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Wild man

Television | Bear Grylls' reality show makes for great father-son viewing

Issue: "Endings & beginnings," Jan. 13, 2007

Do not try what you see Bear Grylls attempting at home. That's because the adventurist and star of the Discovery Channel's reality survival show Man vs. Wild knows which plants to eat and you don't. The premise of Grylls' show is delightfully simple: Grylls parachutes into any number of barren and deserted environments with usually only a knife and a flint and shows viewers how to survive and make it back to civilization.

So far, the show has managed to abandon him in the Moab Desert, a Costa Rican rain forest, the French Alps, atop a volcano in Hawaii, and even in a Gilligan's Island situation. All episodes end with Grylls eventually spotting some form of civilization. The result: possibly the best show on television for fathers and sons to watch together.

Along the way, Grylls employs his encyclopedic knowledge of nature to scavenge for food and keep his body in order. When his head hurts in one episode, Grylls searches for pain-relieving plants. When he needs food, he eats maggots in the Rocky Mountains, or chases vultures from a fresh zebra kill in Africa's savanna, or simply eats any manner of foliage he thinks could work.

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What makes Man vs. Wild more interesting than other, tamer survival programs is the lengths to which Grylls will go to show the viewer how to deal with the absolute worst case scenario. What do you do if you manage to catch a trout but can't build a fire to cook it? Consider sushi. What do you do if you really need water in Africa? Squeeze the liquid from elephant dung. Seriously.

In this way, Grylls may be the television star who works hardest for his audience. When Grylls encounters a wild horse in one episode, he doesn't just launch into a discourse on feral horses. He tries to ride it (disastrously). When he begins talking about the dangers of falling through a frozen lake in the Alps, Grylls doesn't just lecture on what to do, he jumps in.

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