Although it didn’t get nearly as much press or public attention as Netflix’s first big choose-your-path adventure show—the Black Mirror video game pastiche “Bandersnatch”—there’s something uniquely ambitious about the streaming service’s second such offering, You Vs. Wild. After all, “players” of the Netflix Kids series aren’t controlling the actions of a fictional character; they’re directing actual actions taken in hostile situations by survivalist expert Bear Grylls, of Man Vs. Wild and Running Wild fame. And while you aren’t actually controlling Grylls, obviously—or else we’d be puerilely jamming the “drink pee” button, pretty much non-stop—the show often does present choices that have good and bad options, and Grylls still had to be filmed doing said “bad” choices, and facing the consequences thereof.
Which demands a question: How “real” are the terrible things you can do to the survival host over the course of the show’s eight episode run? That’s the topic of a fascinating interview Vulture ran this week with producer and long-time Grylls teammate Rob Buchta, who revealed some—but not all—of the levels of artifice and reality the show operates under. So, for instance, when you make Grylls eat raw bird eggs he discovers in the wild, it sounds like he definitely did actually throw up afterward, even if he didn’t get “actually” sick:
Those raw eggs are everywhere in the terrain. We needed to make sure there was a choice, so we would maybe move the eggs to where we needed them. But yeah, he’d really eat them. A lot of times that will make you sick. So he, I would say, “demonstrated” what would happen if you got sick.
On the other hand, the ugly blisters he sports on his hand after touching a poison cactus are definitely fake—“It’s almost a human rights issue,” Buchta notes, “We’re not gonna…” (actually poison our star in a seriously damaging way, being the assumed end of that sentence). The dog you and Bear are supposedly rescuing in one episode wasn’t really stranded in the snow, of course. (And the doctor from the first episode was just an actress.) But you can’t really “simulate,” say, falling in hypothermia-inducing water because some dumb-ass Netflix subscriber thought it was a good idea to walk across the ice instead of doing an army crawl, thus:
We knew you should probably not go out on that ice. Bear was like, “If you crawled, you’d be alright, but I wouldn’t walk across it.” And we were like, “In this case, Bear, the viewer is making a mistake.” So he walked across it and eventually, sure enough, he fell through.
(Tragically, a change of camera batteries meant the show missed the immediate aftermath of that decision, which included Grylls apparently stripping down to his skivvies to get away from his ice water-soaked clothes.)
Reading the Vulture piece, it paints the series as an intriguing exercise, not necessarily in survival, but in the blending of reality and scripted TV. (At one point, Buchter compares the show to Curb Your Enthusiasm.) Grylls has, of course, come under occasional criticism for the veracity of his numerous series, with his various programs forced to add disclaimers making it clear that he sometimes uses specialized survival equipment or receives assistance from the show’s crew. But given how his other shows are mostly about making good decisions in tense, dangerous situations, it’s intriguing to contemplate how far he and his producers might go to allow viewers/players to model all the dumb, deadly shit we’d actually get up to if left in the wilderness ourselves.