The original travel survival adventure tv show is back!
No, it’s not Survivor or the Amazing Race. But it IS the creation of Mark Burnett, the man behind Survivor, Shark Tank, The Apprentice, and many other reality competition shows. On the surface, the comparisons to Survivor and the Amazing Race seem obvious. Reality show with teams of contestants competing to finish first using a combination of physical toughness, mental skill, and luck, all while visiting exotic international locations? Check, check, check, and check! However, that is where the comparisons end. This is a different kind of reality race show. A reality whose participants can compete in a 24 hour team race spanning mountains, rivers and oceans, and dense jungles for over 400 miles and 11 days straight. This is the World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji, hosted by Bear Grylls! Throughout the ten episode series covering the latest running of this international race (started in 1992 by Mark Burnett), individuals (and teams) are pushed to their emotional and physical breaking points. You bear witness to not only the competitor’s journey through Fiji, but also of self-discovery, as you (and they) learn more about their character, motivations, and what drives them to compete at this level and push themselves this far. There is a $100,000 prize, but it becomes clear that this race means much more than simply money to these teams.
Over 30 countries are represented by the 66 teams who start the competition, with each mixed gender 4 person team composed of colorful and interesting outdoor adventurers, each with their own personal story as to what led them to compete and what drew them to outdoor adventure competition in general. As the race continues, you really feel the emotions of the competitors, the sacrifices they made to get there, and how much the race (and this kind of competition in general) means to them. For many, it’s a fulfilling lifestyle and self-definition, and the personal stakes are high to do well in the challenge. As you are introduced to the teams, one of the competitors is described as the “Michael Jordan of adventure racing.” As someone unfamiliar with this type of competition, I was excited to see what he and his team were capable of when compared to the other elite teams. If you keep in mind the scope of what they are doing, it’s truly impressive.
The show does a good job of creating storylines for individual competitors, for teams, and for the course and terrain. Fiji itself is an important character in the show, as the extremes that the natural environment and the weather provides is the biggest antagonist of the series. There is little conflict between the teams. Instead, there is some conflict within teams, as the stresses and obstacles bring out some scuffles between teammates. I don’t want to overstate it, as it plays a small part and there is generally a collegial respect and love between everyone out there. Each competitor knows the sacrifices, training, skills, planning, and mettle that was required to even think that one could compete and finish a challenge of this magnitude. Travel by boating, rafting, hiking, mountain biking, paddle boarding, diving, climbing waterfalls, traversing dense jungles, and wading through rivers is seen. Often teams will travel for over a day without stopping, sometimes with little to no sleep. During the race, it is fun to see the interactions with locals and to gain a little insight into Fijian culture and way of life. Some savvy teams even use local resources to aid them in the race.
It feels safe to say the show is more of a docu-series about theWorld’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji that took place in 2019. No stranger to outdoors survival, Bear Grylls ably hosts the race. He spends his time educating viewers, providing encouragement to the competitors, and adding celebrity to the event. He mainly hovers overhead in a helicopter commentating on the terrain and providing perspective as events unfold, while mixing in moments of demonstrating a challenge or talking with the racers at checkpoints.
Overall, the documentary-race-competition-outdoor-adventure-challenge series that is World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji is very enjoyable and engaging. There were competitors and stories that were easy to connect with and whom I found myself rooting for to finish the race. Even though there were some raw moments of sadness, and concern for some competitors, it was overwhelmingly inspiring, hopeful, and heartwarming. It is an easy series to recommend to everyone. Going into it, I knew nothing about Eco-Challenge, and coming out of it I’m a fan who now looks forward to the next one.
World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji will premiere on Amazon Prime Video on August 14th 2020.