Shows like Man Vs. Wild exist to make couch potatoes like me feel even more worthless than they normally do. And trust me, I feel plenty worthless as it is without watching Bear Grylls do more manly things before dawn than I’ll do in a typical calendar year. (Opening cans of olives counts as manly, right?) The show returned tonight with special guest Jake Gyllenhaal in tow. A much more athletically prone guest than Will Ferrell, it still felt like a stunt to have him accompany Bear on his latest attempt to avoid starring in a snuff film born out of his oversized appetite for adventure. But it wass a fairly fun stunt all the same.
The pair head to Iceland in tonight’s hour, near the site of the 2010 eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull. It’s a harsh landscape for a two-day jaunt into the most extreme Outward Bound you’ve ever seen. I’m not a scholar of the Man Vs. Wild oeuvre, so I can’t accurately place tonight’s excursion on an overall scale of “something bloggers might be able to do without dying” to “even Hercules in his heyday would have avoided doing if possible.” Having recently dealt with what felt like an endless winter up here in New England, I instinctively winced at watching the duo traverse a series of frigid landscapes, battling various elements, and all the while wondering if they were pining for the fjords. Then again, Gyllenhaal once survived The Day After Tomorrow, and this seems like a cake walk by comparison. Roland Emmerich prepares you for things like this, I imagine.
Because of Gyllenhaal’s inexperience, Bear had to take some interesting, often counterintuitive precautions throughout the excursion in order to maintain their overall safety. At one point, the two rope themselves together to avoid being separated in an treacherous whiteout, but Gyllenhaal has to lead the way. Why him? Because his lack of training would mean both could fall into a chasm unexpectedly if Bear fell in first. With Bear in back, he’s potentially introducing Gyllenhaal to the danger first, but would be far better equipped to rescue him should such an incident occur. It’s a fact that makes sense once uttered, yet would have never crossed my mind. In a semi-related story, I think my remote control is stuck between two cushions of my couch. Naturally, I can’t find it. Bear, if you’re reading his, I could use some help.
The elements, while daunting and often cinematic, also interrupted the natural banter that the two whipped up almost instantly. Yes, this show is canned beyond belief, and even certain elements which seem truly dangerous are by and large controlled. But unless Gyllenhaal saved all his best acting for this 48-hour trip, he was a totally charming and game companion. It’s too bad that the majority of his dialogue with Bear took place over whipping winds. When the two found shelter from the storm (in a literal, and not Dylan-esque, way), they got along quite well. Gyllenhaal’s humor impressed Bear quite a bit, especially as the trip wore on. What could have come across as a vanity project grew into a chance to see a Hollywood star not on the red carpet but rather red with sheep’s blood on his hands.
“Seeing Jake Gyllenhaal gut the rotten corpse of a sheep” probably wasn’t on anyone’s bucket list, but it was just one of many things he seemed perfectly willing to do on this trip. Maybe that’s giving him too much credit: after all, why sign up for something like this and then act like a big baby throughout the proceedings? It’s one thing for a fame-hungry nobody to bitch and moan once in front of the cameras, but quite another for a fairly major star who could hurt his credibility by wimping out in Iceland. But by the time he traversed that insanely long rope by doing the equivalent of a few hundred pull-ups, I had to hand it to the guy. Even if that rope was eyeballed from the minute this trip was planned in the warm, cozy home offices of Discovery, it still felt like a properly climatic moment to a episode that only occasionally felt fully staged.
Having a series of recurring guests on Man Vs. Wild might spike ratings for the show in the short term, but probably isn’t the best move for the long haul should it choose to pursue that path. Having “the fittest man in Hollywood” (the show’s phrase, not mine) seems apt enough, but what can seem special often devolves into mere gimmickry. Either the proceedings become too familiar (a series of buff Hollywood types use the program to show off their physical prowess) or too watered down (awesome, it’s Dakota Fanning petting a goat). Constantly dragging the artificial world of Hollywood into some of the last natural, untouched, fully REAL places left on Earth feels less like a celebration of Mother Nature and more a celebration of Mother Celebrity. While Gyllenhaal managed to avoid that trap, it’s unlikely that the show’s luck would hold much longer.
- For those looking to make Brokeback Mountain jokes, Bear did you the honor about halfway through as they built a snow save in which to spend the night. Jake tried to play off the joke, but I wonder if he enjoys knowing he’ll hear that type of humor until he’s dead in the grave.
- For normal Jake fans, you got a shot of him topless crossing a freezing cold river. For the less normal Jake fans, you got to see him pee. Who says Discovery doesn’t produce four-quadrant entertainment?
- Having enjoyed some simply rancid food after a long car ride, I can only imagine how good that cocoa tasted during their overnight in Brokeback Snow Cave.
- One last Brokeback joke for the road: Bear: "What you did, it takes balls." Jake: "Well, they're right up in my throat." Me: “THAT'S WHAT HE SAID.”
- OK, one more: "The opening looks small, but the actual hole could be a lot bigger." Heyo!
- Anyone else expect them to come across two hobbits looking for Mordor at any point? Anyone? Just mean then? Duly noted.
- At one point, Jake notes that he enjoys digging holes so much, he might have been a gopher in a previous life. Great, now Caddyshack is RUINED for me.
- "Just remember: you gotta keep your hands on your nuts!"
- "I feel like I'd follow Bear anywhere, but now he's following me."
- "It's a bit like taking a dog for a walk."
- "Cutting his head off…I think that might take a second."
- "I just found Will Ferrell buried in there."
- "First worm?" "First worm."
- "I'm gonna drink from the Cup of Life!"
- "Uppercase or lowercase?"