Monday, July 16, 2007

"Man vs Wild" Recap/Review - "Ecuador"

World Premiere Friday, July 13, 9 p.m. ET/PT
[submitted by Tiffiny F - TwoCents Reviewer]

I have a lot of respect for Bear Grylls. The man has survived a literally back-breaking fall while part of the British Special Forces and summitted Everest, both by the age of 23. He’s a survivor—but apparently he’s still trying to tempt the Fates with his show, Man vs. Wild. Tonight’s episode finds Bear in Ecuador, paragliding down into the Andean cloudforest on his way through the Amazonian rainforest and then, eventually to civilization. I’m used to Bear’s brand of crazy by now, yet his willingness to throw himself at Nature’s wrath week after week still leaves me shaking my head.

We join Bear as he glides his way from a spot in the Andes to a marshy, muddy bog about 12,000 feet above sea level. It’s cold and he’s wet, which as he reminds his viewers, is very dangerous because it can lead to hypothermia. This is one of my favorite parts of the show: where he feels it necessary to point out the obvious.
He continues to forge ahead downhill through the cloudforest, stopping to point out a legless lizard and a lethal mushroom along the way. Sometimes I think it would be impossible to survive if you are just some clueless tourist who has no idea what’s poisonous to eat and what isn’t. Luckily I hate mushrooms, so I wouldn’t eat one anyway, but that legless lizard looked somewhat tasty, and guess what? Turns out he’s poisonous too. Blast.

Something else you might not realize: getting through the dense foliage and vines of an Andean cloudforest is difficult. Bear says it can take nearly a whole day to go one mile in such dense forestation. That’s encouraging. Of course, he has training for this sort of thing, so he’s marching through the trees and vines like he’s out for leisurely nature walk. It’s not until he stops to address the camera that I can see how winded he is—it’s at this point he decides to slide down a fallen log and cut some serious time off this journey. I really thought he’d nut himself on the log, but nope. He slides down relatively unscathed, but the fun is just about to begin when he follows a channel from the base of the log into a cave full of bats. It’s dark and creepy, and as Bear points out, every surface is coated with foul-smelling guano. He can’t get out of that cave fast enough, and as he emerges on the other side, he mentions how much he can’t stand bats. Me either, Bear, me either. Maybe we have more in common than I thought.

Bear happens upon a fast moving glacial river, which he would like to follow to the Amazon (he hopes), but first he’s gotta rest and make a fire to dry himself out. The only reasonable shelter he sees, however, is a cave on the other side of the foaming river—so he has to build a bamboo bridge to get across. He cuts these two huge trunks of bamboo (using just his knife), ties on some cross-struts with vines, and voila, he has a sturdy bridge that weighs about 150 lbs. I had a feeling this wouldn’t work, and considering the amount of time it had to take Bear to make the bridge, I knew if it didn’t, he would be a bit perturbed. Sure enough, he pushes the bridge over to the other side and it smashes into uselessness. No shelter for Bear that night, and no fire, since it begins to rain and his tinder and kindling are too wet to catch a spark. It’s a momentous occasion for the survivalist; the first time he’s failed to build a fire.

Day Two dawns and Bear is more than a little cranky, but who can blame him. No fire, no shelter, no food, that damn bridge broke…I’d be in a bad mood too. Yet, he manages to find a single purple flower blooming in the canopy and it lifts his spirits: “God’s extravagance…Nature can’t help but make beautiful things,” he tells the camera, smiling. Tell you what though; I don’t care how pretty that flower is, if I can’t eat it or use it to build a fire, I wouldn’t be smiling about it right now.

Now Bear has to find a way across the river, which is still raging along. He decides to jump onto a branch hanging about halfway out into the river and use it to crawl across to the other side. Bear cautions to look for loose moss, which can be dangerous if you don’t account for it being on the branch, but I think I’d rather do some looking to make sure a jaguar isn’t perched on it. That’s a little scarier. He makes his way along the riverbank and finds some lovely little palm weevil grubs for breakfast. Okay, they aren’t lovely, in fact, they’re utterly repellent. But our Bear needs his protein so he bites into each one, face wrinkled in disgust. He describes them as “like eating cream cheese with crunchy clumps of gristle.” Mmm…tasty.

The local people of this area, the Huaorani, think the grubs are delicacy, but apparently Bear doesn’t agree with that assessment. He is, however, eager to try his hand at fishing in the way of the Huaorani (by the way, I looked them up on Wikipedia, or else I’d have no idea how to spell that), which is by making a bow and arrow and shooting the fish in shallow ponds. What kind of fish will Bear find? Here’s a hint: they like to rip flesh from creatures in a mad feeding frenzy, and no, they aren’t sharks. Once he gets his bow and arrow finished, he begins his pursuit of lunch, piranhas. Obviously, Bear is a skilled archer, because he manages to shoot three piranhas, and judging by the murkiness of the water and the speed of the fish, I’d be lucky to graze the side of one, let alone kill it for a meal.
Along with the fern fronds he found on Day One, he cooks up the fish on a fire (it worked!) and enjoys a nice, leisurely meal. I guess when one is eating fish and fronds, one doesn’t not rush oneself. Even stranded in the middle of the Amazon rainforest. With a full belly and lifted spirits, Bear decides to shack up in a cave for the night and head out again in the morning. Oddly enough, he can’t sleep—I guess the sound of jungle predators isn’t the greatest lullaby around.

It’s now Day Three, and a not-so-rested Bear is ready to find civilization (and with only about 10 minutes to go in the episode, he’s not far off) and get out of the humid, forbidding rainforest. First, though, he must find some breakfast. So he’s trying another Huaorani technique which goes like this: find smelly plant; shove in one end of animal burrow; flush out animal; shoot animal with bow and arrow; skin, cook and eat animal. Bear manages to get most of this correct, but he doesn’t cleanly kill the animal and loses sight of it while chasing it through the dense underbrush. The breakfast has fled, and Bear’s broken his bow. Lose-lose.
But he doesn’t have time to dwell on the loss, he needs to make up time and get to civilization. Bear decides to jump into the raging river and swim downstream to move faster than he can on foot. Which is a great plan, until the river becomes so violent that it’s unswimmable. So he fells a balsa wood tree (with only that ever-sharp knife, per usual) and fashions a log out of the trunk to help him float more safely in the rapids. The water becomes shallower and Bear can’t prevent his feet from banging against the rocks along the bottom so he abandons the log-floating plan and returns to terra firma. It’s not long before he spots a fire and a canoe along the riverbank, which signals the end of his journey through the Ecuadorian jungle and this episode of Man vs. Wild.

This was one of my favorite episodes, mostly because it was the first time Bear couldn’t actually make fire; he seemed more like a regular Joe than in his other adventures.

Final grade: A-

Next time: Scotland.

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