7 Questions with… Bear Grylls about World’s Toughest Race: 'We had to shut the race down at one point. People’s lives were on the line'

Bear Grylls answers seven burning questions about his new 10-part adventure series, World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji, which airs exclusively on Amazon Prime Video.

By Sophia Moir Published: 10 August 2020 - 11.02am
Amazon Prime Video

You’ve probably heard of Man vs. Wild, The Island and Running Wild, but have you heard of World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji?

Adventurer Bear Grylls is back on our screens with a new, 10-part adventure series for Amazon Prime Video which will put teams from around the world in the ultimate expedition race.

Speaking to BT.com and other journalists, Grylls answers seven burning questions about the show, including what was the biggest challenge during filming, what’s needed to win and why they had to shut the race down at one point to save people’s lives… 

Plus, don’t miss what to watch on Amazon Prime Video this month in our TV hot list round up.

1. What was your routine while working on the show, and what was the toughest part for you?

Bear Grylls: It was interesting seeing how hard the whole team had to work on this show. Obviously on the World’s Toughest Race, a lot of it focuses on the adventure races and the teams and what they’re going through, so it was amazing to see just behind the scenes what it takes to put something on of this scale.

We might have had 300 racers, but the total crew was more like 1000, when you add in paramedics, helicopter pilots, and volunteers. For 11 days it was pretty full on. 

I feel a little bit like on Running Wild when I take famous people away, I don’t really rest or relax until everybody’s back safe. I think certainly on the World’s Toughest Race, there was a feeling of there being so many people involved, so much terrain, so much that can go wrong, that it was definitely a feeling of until the final person is over the finish line, we can’t relax. But the people who really had it tough were these teams and what they went through was truly inspirational.

If anyone has any doubt about the human body or the human spirit, and the human dynamic of working together, watch the World’s Toughest Race. 

Amazon Prime Video
Bear Grylls gets stuck into filming for the show

2. What’s more challenging for you, working with professionals in World’s Toughest Race or working with celebrities in Running Wild?

I think normally with Running Wild, the celebrities are absolute rookies, they’ve never done anything like this before. With World's Toughest Race, we’re taking the greatest adventure athletes and teams in the world for this.

We had thousands and thousands of people apply for this, we took the best. We had representatives from 30 different countries. I think that dynamic of bringing the world together, everyone raced under one country flag.

There was a power to that, in seeing the best in class at the absolute human limits, racing non-stop for every hour of the day for 11 days. If one of your team goes down, it’s the end of the race for you. Seeing humans at the limit was pretty amazing to be a part of. 

3. There’s lots of different types of people in the race, what do you think is needed to win?

To win this race you need to be an incredible team, first and foremost. This is a team event. There are very few races on earth where, if one of your team drops out, that’s the end of it. This is the spirit of World’sToughest Race, that you’ve got to be in it together, and that you’re stronger together.

“The wild is going to bite you on the backside if you ever get complacent so don’t ever switch off”
- Bear Grylls

We saw teams make or break through that team dynamic, sometimes the fact that you were such a team was a hindrance for people because you’ve got one person who’s not pulling their weight who was hindered by something.

You can see the team dynamic become fractious and difficult. But when you can see it working, it’s amazing and inspiring. You can see how the sum of the parts is so much greater than the individuals. So first and foremost, you’ve got to be a great team. 

Secondly, you’ve got to have resilience. You’ve got to have that dogged determination to never give up. You [also] need to have great navigational skills, because there’s no GPS, this is old style compass and map, you’re making decisions when you’re tired, hungry and sleep-deprived.

And then finally I think you need a bit of luck - there's no doubt about that. To win or even compete in this race, however good you are, sometimes you get unlucky but to complete it, you do need a bit of luck at the right time.

Amazon Prime Video
Thousands of people applied to take part in the show

4. Talking about the wild Fijan landscape, what’s the most amazing place you saw in Fiji?

Fiji was the site of the last, original Eco Challenge 17 years ago, so for us to go back to Fiji was iconic. There was something symbolic about that.

But also it has truly incredible terrain, it’s so diverse. You have waterfalls and mountains and jungles and swamps and ravines and oceans and grassland.

The people were incredibly welcoming and I think for us, and for our competitors, the times they’d come out of jungles and into little villages, to have that support and love and motivation, was amazing. It just felt like the right place to be doing this. 

5. Did you give any advice to the competitors?

I gave a lot of advice. I spent a lot of time with these teams before the race, and I would say the same four things.

One - you’ve got to be a team. Great teamwork is about looking after people in the crunch times when it really matters. Be a friend to people, leave the ego behind. You’re all going to have to carry each other sometimes. That vulnerability, that honesty, is what makes a great team.

“We had people we had to airlift out with serious, life-threatening infections and that’s the thing about World's Toughest Race - you’ve got to look after yourself all the time”
- Bear Grylls

Two - you’ve got to be resilient, to get over the hurt, you’re going to get hurt, you’re going to be in pain, you’ve got to embrace it, realise it’s a part of it. Be calm, be efficient. 

Three - move without drama, don’t waste energy on arguments, don’t waste energy at crunch time. Don’t be the hare, be the tortoise. Sometimes these teams go out and they don’t sleep for four days, they're way ahead, and then they’re broken,that's the end of it.

Finally, be efficient, play the long game. And know that the wild is going to bite you on the backside if you ever get complacent so don’t ever switch off.

A lot of my advice was that sort of thing, from my experience of being in the wild and surviving and adventure. It’s the same principles, but now the stakes are very high.

6. If you were to change anything from this series, whether it’s the format or a location, what would you change?

I think going to Fiji was amazing and that tropical diversity, it delivered so much spectacular terrain, but I would love to go hardcore cold, barren, remote, next time, because that challenges people in a whole different dynamic. You can't get complacent.

We’re gonna turn the whole thing upside down again [for series 2]. We’re not announcing anything yet, we’re just focusing on this one, but we’ve got some teams out scouting some cool places at the moment.

Amazon Prime Video
Bear is already planning series 2

7. What was your biggest worry going into the show, and were there any moments while you were filming it when you were afraid for anyone?

My biggest concern is getting people home safely at the end. With so many people on the ground, so many moving parts, competitors spread out over such huge areas at such different times with such crazy weather at times, there’s a lot to go wrong.

With all wilderness disasters, it only takes three or four small, inconsequential little things and suddenly you’ve got a disaster on your hands.

We definitely had a few times where we had teams trapped in remote ravines where we couldn’t get helicopters in, then flash floods came, big storms, water levels rising, it was very touch-and-go. 

At one point we had to shut the race down and stop it for eight hours or so. It was pretty rare for us to have to do that, but people’s lives were on the line, we had people we had to airlift out with serious, life-threatening infections and that’s the thing about World's Toughest Race - you’ve got to look after yourself all the time.

You take your eye off the ball and you get a little cut and you think it’s inconsequential, then before you know it a day later your leg’s ballooned up. People can die super-easily like that.

World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji launches on Prime Video on Friday, August 14.