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Survivalist Bear Grylls has been an almost inescapable figure on the Discovery Channel for years.
His show Man vs. Wild has a global audience of millions and peaked as the highest-rated cable show in the U.S. But in March, Grylls and the Discovery Channel parted ways over a contract dispute.
He's currently taking some time away from television, developing ideas for a return, and spending time with his wife, Shara, and their three young sons, Jesse, Marmaduke and Huckleberry.
In the interim, he's written a memoir. Weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz spoke to Grylls about his life, his childhood, and of course, his love-affair with the wilderness.
On the creation of Man vs Wild
"Textbook survival tells you to stay put. Stop. Wait for rescue. Don't take any risks. But there'd been a whole host of survival shows like that and I didn't really want to do that. I thought, if I'm going to do TV, I'm going to do the stuff that I love doing. You know, if you've got to get down this waterfall and all you've got is your shoelace and this vine, this is a cool way you can improvise a harness, and let's get on and do it!"
On why he craves adventure
"I love it. From a young age, I'd climb with my dad when I was about 5 or 6. At that age, it was the same deal. I didn't necessarily like being cold and scared up a rock face, but I loved hanging out with my dad. And I think I developed a belief that the wild brings people together. And I've always loved that. I love the small team we film with. We've had the same small crew of four of us for seven seasons of the show. They're best buddies. And I have the same dynamic with them that I had with my small team of SAS soldiers when I served with the British special forces. You're in difficult places. You're under pressure. But you need to look after each other and you create real strong bonds."
On drinking his own urine on the show:
"It's funny to become known for things like that. Those sort of moments aren't particularly fun, whether you're drinking the fluid from elephant dung or camel intestinal fluids or yak eyeballs or drinking your own pee. I think viewers quite like it when I'm suffering or eating or drinking something horrible or really up against it in some quicksand or whatever. I've definitely learned that those are the viewer's favorite moments. My favorite moments? Where it's all going swimmingly, the sun's out and I've got a fire going and a nice snake on the barbecue."
On the controversy surrounding accusations that elements of the show were staged or embellished — including that he stayed in hotels during filming
"I think any show, when it starts to do well, you get the old missile sent your way. You know, I think I've definitely made mistakes. I wrote pretty honestly in the book about one night where I sneaked back to my family. I'd been away for a few months and I was filming somewhere near the U.K. and they came. I'd finished production a day early and just sneaked out to the see them and that became a whole big story. You know, I think sometimes you look back and you think, 'I so would have done things differently.'"
On his faith:
"Faith is personal if it's to be real. And I think things that are personal are sometimes hard to talk about. And I think Brits are especially bad at that. But I've definitely learned over my life through a lot of difficult times — whether it's military stuff or losing people on big expeditions on high mountains — I've definitely learned it takes a proud man to say he never needs any help. I'm not that man. I do need some help sometimes. And my faith has been that to me. It's been a real quiet strength and a real glue to our family, as well. For me to be able to climb big mountains with a person I feel has made these mountains is a huge privilege."
On spending time with his family, away from TV
"I try to remind myself that a lot of my solider friends are away for proper lengths of time. I'm only going away for a few weeks here, a few weeks there. But over seven years, it's been a lot of time abroad filming. But I love it. I was in last night — I just got back — and was in a bath with the three boys. Lots of bubbles. Lots of rubber ducks. And Shara going, 'If all these people could know how ridiculous you really are.'"
"Somebody said to me the other day you have to wear tighter underpants — that's the key to getting a girl, apparently. So, there you go. That's another good survival tip for you."
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