President Barack Obama will appear in a special episode of NBC’s Running Wild with Bear Grylls, in which the survivalist host will take the president on a trek across the Alaskan wilderness. The episode airs Thursday, Dec. 17, at 10pm ET.
On a recent conference call, Bear Grylls talked with reporters about how impressed he was with this episode, and with President Obama.
“It’s an episode I’m hugely proud of, and definitely, this is the high point of our Running Wild journeys. My overriding impression was just, [President Obama is] really a humble, family-centered, lovely guy, you know? … I think there’s a connection when you’re out in the wild with someone. He’s a dad and I’m a dad, and, you know, he cares about preserving.”
That concern for preserving the environment was one of the reasons Grylls says the White House reached out to the show.
“One of the big reasons he wanted to do this,” said Grylls, “is that he wanted to see some of the effects of climate change close up. … We talked a lot about the climate change stuff. This is really an important thing for him, and I said, ‘What do you want a legacy of your presidency to be?’ and he said this is right up there for him. It goes beyond politics.
“But speech is one thing. But when you actually see it close up — I think it was a very powerful moment when we actually reached the South Branch Trimble [glacier], and he could put his hand on it and actually feel and sea how far this great lump of ice, hundreds of square miles in size, is retracting or shrinking.”
Grylls admitted that the Secret Service was “quite wary” of having President Obama out in the wilderness.
“Initially, there was quite a lot of pushback,” Grylls said. “But I think as soon as we got our team with them on the ground — and a lot of our team are ex UK soldiers and stuff as well — there’s a great connection. It was just a process of talking about the routes that we wanted to do, checking that route and talking through every stage of what I was going to do with him.
“I thought initially they would have five or six Secret Service guys with us, that ended up like 50. It’s a whole team, and they’ve even got a guy who’s there to make sure if there’s any food or drink [the president] is drinking is approved. But once we got going, you can 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, well, I was going to take my lead from him, and the Secret Service obviously will do the same.”
Once that lead was taken, the two men often bonded like regular guys, according to Grylls. “You light fire together, and climb up trees,” Grylls said. “Half-eaten salmons, talking about flatulence and berries.”
Among Grylls’ more infamous exploits on his adventures have included drinking his own urine in the wild. Some viewers wondered if he might get the president to do that. “It’s a big petition on the White House [site] saying, ‘You’ve got to get the president to drink his own pee,'” Grylls laughed. “And I can say [to the president] I’m not going to ask you to do that. And it was fun because we had a good conversation about ‘You tell me what is it with you and pee.’ ‘Why are you known for this?’ So it’s funny, our conversation about when pee is good and when pee is bad, and how [certain] berries can help people’s flatulence and all this. I would think toilet/lavatory humor is always a great leveler. And he’s a dad. He’s going to get that.”
Beyond the occasional feeling of being two regular guys in the wilderness, Grylls said there were times when he was awed at taking the whole experience in.
“If I look back in the whole thing, for me, the two moments. One was [seeing] all the Secret Service and the snipers positioned all around this mountain with the helicopters and it was like, ‘Wow, I am really genuinely nervous.’ As soon as he arrived and, you know, he was just saying ‘Hey,’ you know, ‘I’ve been a big fan of the show and it’s great to meet and let’s go and do it.’ It was like, you know, awesome and let’s just, you know, let’s just go for it.
“But I think at the end of it, what really stood out for me was the little thing we did right at the end where we prayed together, and it’s funny because it’s like sort of such an intimate thing to do, but we talked about faith on the journey and how he’d said that one of his heroes is President Lincoln, who said that if you’re not a religious man when you take office, you will be by the end. It brings you onto your knees.”
Running Wild with Bear Grylls: “President Barack Obama” airs Dec. 17 at 10pm ET on NBC.