A brilliantly innovative series from Netflix and survivalist Bear Grylls interactively teaching wildlife skills with storylines, choose-your-own-adventure structure, & Bear’s signature charm, You Vs. Wild is a quantum leap for nature/survival TV. 7.1/10.
Plot Synopsis: In this interactive series, viewers make key decisions to help Bear Grylls survive, thrive and complete missions in the harshest environments on Earth.
*Possible spoilers ahead*
CLC’s Best #YouVsWild Episodes: 1. Lost on Snow Mountain, 2. A Venomous Adventure (Pt. 2), 3. Land of the Dragons, 4. Operation Jungle Rescue (Pt. 1), 5. Searching for a Saint Bernard, 6. A Venomous Adventure (Pt. 1) , 7. Operation Jungle Rescue (Pt. 2), 8. Myth of the Abandoned Mine
Review: A quantum leap for nature TV. That was the first thing I thought of when I saw the preview release of Netflix’s newest innovation putting viewers in the midst of survival situations: You Vs. Wild. Championed by Bear Grylls, expert survivalist with decades of TV experience, military background, and wildlife credentials including being the youngest Chief Scout in the UK and formerly youngest person to ever climb Mt. Everest, the series takes a long-standing writing/literature tradition of choose-your-own-adventure structure involving the consumer far beyond simply watching from afar (and which Netflix tested to great reviews in Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch) and applies it to a nature series. As a Biologist and lover of the outdoors and hiking since I was a kid, I have been a fan of Grylls back from the Man Vs. Wild and Born Survivor days and used his teachings and vital survival knowledge many-a-situation in my own life, but this reinvents the formula and personalizes it like never before.
The quizzical series structure interactive teaching and testing viewers’ survival knowledge is simply brilliant. From its opening question of preparing and deciding to take a grappling hook for climbing or getting out of a tough spot in the jungle or slingshot for hunting/protection; rappeling down a swiss snowy cliff or glissading and potentially triggering an avalanche; eating mushrooms based on type; ice fishing; you know you’re getting a TV series with some actual real-life value here. Much like the sensational Panet Earth I/II did before it (10/10, one of – if not the greatest wildlife series ever), YVW pushes the envelope of what’s possible in nature TV. Beyond that though, the tone is extremely palatable to mass audiences, even humorous at times, as you choose Grylls’ fate – sometimes to horrific or devilishly-fun results like having to eat a Grub larva or nuts from bear poop live to which he ironically says ‘thanks’. Even if you aren’t a nature/survivalism junkie usually the target audience for these shows, the game-show like playability and rewatchability of this series makes it a treat for all audiences, families, nature experiences, and ages (while still teaching crucial survival knowledge that could be helpful or even life-or-death should you ever find your way into such a stranded/lost situation from hiking to plane crashes).
The cinematography is great with stunning natural and landscape shots innovatively captured from overhead to drone to revolving and POV camerawork, variability in terrain strong from Central American jungles to Swiss snow-capped mountains, to desert canyons, storyline addition smart and surprising in creating a sort-of narrative like rescuing a doctor delivering malaria vaccines (also features just the right hint of politicization crucial for our times like highlighting the vitality of medicine/vaccines while also not laying it on too strong) or rescuing a rescue dog in the snow that adds another layer of heroic duty, and difficulty level good providing hard questions even experienced survivalists might get tripped up on a couple and at times ending in you failing the mission and having to go back out of necessity or just want to find a better way to reach the videogame-like objective.
Minor flaws in You Vs. Wild are that I wish there would have been a little more variability in terrains/environments, as well as a longer season. 8 episodes, with most of them being 2-parters or doubled up for an environment for really only 4 different biomes feels a bit short-changed for a media giant like Netflix who must’ve known it would take off, and I wish they would have spanned the variety a little further to include areas like Tropical Islands too (plus ended as strong as it is for most of the season). Also, the accessibility on Netflix could be better – not sure why they wouldn’t make it available to be accessed on major streaming platforms like Apple TV or Firestick instead making you have to go the long way around in accessing it on a gaming console – worth the extra effort but still. Finally, the staging. This is always brought up by whiny crybabies who definitely could not last one day out in any of these environments but for some reason demand to see narrators walk around forests for hours without seeing a predator (if you’ve ever gone in hikes, you know: they aren’t always that eventful or TV-worthy) and watch them sleep for “authenticity” – of course some of the situations are presented to Bear and other survivalists so they can show you what to do should YOU ever get stuck in them – literally the whole point of survivalist TV.
Bear does not need to prove anything to anyone – his resume, exploits like wrestling crocodiles, commando crawling across canyon ropes, and eating larvae live on screen speak for themselves – and is doing us a favor imparting objectively and unanimously agreed-upon good survival/nature tips originating from scout patrols, region experts, or even local tribesmen who obviously know a hell of a lot more than you and me. He even gets bit by a freaking RATTLESNAKE later in the season – not sure how it can get more “real” than that but if you think you can do better, get dropped off in any of these environments (not the neighborhood cul-de-sac; the jungles in Panama) and try to go for a stroll – let me know how it goes!
Overall, Netflix’s new gamechanger for nature/survivalist TV is a knockout, and it’s clear to see why it’s #1 trending and a massive hit by all metrics. Brilliantly innovative in its choose-your-own-adventure structure transporting you into dire survival environments, mass-palatable in tone and storylines, educational in extremely-useful survival information potentially-critical should you ever find yourself in such a stranded/lost situation in these environments, and anchored by a charming charismatic lead with decades of TV experience and natural skills in Bear Grylls, You Vs. WIld is a quantum leap for nature series. Bring on S2.
Official CLC Score: 7.1/10