Bear Grylls has always been one of those figures you can’t help but engage with. He’s one of the world's boldest adventurers, an accredited teacher in how to survive the harshest circumstances and his documentation of his journeys have never shied away from brutality. Every time I used to watch his expeditions on television, I was fascinated by his survival instincts, asking myself how I would cope in that situation. I’m no island conquerer (the furthest from it, FYI), but basic human instincts are something that each of us have, even if we don't always have reasons to use them. As of today, we can address those qualities through the most 21st-century mode possible: television. Specifically, Netflix’s new interactive show: You Vs Wild.
The series is centered around Bear Grylls, allowing viewers to join the survival expert on expeditions across the world in deserts, jungles, mountains and forests. Throughout eight episodes, the decisions are put in your hands – well, the remote in your hands – as you interact with the screen and contemplate two choices of action. Left or right? Climb up the mountain or jump off it? Eat an insect or leave it be? You get the idea. You choose if the mission is a success or failure, though for the morbidly curious you can't kill the adventurer off. But the very idea of placing an extent of his fate into our hands is pretty interesting and it’s bound to educate us on the correct way to respond in terrifying, if unusual, circumstances.
The release of You Vs Wild is the latest stage in the recent trend for interactive media. They’ve been on the rise for a couple of years, previously aimed at younger viewers with the likes of Puss And Boots: Trapped In An Epic Tale, released back in 2017. But adult audiences proved interested when they switched on to Black Mirror's Bandersnatch, which was released last December.
Following the actions of a teenage programmer who turns a fantasy novel into a video game, its narrative was pretty in keeping with the experimental nature of the show. A captivating watch (or play), but the premise took the relatively new format to its darkest possible extremities. Giving us the opportunity to maim and torture complete strangers who were disturbed by their lack of sentience, it questioned what it is we seek to find in sadistic sci-fi.
You Vs Wild does allow some of the same impulses. You could treat the programme as an informative watch (literally) or you could treat it as if Bear Grylls is an unwitting tribute in your own Hunger Games. We decide Grylls’ movements and we feel as if we’re experiencing the harshest of circumstances, but in reality, we’re sat in safety on our sofas – remote in one hand, drink in the other. There's something a bit terrifying about what interactive shows bring out in people: do we always want to see the worst possible outcome or was it designed to make us feel that way in the first place? We are likely to feel an extent of personal torment if a decision becomes detrimental, after all, yet with so many paths available to a viewer, there's something quite hypnotic about exploring every possible fate.
Sure, we’re not actually controlling Bear Grylls. He does claim that “You and I are going to find our way back to civilisation,” but he had to embrace every decision while on these expeditions, for the sake of filming all outcomes. That does reduce the organic feel that grounds his previous programmes, but he was always an expeditional avatar: it's just that here he takes that role on rather more literally. The difference with this release is that we now have the potential to become avatars ourselves, should we take what we've learned and decide to apply it on our next walkabout.
You Vs Wild is said to be the first of a lot more interactive television shows to come from Netflix and while they won’t all be intended as educational, they’re certainly a reflection of our modern world. Terrified by it or not, this is a new way of watching now, so we’re going to have to get used to it. But on the plus side, at least if I decide to trek through a rainforest sometime soon, I’ve got a few Bear Grylls skills up my wrist.
You Vs Wild is streaming on Netflix now.