Recently I had a chance to sit in on an NBC conference call with Bear Grylls. The survivalist takes President Barack Obama on a trek across the Alaskan wilderness on an episode of his show, "Running Wild with Bear Grylls," that airs this Thursday. Below is a transcript of the conversation.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about what made The President decide he wanted to do this?
Bear Grylls: We've gotten approached by the White House saying would we consider taking the president on an adventure to Alaska. I almost didn't really believe it. When we started, it was like I thought this was spoof. But, we got into it and we all came together. There are obviously quite a few hurdles along the way of trying to keep everyone happy including the whole Secret Service, presidential team and all of that. We did it and it's an episode I'm hugely proud of and definitely this is the high point of our "Running Wild" journeys.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about your impression of him and what kinds of things did you guys do together?
Bear Grylls: Well, my overriding impression was just he's a really humble, family-centered, lovely guy. I mean, of course, the times along the route I have to kind of pinch myself and think actually, this is the president of America. And I think there's a connection when you're out in the wild with someone. I always say it's the ultimate learning. One of the big reasons he wanted to do this, that he wanted to see some of the effects of climate change close up. He's a dad and he wants to preserve the planet for his children's future and I feel exactly the same way. I spend all of my life charging around the world and all of these wildernesses and I see the harsh reality of climate change close up.
We want to make sure our children get to enjoy these wonderful wildernesses. So there is a great connection there. But also my overriding thing was actually what a really lovely guy. And he was excited to be there and it was fun to be able to kind of pull each other's leg a little bit. In a way that if you just sort of meet someone in the White House with an interview situation, it's difficult to do. But you're out there and you kind of light fire together and climb up trees and, you know, half eaten salmons and talking about flatulence and the berries and all of that gets out. So huge privilege but definitely a fair side of the president you never see before.
Q: How involved were the Secret Service with this episode? What were some of those hurdles that you had to get through with them?
Bear Grylls: Well, I think initially the Secret Service were quite wary because their job, it's just one job, keep him safe. Initially, there was quite a lot of kind of pushback. But I think as soon as we got our team with them on the ground, and a lot of our team are ex-soldiers and stuff as well, and there's a great connection there and it was just a process of talking about the routes that we wanted to do and really checking that route and talking through every stage of what I was going to do with him and then just going through the kind of the process of plans if somebody gets injured and, you know, all of that sort of thing.
I thought initially they would have five or six Secret Service guys with us, we ended up with like 50. It's a whole team with the press corps and they even got a guy who's there to make sure the food or drink he's drinking is approved. So it's a big, old group to move around where they got helicopter stuff in the air. But once we got going you can then obviously take the lead from him. And if he's fine to eat what I'm producing and share water bottles and climb up and down stuff and do things, well then, I was going to take my lead from him and the Secret Service obviously will do the same.
Q: What are some of your conversations that the two of you had that stand out in your mind?
Bear Grylls: Well, we talked a lot about the climate change stuff. He said, "I'm always a believer in science," and he looked at this and he looked at it and the truth is, it is happening and we've got to take action and we can't do -- America can't do it on their own and we got to form this global partnership to really tackle this. Otherwise, the consequences will be huge and he said its like you can't slam on the brakes. When you're getting near a cliff, you got to start tapping the brakes early.
I read somewhere that I think Time Magazine said what he'd done for this climate change is actually the most significant thing anyone human being has ever done to set the ground. And that's pretty amazing. So to be with him then as you saw it close up was definitely a special moment. But we talked about so much, and so much around family and how do you get things through that you really believe in, what's life like being in the White House, have you ever got lost in the White House, what are you scared at, all of this sort of things. And there are sort of questions you'd want to ask the president but you never really see the president being asked, and the stuff that really soars at the end of it he's a real human being.
Q: How did you advise the president to prepare for this trek either mentally or physically?
Bear Grylls: I think I was the one that needed the preparation. I think one of the things I learned is he is incredibly confident diving into these different situations and I said to him right after we just lit the fire, I said, "Annoying president, you're good at everything. Normally people take hours doing this. You're just naturally good at it." But I suppose it's no surprise you got to be clued up and you got to be sharp and a quick learner and a good listener if you're the president. So he didn't have any problems with that.
Q: What did you learn from this experience?
Bear Grylls: I learned that whoever you are, everybody gets their pants on one leg at a time. It's what I love about the wild. When you're in bear country, they don't care that you're the commander in chief or whatever. You got to leave your ego behind. And he totally embraced that. He's an incredible man and one incredible human being. There's a connection there as a father and as somebody really cares about the planet and I thought, you know what, I love it. I love him and love the mission.
Q: If you were given the opportunity after he's out of office to do this again with him, would you?
Bear Grylls: Yes for sure. There's so much more we could do. He was wanting more and there were certain confines of the job that's going to stop him skydiving out of Marine One. So maybe another time. But we've delivered the program that I feel is the ultimate "Running Wild" I'll ever do. I watched it the other night and it's just, I'm so proud of it. It's got heart and fun and, all of that -- and adventure and all of that good stuff. And I won't beat that.
And also what's cool is that no president has ever done anything like this. No living president, let alone a serving president, has ever done a TV show that's not an interview. They're never done like a reality show, let alone an adventure reality show or just a TV show, you know. When they announced it, there was a clip from CNN, some news reader saying, "Breaking news, Obama to do Bear Grylls' 'Running Wild' show." And it was on the bottom of the screen and the lady reading is going "No, no, this must be a mistake. Not while he's in office. No, no, certainly not while he's in office. This can't be right." And the guy again "No, its right. Look, it's on the bottom of the screen," and I thought that's cool, you know, with breaking some rules and pushing a few boundaries and good for him. What a great way to get a powerful message out there. ___
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