Bear Grylls Survival Challenge Review: That Time Bear Grylls Gave Me A Condom
Bear Grylls Survival Challenge Review: That Time Bear Grylls Gave Me A Condom
“Fuck!” Instinctively, I look down at my watch to check for my heart rate. It’s pumping at 164 BPM. This is a bad idea. The clock is ticking, but I can’t shake the thought of turning back. Back into the war torn village I just ran through dodging sniper bullets and insurgent fire. I don’t have any cover. It’s a bad idea. The clock is ticking. I take one more look at the map in my hand to commit the location of the stash to mind, and start to move before my legs change their mind. Recon 8.
“What are you still doing here?” Muffled by the sound of gunfire, I can’t tell if the question being yelled at me is coming from a friendly. My back is to a wall and I see where I think I’m supposed to go. I yell back, “I need to get to the stash” and beeline for the derelict building across from me that marks the spots. I hope I’m right.
Inside I slowly ascend the stairs. It’s eerily quiet now. The place is empty save for an occasional can of Red Bull along the wall. This must be right. I turn the corner and there’s an artillery case and a hole in the floor with a stash of Red Bull. Mission accomplished and I’m out of here.
“WHO THE HELL ARE YOU?!” I’m completely startled as 3 military types reach the top of the stairs with the AK aimed directly at me. Without thinking, I throw myself into the next room and scan for an exit point. There’s a window and I simultaneously consider climbing out and jumping from the 2nd floor and remember that I’m just doing a race. THIS IS NOT REAL.
“I’m with you guys” is the best I can come up with and to my relief, they tell me that they are my cover and they are here to get me out.
This was roughly 30 minutes into the Bear Grylls Survival Challenge and the War Torn Village simulation. At the entrance, we were given brief directions to follow the direction from one of the military guys who would be providing fire cover for us. On the map, there’s a spot that marks a secret stash of supplies and 3 known IEDs.
Despite knowing that this is all a simulation, the intensity coming from the actors are so real my adrenaline begins to spike the moment I enter the village and hear the gunfire. Drawing intuitively from the movies I’ve seen, I am running in a crouched position as close to the walls as possible. There are people firing directly at me so I zig and zag out of the way and sprint for the exit. I’ve completely forgotten about the location of the IEDs and the secret stash. This is when I make the decision to turn back, possibly to the dismay of the role players who are wondering why a racer is running BACK into the village.
I’m not sure if the 3 military guys were supposed to be pop out of nowhere after I found the stash to provide cover. I suspect they were improvising to the situation. And that is the type of commitment and effort that I found evident across the entire race/challenge.
Bear Grylls + Obstacle Course Race
When I first read about the new Bear Grylls Survival Challenge, I thought it would be another attempt to capitalize on the growing popularity of obstacle course races. Put together a few obstacles, come up with a gimmick, and in this case, slap on the face of a celebrity. Eye roll.
But the celebrity was Bear Grylls and I am a fan. I enjoyed Man vs. Wild despite the ridiculousness of the whole thing and got a kick out of seeing Bear Grylls take out other celebrities to do some real adventuring. But more so, I was inspired by his real-life resume and using his found fame to do good. Summiting Everest at 23 only 18 months after a parachuting accident that nearly immobilized him, crossing the Atlantic and later the unforgiving Northwest Passage in an inflatable boat, and hosting a formal dinner at 25,000 ft from a hot air balloon. Many of these adventures and stunts were done in efforts of raising awareness and money for different causes.
So flash forward a few months later, and I arrive at the Blue Cloud Movie Ranch for the race. The venue is an actual Hollywood shooting location complete with sets for cave complex, a post-apocalyptic highway, and a war torn village across 240 acres.
I get a rough overview from their PR team, who were careful to not reveal too much. They wanted me to experience it for myself. But first, Bear is here. Would I like to meet him? I look down at my watch to make sure my heart rate isn’t spiking too high and calmly respond that “that would be nice.”
Meeting Bear Grylls
Whoever said “never meet your heroes” probably admired assholes, because I met Bear Grylls and he was awesome.
After spending Saturday on course to hang with racers and help them through his race, Bear returned on Sunday to do a live on-course interview with a local TV station.
I found a rare free moment and introduced myself. Despite his attention being pulled in multiple direction, I found Bear to be completely engaged in our conversation. I came away with the impression that he is genuinely a nice person and was excited to be at the race. It wasn’t just a media obligation. Anyhow, I asked for a selfie and he obliged. Cool guy. Onto the race.
So What Makes The Bear Grylls Survival Challenge Different?
Innovation has lacking a bit in the OCR world. Ever year, a couple of new obstacles might be introduced, but it’s mostly the same and that can be seen with the turnout. Outside of first timers, a community that used to consume every new race and returning to their favorites no longer has that drive. Races are expensive and the return is diminishing now that the experience is the same.
And that’s where the BGSC is different. The EXPERIENCE. From the start, it’s different from your Spartan Race and Tough Mudder. Everyone is provided with a survival backpack (to keep) with a few seemingly random items that they will have to use during the challenge. Some make sense like the glow stick and emergency whistle. Others, like the condom and cotton ball, not so much.
Racers are released by waves every 30 minutes and includes time to prep your survival pack and go through a briefing behind closed doors. Here, you are given instructions to strategize, think, and be aware of your terrain. In the end, you will receive a survival score that’s based on passing a series of challenging utilizing your skills, wits and the provided items. Yes, even the condom in this case.
Breaking Down The BGSC Survival Score
The survival score is based out of 100 possible points with 65 points given out for passing challenges and 35 points for time. I suspect this could change from event to event, but here’s the breakdown for BGSC-01. The number next to each challenge indicates how many points you can earn for passing the challenge, with the exception of the IED. You get -1 for triggering any IED.
As for speed, to achieve a perfect score of 35 points, you need to complete the course in less than 60 minutes. You start to lose points the longer it takes for you to complete the course.
SE1: Post Apocalyptic Highway
SC1: Coded Doors (4)
SC2: Choose Your Weapons (2)
SE2: Cave Complex
SC4: The Canopy (7)
SC5: Dirty Armor (2)
SC6: Maze Navigation (3)
SC7: Dead Weight (5)
SE3: War Torn Village (IED Valley)
SC8: RECON (4)
IED 1 (-1)
IED 2 (-1)
IED 3 (-1)
SC9: Bear Sprint (3)
SC10: Instant Recall (3)
SC11: Rubber Run (6)
SC12: Hang Tough
SE4: Mission Everest
SC13: Mission Everest Ascent (5)
SC14: Gibbon’s Crossing (4)
SC15: Scavenger (5)
SE5: The Swamp
SC16: Calm Under Pressure (4)
SC17: Light The Fire Within (8)
The Bear Grylls Survival Challenge Experience
The race starts in a dark room with your fellow racers. There were no instructions given as to when the race would start. Looking around, half the room was silent and anxiously waiting for what would come next. A couple of people were plugging their ears with the fingers leading me to suspect this would be a loud explosive start. The question was when?
Time certainly felt slower in the room, but after a few minutes, a loud explosion did come. The door was kicked opened along with loud screams of “Go! Go! Go!”
Awareness Of Surrounding
I took off ahead of the pack and kept a strong pace up the first hill. My legs were still a little sore from running two races the previous day, but adrenaline took over. We were immediately immersed in the movie set environment making our way through a post-apocalyptic highway with burning cars and abandoned buses.
This was rather standard jump and climb over physical obstacles, but taking up a level in realism because you’re climbing through a real old bus and old broken cars.
I knew running alone meant the risk that I would be doing every challenge without the benefit of other racers and that was apparent right away. The first challenge was entering a room and picking from one of four marked doors. Each had a number combination on them. If you had been paying attention to your environment, you would have noticed a sign indicating New York was 2794 miles away before climbing up the first hill. Entering the door marked 2794 would take you across the Pass timing mat and earn you 4 points. I have a thing for numbers, so I definitely noticed the sign.
Choose Your Weapon
Shortly after, I came to the first skill-based challenge. We had a choice between an ax and a spear. Hit the target on one try and you earn the points. Being more familiar with the spear, I found my center of balance and nailed the target dead center from 20 feet away. This was worth 2 points and was by no means easy. I appreciated that we were playing with some real weapons here.
Using Your BGSC Survival Pack
For the next hour, I would be alternating between various challenges that would test our strength, skill, speed, and strategy. Certain challenges had a backpack sign indicating that we would require an item from our pack to complete the challenge.
The first of those challenges required navigating through a completely dark cave. This was an easy one as the glow stick immediately came to mind, but it would not be as obvious later on.
About The Condom
At one point, we were tasked to find an item in our pack that could transport a gallon of water across a mini obstacle field. The Ziploc bag seemed like an option, but it was not large enough. If you’re still fixated on the condom, this is where we used it. The condom easily expanded to hold the gallon of water. A clear Bear Grylls touch and makes sense since he designed the course and challenges himself. As funny as it was to be ripping out a condom and filling it up with water (who hasn’t done this?), it’s actually something that has practical survival use and I’m certain everyone will come away from this event learning at least this.
Let There Be Fire
The cotton ball, which I had largely forgotten about, would come in use at the very end of the race when we were required to start a fire. That’s right. Early on in the race, we came were given a bundle of kindling moss with a hint that it’s harder to start a fire with something that is wet. If you planned ahead, you would have kept the cotton ball and your kindling in the Ziploc bag to avoid it getting wet. Using the provided flint and steel rod at the challenge, getting a spark onto the cotton ball would give you a little fire to light the moss up. Passing the challenge would earn you 8 points and a great sense of accomplishment. When was the last time anyone had to start a fire from scratch, let alone in a timed racing scenario?
Speed And Strategy
Foresight and planning definitely helped your BGSC score, but racers were also rewarded for speed and strategy. Outside of your overall time score, one challenge required racers to make a 100 yard sprint in under 20 seconds, while one uphill section aptly named Mission Everest required racers to make the ascent in under 8 minutes choosing their own path up the mountain. Here, terrain awareness comes into play. If you chose the steeper path that required some hand over feet scrambling, the distance was shorter. I never stopped and took every shortcut at a decent pace to finish that section in 6:27.
While the uphill terrain was the actual points challenge during this section, it was not something to take lightly throughout the course. Bear and his team choose a gnarly route through the venue that included many steep climbs and descents. I can’t remember having this fun scrambling on all fours in a race. The terrain was no joke and I got the same sentiment from other elite racers who normally tear courses at breakneck speed.
Eating A La Bear Grylls
And of course it would not be a Bear Grylls challenge without some element of culinary bravery involved. At the top of Everest, I ran into a small shack that had a sign reading “Snack” outside. That “snack” of course would be whole crickets.
Fortunately, I’ve eaten things like a whole fruit bat and live coconut grubs, and regularly snack on dried frogs and partially developed duck eggs, so this was a breeze. I can imagine how fun and/or scary this could be for someone without such an adventurous palette. Who knows, maybe the next race will require us to squeeze water out of elephant dung for hydration.
“Girls Only Like Guys Who Have Great Skills”
A sure fire way to bring to bring out the competitor in me is to make the course challenging. I found that at least several of the challenges were difficult enough that I could have failed them. Besides the spear/ax throw, we also had to hit a small shooting target with a pellet rifle from roughly 100 feet away.
The fire-making challenge would be impossible if our materials got wet. In fact, just before the end, you had to jump through a swamp. If you hadn’t secured your supplies, you would have almost certainly failed that final challenge.
Getting to the top of Everest in under 8 minutes and making the 100 yard dash in under 20 seconds weren’t exactly easy, especially on tired legs. And instead of a typical rope climb, for one challenge, we had to stay on the rope for 30 seconds. This requires technique. In other words, you need to have some skills like Napoleon Dynamite would say.
Design To Fail
In fact, two challenges did get the best of me. The first was not paying attention at the “crash site” while dragging a “fallen” teammate (in the form of a sandbag) around a helicopter. We would be ask to recall a symbol seen at the crash site. I completely missed it. The second was crossing a slack line that proved to be too difficult on shaky legs. Apparently only 6 people completed the challenge over the two days of the event.
Keeping It Real
Alternating between mental and physical challenges kept me, and other racers I talked to, thoroughly engaged throughout the 5 mile course. The highlight for many, including myself, was the experience in the War Torn Village. Bear brought in real vets from Merging Vets & Players to play the roles on course. Much like my own story, others expressed a sense of realness about the whole thing and I think that alone was worth coming out for the day.
It’s Anyone’s Race
Overall, the variety of challenges and using the BGSC Survival Score has a metric for how well one did was a refreshing change to time-based races. Here, it wasn’t all about being the fastest. In fact, speed can hurt. Running blindly through the course meant you could miss out on the clues that you would require later on.
This meant that anyone could win, and in fact, that couldn’t have been truer. I finished with a score of 91/100 and a time of 1:05, enough for the highest position on the leaderboard. I could not have been more ecstatic to finish in 1st after having so much fun on the course.
Fun. Full Stop.
In the days since, “fun” has been the common denominator amongst people I’ve talked to about the race. Jeff Shady, a perennial top finisher at many obstacle course races said that it was “one of the most meticulously planned event” he’s been to and “thinking on the fly” was a must. Between feeling like “racing through a real war zone with explosions, fire and combatants firing at you from all angles” and all the military props, it was “a true experience from the moment you entered the venue to when we departed.”
Dave Huckle, founder of the Weeples racing team, lead a group of friends through the race and has been raving about the experience. On social media, there is a feeling of FOMO (or Fear of Missing Out) amongst those who did not make it to the race after the overwhelmingly positive response amongst other racers.
I found the challenges to be a perfect balance across all types of skill sets with a quite a few novel challenges I hadn’t encountered at other races. This was refreshing and helped me remember why I signed up to do these races in the first place.
When’s The Next Bear Grylls Survival Challenge?
That is my question too. I can’t wait to see what this team does next. It’s clear that Bear Grylls has the right people running this operation creatively and logistically. From my own experience, I think it’s important that they continue to surprise and keeping changing up the survival challenges. I’m sure Bear has no shortage of them to dish out. Like every episode of Man vs. Wild, it’d be nice to come away from each race learning some new.
On the website, you can sign up for future updates and early access. I think it’s important to reach out and let the BGSC team know that this is an event that needs to return.
I have a bucket list item to “Run wild with Bear Grylls”. It’s still on there unchecked, but it’s awesome to have met the guy in person and come away knowing he’s a nice person off the big screen.