look at Mr. Mark Weinstein, survival consultant.
Not to pick here…..but what exactly are his motives? It seems pretty clear he no longer works on the show; so what’s he doing now? Why doesn’t he work for them anymore? Did he leave? Was he fired? Was it on bad terms? Did he just want to get his name out there? Again, I’m not accusing him….I’m just asking. I’m curious.
If you don’t mind….I think I’ll nitpick some more. Weinstein brought up the following example in his story given to the BBC: on one episode, a raft was built. Weinstein showed everyone how to build the raft, and after building it, it was taken apart, and Bear re-built it, with the camera crews on him. Bear never mentioned that someone else helped him build it.
Now….a couple things here. First of all, this shouldn’t seem surprising at all. Think about it: a survival consultant brought in to help out with the show demonstrates how to build a raft. Doesn’t this make sense? Let’s look at it from Bear’s view: the man is a survival nut, but there’s no way he knows everything about the subject: nobody does. So they bring in a few consultants, and in one instance, Mr. Weinstein demonstrates the most efficent way to build a raft. Honestly, that’s what they paid him for: to be a consultant.
And furthermore, this shouldn’t diminish Bear’s standing at all. Like I said earlier, no one can possibly know everything about one thing. By putting two heads together, the best possible outcome came about; that’s what they planned for.
The fact that Mr. Weinstein seems upset, or even mentions the fact that Bear doesn’t name him on the show, is absolutely preposperous. Honestly, is Bear going to look into the camera and say, “With the help of my survival expert, I just built this raft, after he showed me how.” Ofcourse not; but I’m sure, if one was observant enough, that they would notice the name Mark Weinstein in the credits as “Survival Consultant.”
This raises a more important issue: that despite the fact that we have been living with Reality TV for about 15 years now, many people are still clueless to what this actually is.
Let’s go back in time: in the early 90s, MTV decided to broadcast a bunch of twenty-somethings living together in an apartment: it was called The Real World. It was a ground-breaking idea: before this moment, the concept of watching people in an everyday context on TV didn’t exist. It seemed radical. But before long, The Real World had people hooked: it was exciting to see who was backstabbing who, who was hooking up with who. Ironically, MTV revolutionized TV, but not in the way that most people thought it would when it launched in the early 1980s; instead of changing the music world, they changed the entire world of TV programming.
And its been a high ride ever since. The Real World is now one of the longest running and most successful shows in TV history. The amount of Reality TV shows that have been spawned are countless: in 2000, a whole new concept was launched when CBS gave us Survivor. The idea was that one by one, contestants were elminated. Instead of simply watching people, we got to watch people cheat and back-stab their way to the top of the competition. It was fun to watch.
(One note on Survivor: Chuck Klosterman once wrote an article for Esquire which was fascinating; it compared Survivor to Lost, specifically how the characters on each show differed. His main point was that while on Lost, the characters were truly great and strived to build a community, on Survivor it was impossible to be great, because those weaker than you would vote you off. His conclusion was that the only way to win the million dollars on Survivor was to be a genuinly, un-great person with no personality, which is entirely true. And somehow, this makes it more fun to watch; its society at its worst. I couldn’t find the article, but its probably buried somewhere on Esquire’s website).
And so today, we are left with an endless supply and variety of reality TV shows: some are downright awful, like the show on Bravo that followed Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston around last year (the highlights were great, the show itself, impossible to watch [you would think]). Some are entertaining, although you wouldn’t want to admit that you watch them (think Next on MTV). And some are terrific.
One of the first reality shows that I fell in love with was Monster Garage on Discovery Channel. As far as I know, it was the channel’s first attempt at reality TV. Quickly, they found out they had something good.
They put some of the best mechanics and specialists in Southern California into the same garage, and gave them crazy projects to work on. It was great. The best part was that, because it was real, these guys images were on the line. They wanted to make the best product possible so that people would see they were good at what they did. Squabbles often rose, and the scene was usually tense. It was great TV.
And at the end of the day, that’s what we’re left with: great TV, or mediocre TV, or awful TV, but always: TV. And TV wants one thing from you: money. Namely, advertisers.
Where there are advertisers, there are production people. And production people have one goal: make it a show that people will watch. If the people will watch, the advertisers will pay for the people. So at all costs: make sure the people watch.
For a long time, what we didn’t realize about reality TV, is that it isn’t always what it seems. A lot of us have seen the VH1 special about the producers on The Real World, and how they spiced things up by planting ideas into peoples heads off of the set. And not only that, but we should all know at this point that anything can be fixed in an editing room: sound can be added where it didn’t happen, ect, ect…The tricky part is that these producers aren’t lying: they simply spice things up where they can, and bend or cloud the truth where they need to……so that we will watch.
And so we get back to Man VS. Wild. This was always a show that threaded the line of showmanship: Bear was obviously doing a little performing in front of the camera. But let’s not forget: Bear, and his producers, want us to watch. The showmanship is just one aspect of the show that makes it great…..and vulnerable to critics.
Another thing is this: the show never claims to be an actual survivor show…..and it isn’t. Its easy to get swung into an episode, and start thinking, “Is Bear going to make it?” Well…..ofcourse he is. Not only does he have a cameraman and sound guy with him, but rescue teams, survival consultants, and supplies are probably a quick cellphone call away. Anyone who doesn’t realize this is simply forgetting a general rule: they are watching Reality TV, not Reality.
In actuality, the show is not showing a man fighting for survival: it is showing us a survival expert showing US, the viewers, how to survive if we are ever to find ourselves in a dire situation. And that is what makes the show so great. He shows us to urinate on our shirts and wrap it around on our head in the desert, in order to keep our heads cool….a novel idea that I can now use, if, God forbid, I’m ever stuck in a desert. He points out what to eat, and what not to eat. He shows us how to jump off a forty foot cliff into a river and survive.
That’s what people aren’t taking from this: its a survival guide, not a guy fighting for his life to survive. The whole show is contrived: but contrived in a way to be constructive and entertaining. And when you boil it down: isn’t every show contrived, except perhaps for live sporting events? (Do not, please do not, tell me news coverage isn’t contrived).
Now, I can’t speak for the allegations that Mark Weinstein has made: I hope the more disingenuine ones, such as the one that they were actually staying in motels at night, are not true. But no matter how it ends up, everyone simply has to realize what they are watching: they need to put two and two together, and realize that someone has to be out there with Bear. They need to realize that, as is so often the case, the Discovery Channel has provided us with a show that is both educational and entertaining, but in the end, pays the bills for the station. And they certainly need to realize that behind every episode starring Bear, there are probably 4-5 producers figuring out how the show is going to be aired.
I’ll end this article with a post to Discovery’s webpage, where they have a little biography on Bear. I pretty much took this stuff their site verbatim in my post on the matter, but I did mention it at the time. Reading about his accomplishments, it is clear to me that, no matter how it turns out, Bear Grylls is one of the toughest, most inspring individuals out there. Here’s the link.
Enjoy Your Weekend.
Until Next Time,