Discovery Channel // 2006 // 540 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Kent Dixon (Retired) // February 28th, 2009
It's Bear's world. Wanna play?
Reality TV has had many incarnations since Survivor launched the genre in 2000. Each subsequent show has introduced a relatively new take on the concept, but they all boil down to essentially the same thing...seemingly ordinary people, dropped into extraordinary circumstances. At the beginning the concept was fresh, but in the past few years, at least for me, reality TV has become old, predictable, and decidedly anchored in fantasy and formula. All the concepts involve similar takes on the following: voting, challenges, or tasks, and friction between strangers that usually erupts into good old ratings-boosting conflict.
Debuting on the Discovery Channel in 2006, Born Survivor or Man Vs. Wild, as it is known to international audiences, brought something new to the table with its hybrid of nature documentary and reality TV. For the unfamiliar, the series focuses on Edward "Bear" Grylls, a former British Special Forces soldier and adventurer, as he deliberately drops himself into some of the most inhospitable places in the world to teach viewers how to survive and get themselves back to the comfort of their living room. On the most basic level, the show works, with Grylls acting as guide, host, and narrator in each episode as he and his camera crew treat viewers to some truly awesome environments and landscapes. One of the other notable features of the show is the often outrageous and disgusting extents Grylls will go to as he demonstrates ways to find food (mind eating the eyeball of a yak?) or quench thirst (urine is a liquid after all, isn't it?).
Shortly after the first season, a flurry of media coverage pointed to the show's supposedly deliberate intentions to mislead the audience into thinking that situations that had clearly been staged in advance were actually true to life. Grylls was even interviewed by David Letterman at one point, and was grilled (sorry!) by the host who brought up situations where Grylls may have actually slept in a warm hotel with his crew, rather than actually spending a sleepless night outdoors as was depicted on the show. Grylls and the show's creators have since made it clear that some of the situations require advanced preparation and it was never their intent to mislead or confuse viewers. Whether they were just caught with their hands in the cookie jar or not remains a secret, but they have now included clear disclaimers at the beginning of each episode to let viewers know that some situations may have been staged and the usual other stuff about kids not trying things at home.
All 13 episodes of the show's second season are included with Man Vs. Wild: Season 2, spread over three discs as follows:
Bear Grylls parachutes into the hottest place on earth to tackle extreme survival challenges, showing you how drinking your own urine and eating the feared camel spider can stave off dehydration and heatstroke.
* Desert Survivor
A camel train takes Bear to the deadly desolation of the salt pans where there's no food and no water, but plenty of mirages to trick the mind. However, his biggest survival challenge will be something he learned from the indigenous Berber tribesmen of West Africa.
Bear parachutes into croc- and shark-infested water to tackle the stinking tangle of the mangroves and drops from a vine into the lethal viper pits on the historic Camino Real...where he has to face one of his biggest fears in the pitch-black of a cavern.
* Jungle Survivor
Bear encounters the Embera Indians, who teach him some of their legendary survival techniques. And in a country where there's a high risk of kidnapping, how can you conceal yourself and dodge your trackers?
In the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, one of the largest expanses of ice in the world, Bear negotiates his way out of a crevasse and spends the night in a snow hole sheltering himself from an icy blizzard.
* Andes Adventure
In this chilling episode, Bear spends the night sleeping under a rock in freezing conditions, skins a hare, climbs a 100-foot cliff, meets a gaucho (a South American cowboy), and tracks pumas to find a recent kill.
* Bear Eats
Bear puts his taste buds (and stomach) to the ultimate test as he takes us to nature's kitchen. See him drink the liquid from a camel's stomach and eat elephant droppings, live frogs, three-inch-long beetles, and raw goat's testicles...if you dare.
Battling sub-zero temperatures, Bear journeys toward the Taiga forest, where it's thought that a quarter of the people who enter it never find their way out. On the way, he uses a deer skin he finds to sled down a series of treacherous inclines.
* Land of Ice
In the Sayan Mountains in Siberia, Bear meets the Tuvans, yak herders descended from Genghis Khan who have lived there for 20,000 years, and learns some survival techniques from these cold-climate experts.
Bear's journey begins on the notorious Skeleton Coast, a lethal 900-mile stretch that has wrecked thousands of ships. Fighting dehydration, Bear meets the masters of desert survival, the San Bushmen, who reveal their methods for finding water in barren locales and teach Bear to hunt porcupine.
Flash floods of the Zambezi River and the 12-foot waves and vicious currents of the Batoka gorge regularly claim the lives of canoeists and rafters. Before heading into the bush, Bear demonstrates how to survive some of the world's biggest rapids.
* Jungle Swamp
Bear goes into the Pacific Ring of Fire as he takes on a week of challenges in an area devastated by the 2004 tsunami. He shows how to stay alive by making a simple shelter and scavenging whatever he can from the tiny island.
In the jungle, Bear sleeps in a tree to stay safe during tropical storms, sharing his bed with a variety of horrible insects. The he dines on grubs and snakes and must use all his survival skills and ingenuity to get through waterfalls, sheer cliffs and deadly jungle.
The episodes are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphically enhanced widescreen and the visual presentation is actually pretty solid. The source material was clean, there's no sign of any damage or flaws of any kind, and the image remains consistently sharp throughout. Much of the show's appeal lies in the locations and environments, and the colors are sharp and distinct. While not overly dynamic, the audio presentation does its job nicely and creates some decent ambient effects with environmental noises and music from time to time throughout the episodes.
There are no extra features beyond a bonus episode called "Bear's Mission Everest." The youngest British climber to complete a summit and descent of Mount Everest in 1993 at age 23, Grylls returns with his close friend Gilo Cardozo, as they attempt a dangerous feat: flying a powered paraglider higher than Everest. I suppose you could also call the 5X7 photo insert of Grylls looking appropriately adventurous an extra feature of some kind, but not really for the purposes of this review.
Naysayers aside, Man Vs. Wild must have a healthy following around the world, as the show is still in production with no signs of slowing down. If you've grown tired of the traditional reality TV format, give Man Vs. Wild: Season 2 a try. You may never have eaten a spider or drunk your own urine, but now you can at least watch some other guy do it!
Review content copyright © 2009 Kent Dixon; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Discovery Channel
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 540 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated