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Danger, Thirst, and a Whole Lot of Urine: The Best of Bear Grylls’s Celebrity Adventures

Because summer TV is all about forcing Jake Gyllenhaal and Yao Ming to jump off of cliffs and eat maggots

Getty Images/NBC/Ringer illustration

The ideal form of summer television is something pulpy, flashy, and perhaps a bit excessive—a drama like TNT’s Claws, for example, is the gold standard. But while there is nothing wrong with Claws, the summer TV I’m interested in hits all the same notes but with a side of human urine. Folks, it’s Bear Grylls season.

The survivalist and former British special forces trooper has cultivated a legitimately successful reality TV career out of wilderness adventures and a highly specific interest in drinking his own pee at nearly every opportunity. (I assume there are many ways to survive in the wild, but Bear Grylls is a man with a fierce preference—he is so synonymous with pee that his son once presented his own piss for Bear to drink.) Grylls can survive in virtually any environment, and he did so entertainingly for years on shows like Man vs. Wild and Worst-Case Scenario. But then we realized it could be even more captivating; all that needed to be added to the formula was a celebrity—or in one case, the goddamn president of the United States. What started out as Grylls hanging out with Jonathan Ross and Miranda Hart on the U.K.’s Channel 4 for weekend getaways in 2011 (Bear Grylls Wild Weekends, a great show name) eventually turned to reality TV with the short-lived Get Out Alive on NBC in 2013. A year later, the celebrity-incorporating Running Wild was born, beginning with Zac Efron in the pilot episode of the six-episode first season. It was a perfect recipe; mixing Grylls’s natural effervescence with easily recognizable famous people and tossing them into increasingly absurd nature scenarios just works.

In honor of the newest season of Running Wild that’s been airing this summer (he made tennis great Roger Federer eat a fish eye, neat!), allow me to introduce the Bear Grylls Awards, in honor of the celebrities that generally Did The Most and endured the craziest hardships and weirdest pee-adjacent escapades. If you get thirsty during the ceremony, you know what to do.

Nastiest Meal: Michelle Rodriguez

One of the most important members of the Fast & Furious famiglia, Michelle Rodriguez is primarily associated with action flicks, so naturally, she was game for just about anything while in the middle of the desert in a 2015 episode of Running Wild. That includes boiling a dead mouse in a cup of her own urine.

The whole setup makes Bear Grylls wince, which is a bad sign—when that dude’s conceding that something’s gross, you know it’s disgusting. Nevertheless, Rodriguez takes a bite out of the urine-poached rodent, grimacing throughout as she tries to chew around the bone. (Pro tip: Do not watch this video while eating your breakfast. Just don’t.) If that wasn’t enough, Grylls then chimes in, “Better not let the broth go to waste,” before taking a giant swig of hot piss. Rodriguez follows suit. (I begin to gag.) This all but confirms that Rodriguez is the most badass member of the Fast & Furious franchise. Tyrese isn’t serving rat urine sous-vide at the Benihana he built in his backyard.

Most Obvious Thirst Trap: Zac Efron

Back in 2014, before Zac Efron got so disconcertingly Baywatch-jacked that he was liable to rip his clothes merely by stretching, he ran wild with Bear Grylls. More specifically, he took off his shirt with Bear Grylls before they both repelled down a large cliff and into a small pond, which served as the end of their journey.

Now, I don’t doubt the legitimate peril of going down that large cliff, but c’mon—the only reason they took off their shirts was for thirst purposes. NBC is giving the people what they want, and what they unanimously want is Zac Efron shirtless in the wilderness.

Mission accomplished.

Most Likely to Actually Survive the Wild: Jake Gyllenhaal

I’m not sure what it says about Jake Gyllenhaal that it wasn’t the least bit surprising that he showed up in Iceland game for anything. He willingly took the lead through a blizzard, despite the legit danger of falling into a crevasse hidden by the snow. (At one point, Jake sees a hole really close to his feet and is all excited, and Grylls is all like, “Ha ha, yes, great … please step away from that.”) Gyllenhaal also traversed a ravine with a terrifyingly steep drop, moving across relatively quickly for someone who wasn’t once a member of the British special forces.

Part of the thrill of pairing Grylls up with a celebrity is seeing how the famous people freak out under perilous conditions. With Jake Gyllenhaal, it looked a lot more like two buddies just going on a very extreme camping trip—call it Grylls and Gylls, except don’t, because that’s terrible. Also, if you’re wondering: No, I do not have the energy to hang out with Jake Gyllenhaal.

Safest Expedition: Barack Obama

When I first read in 2015 that then–President Barack Obama was going to do an adventure with Bear Grylls, I started picturing future Daily Mail headlines like, “Bear GRILLED by U.S. Media After Obama Breaks Leg on Camping Trip in Adirondacks.” Of course, that didn’t happen, and it makes sense that Grylls and POTUS’s adventure was a bit more … tepid. As Grylls literally told BBC, he did not want to “break the president’s leg.”

I’m not saying I wanted to see Obama in serious danger, or consuming bodily fluids—it was still entertaining just hearing him and Grylls chat about things like climate change and chow down on salmon that was already partially eaten by a bear. But temper your expectations: This was like Obama’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee appearance—just replace vintage cars with hiking boots.

Most Understandably Hesitant: Yao Ming

Watching Yao Ming trek through a forest with Bear Grylls is the most I’ve ever related to Yao Ming. He and I don’t have much in common—I am under 6 feet and am not one of the best international basketball players of all time—but when Yao was vigorously refusing to do anything outside of his comfort zone on Running Wild, I felt that.

The most notable instance of this: On their expedition, Grylls discovered a dead rat being feasted on by maggots. Maggots are very high in protein—by all accounts, an ideal thing to consume if you’re stuck in the wilderness with scant food options—and so Grylls scooped ’em and cooked them with a bit of honey. But, yeah, Yao would rather starve.

I respect the hell out of Yao’s abstinence. He’s an eight-time All-Star, but also a surrogate for all of us, the people who wouldn’t be caught dead eating maggots, climbing steep cliffs, or willingly drinking pee. Does that mean he’ll survive the apocalypse? Haha, no. But at least he’s relatable!

Realest Chat: Courteney Cox

Survival-wise, Courteney Cox is on the lower end of Grylls’s celeb guests: When she goes down a cliff with him, she freaks out and drops multiple F-bombs, and when he tells her to look down and enjoy the view, she says “No, babe, thanks.” But Cox’s excursion with Grylls provided some of the most enlightening and empathetic celebrity chats ever on reality TV.

In one of their episode’s quieter moments, she tells him about the pressure in Hollywood for women to look young, and her own regrets about trying to change her appearance. “I think I was trying to keep up with getting older, trying to chase that, you know, it’s something you can’t keep up with,” Cox says. “I have done things that I regret, and luckily they’re things that dissolve and go away. So that’s good, because it’s not always been my best look. Now I just have a new motto: ‘Just let it be.’”

There’s a calming effect to being out in nature that’ll make you really open up to a genial British man. That’s the added bonus of Bear Grylls’s shows—the little moments in between all the climbing and eating and drinking disgusting stuff.

The Most Bear Grylls Moment: Mel B

On the sixth episode of Running Wild’s third season, Bear Grylls went traipsing through Wales with a Spice Girl, the one who was so hardcore they called her SCARY SPICE. While there, Grylls found a jellyfish washed up on the beach, and proceeded to get “accidentally” stung by it on the hand. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on who you ask), Grylls had just peed 10 minutes before getting stung, and therefore didn’t have enough urine in the tank, so to speak, to clean out the wound himself. Mel B, though, was more than happy to oblige, gamely pulling down her trousers and peeing on his hand right there on the rocky beach. Seriously.

I will go to the grave with this conspiracy theory: Bear Grylls intentionally got stung on the hand so he could have another viral pee moment. You’re telling me the person who’s climbed Mount Everest and slept inside a camel carcass was clumsy enough to drop a jellyfish and get himself stung? The dude just lives for urine. When Bear Grylls isn’t predicting the best possible outcomes for survival, he is thinking, “What’s the best excuse I can come up with for getting some pee on me?” At least Mel B was a willing participant, though there’s probably a urine clause in every celebrity’s contract when they sign up for Grylls’s shows.

Unfortunately, I have some bad news: Grylls later confessed that he embellished the healing powers of Mel B’s magical urine on the show, which at the time he proclaimed “saved my life.” He later told the British channel ITV that Mel B’s pee “wasn’t the miracle cure I’d been hoping for.” I can’t believe the rudeness of this comment. Again—Mel B crouched down on a beach and peed on a man’s hand. And this is the thanks she gets? Some shady comment to the press questioning the potency of her urine? Yao Ming and everyone not named Jake Gyllenhaal would’ve said no. Bear Grylls owes Scary Spice an apology.