Conquering Everest changed him as a person and he dreams of tackling the unclimbed peaks in Greenland one day, but the extreme contrasts he experienced in Fiji have made a huge impression on British TV adventurer, Bear Grylls.

Travel News - Bear Grylls
Bear Grylls was surprised by some aspects of Fiji © BGV and Friends

The former SAS serviceman and survival instructor was struck by the South Pacific island country’s combination of natural beauty and intense terrain while hosting the 10-episode adventure series, World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji. It recently premiered on Prime Video, and sees 66 teams from 30 countries pushed to the limits of their physical and mental endurance.

“Fiji is such a stunning country and a land of extremes,” Bear tells Lonely Planet. “It has so much incredible natural beauty and diversity, from the crystal blue oceans, to the jungle rivers, to the pristine wilderness and the rolling canyons. But it’s also a tough and dangerous type of terrain, with hundreds of remote miles of swamps, jungle, ravines and high mountains that are among the most intense I have ever been in, ironically. This made it perfect for us.”

A still of Bear Grylls from World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji
Bear was struck by Fiji’s combination of natural beauty and intense terrain © Corey Rich/Amazon

The 10-episode adventure series is produced by MGM Television in association with Amazon Studios. It tells the story of the ultimate expedition race, in which 66 teams race non-stop for 11 days, 24 hours a day, across hundreds of miles of rugged Fijian terrain complete with mountains, jungles, ocean and rivers. The challenges lie both within the course itself and competitors’ equally daunting personal struggles, which are only magnified by the demands of the expedition.

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As they face the challenges of navigating through Fiji’s breathtaking wilderness and trekking through remote villages that have been untouched for years, Bear says it felt iconic to return to where the original Eco-Challenge series left off 17 years earlier. Even so, some aspects of the country took him by surprise during the filming of World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji. “The scale of it, the elevation and the extremes of temperature,” he explains. “This combo was brutal for racers.”

A still of Bear Grylls from World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji
Bear was surprised by the scale of Fiji and its extremes of temperature © Corey Rich/Amazon

The 46-year-old adventurer knows better than most how life-changing it can be on a personal level to tackle an extreme adventure or challenge. His memory of conquering Mount Everest will stay with him forever, particularly watching the sunrise over Tibet, and the experience left him with a lasting and meaningful legacy. “I love Nepal - the peaks and the people - and for me climbing Everest and standing on that peak was a life moment,” he recalls.

"The summit itself was extraordinary - small - like a coffee table, the highest point on our planet, the roof of the world. That expedition changed me in so many ways, and during that time, the mountain claimed four climbers’ lives. That was so hard to come to terms with, but through it all I have been given a gratitude for life that lasts to this day.”

A still of Bear Grylls from World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji
Racers also had to deal with their own personal struggles © Corey Rich/Amazon

While the terrain in Fiji could be tough and hostile and the racers also had to deal with their own personal struggles, Bear says that the reception given by locals to competitors and crew couldn’t have been warmer. “We had huge welcomes from the locals wherever the race took us, and they are such a genuinely warm and friendly people,” he says. “Fijians welcomed us to their country, and many of them took part in the series, either cheering on teams as they passed through villages or helping them along the way.”

While most of us are grounded at present thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bear has great memories to sustain him, considering how well-travelled he is and how many exciting adventures and survival challenges he has enjoyed all over the world. Nonetheless, he still dreams of visiting certain places and having more adventures with his sons, Jesse, Marmaduke and Huckleberry.

A still of the competitors from World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji
The series saw 66 teams from 30 countries competing against one another © Corey Rich/Amazon

“I have a huge bucket list that seems to keep on growing, but I would still love to do some of the unclimbed peaks in Greenland,” he says. “There are such huge expanses of genuine wilderness, totally unexplored, and that brings with it a sense of awe that is hard to describe. The fun part nowadays is that my sons are getting to the age where they want to join me.”

Our travels may be temporarily curtailed, but Bear hopes that viewers can live vicariously through this ultimate adventure series in Fiji, which is about perseverance at its core. “The world needs inspiration more than ever right now, in terms of reminding ourselves how amazing both the natural world is and also how resilient the human spirit is,” he says.

World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji is available to watch now on Prime Video.

Lockdowns are easing globally as the planet adjusts to a new normal. Find out how COVID-19 is changing travel.

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