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Mark Burnett is reviving Eco-Challenge with Bear Grylls as host

Mark Burnett is reviving Eco-Challenge with Bear Grylls as host
New Eco-Challenge host and executive producer, with its creator and executive producer Mark Burnett (inset). (Photos by MGM Television)

Eco-Challenge—Mark Burnett’s original TV series followed teams of four navigating challenging terrain in various places around the world while navigating obstacles, decisions, and each other—is being revived. Bear Grylls will host and executive produce alongside Burnett.

MGM Television, which Burnett now runs, is producing, but the show does not have a network, and the race won’t even start until late 2019.

Bear Grylls’ television shows are, at best, very heavily produced. That includes his current NBC series Running Wild and his former Discovery Channel series Man vs. Wild, which was revealed to be faking things in an early reality TV scandal.

That heavy producing hand seems like the opposite of Eco-Challenge, so I’m not sure how these two worlds will mesh.

That said, the press release insists it’s not a reality show by quoting “Burnett and Grylls jointly.” While I’m not sure how it’s possible for two people to say the same thing at the same time, here’s what they allegedly said simultaneously, or at least agreed to be quoted as saying in a press release:

“Eco-Challenge is not a reality series, it’s a real expedition with a stop watch. It’s extremely difficult and you will suffer. If you don’t want to suffer, don’t apply.”

The press release calls this “the pre-cursor for Survivor” and says this “brings Burnett full circle in his career, back to where it all began.” Burnett said:

“The most asked question in my entire career is ‘will you ever bring back Eco-Challenge?’ and I’d always known we needed the correct authentic figure head to lead us forward effectively. Bear Grylls is that leader. He’s tough, he’s smart and he’s extremely capable in both the wilderness and in the boardroom. He’s my friend and I couldn’t be happier and I’d gladly follow him.”

Besides Grylls and Burnett, the release says, in some unusually specific yet noncommittal language for an announcement like this, that “It is expected that Burnett will bring back his original, highly experienced adventure production team of Lisa Hennessy, Scott Flavelle and Kevin Hodder.” 

10 challenges, plus Expedition: Impossible

The series consisted of 10 challenges broadcast between 1995 to 2002, in various configurations (one-off specials and multi-episode seasons) and on several different networks. It was ended after USA cancelled it after airing three seasons.

The New York Times profiled Eco-Challenge, and adventure racing, in 2001, and noted that Burnett “took concepts from the Raid Gauloises and New Zealand’s Southern Traverse, the second adventure race, and added innovations to create Eco-Challenge.

The show—and its history—were described in the press release like this:

“The first Eco-Challenge was started on April 25, 1995 in South Eastern Utah and lasted eleven days with the French team winning first place. It was held each subsequent year in a new location including Australia, Morocco, Patagonia, Borneo, Canada, New Zealand and Fiji. The competition was often comprised of more than 50 international teams of 4 (with a mandatory mix of both men and women) racing 24 hours a day over a rugged 300-mile course. Teams had to train to become proficient and pass assessment tests in mountaineering, horseback riding, sea kayaking, mountain biking, whitewater rafting, camel riding, canyoneering and more.  Competitors were under strict rules to carry out all trash, including solid human waste.  If any team member quit the entire team was disqualified.”

Mark Burnett previously produced a very similar show, Expedition: Impossible, which sounded wonderful but ended up airing just one season on ABC.

I did a head-to-head comparison between it and Amazing Race, because Expedition: Impossible was much closer to the CBS series than Eco-Challenge.

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  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means. Learn more about Andy.

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