Discovery's 'Wild' storm: Authenticity questioned

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Discovery Channel is re-evaluating one of its most popular series, "Man vs. Wild," after allegations surfaced that its survival-expert host was bunking in motels when he was supposed to be braving the great outdoors.

The network issued a statement Monday in response to an investigation launched by British television network Channel 4, which carries the program under the title "Born Survivor: Bear Grylls." Channel 4 confirmed that host Bear Grylls had partaken of indoor accommodations on at least two occasions when his series had depicted him spending the night in the wild.

"Discovery Communications has learned that isolated elements of the 'Man vs. Wild' show in some episodes were not natural to the environment, and that for health and safety concerns the crew and host received some survival assistance while in the field," the network said in a statement.

The production company behind the series, Diverse Television, is cooperating with the Channel 4 investigation, which likely will address a range of allegations that called into question "Wild's" authenticity.

In each episode of the series, Grylls is airlifted into the wilderness with only a few tools to aid in his survival, such as a flint or water bottle. A former British special forces soldier, Grylls is typically depicted as subsisting for several days without intervention or interruption while cameramen follow him offscreen. He has been stranded all over the globe, including Utah's Moab desert and the Costa Rican rain forest.

But among the charges made against Grylls is that a raft he is depicted as having built himself actually was constructed and then disassembled by consultants to the show in order for the host to put it together. In another episode, Grylls happens upon what are referred to as wild horses that were said to be brought in from a trekking station.

The brouhaha could become a PR nightmare for the channel, which in recent years has abandoned contrived unscripted formats in favor of the scientific explorations that first made the Discovery brand famous. "Wild" in particular has emerged as one of its main attractions during the past two seasons.

But the company gave no indication about parting ways with the series, only making certain unspecified alterations.

"Moving forward, the program will be 100% transparent and all elements of the filming will be explained upfront to our viewers," Discovery said. "In addition, shows that are to be repeated will be edited appropriately. Bear Grylls is a world-class adventurer and a terrific talent."

A spokeswoman for Discovery declined to elaborate on what exact measures will be taken to address the concerns raised about "Wild."

Among the likely possibilities: a disclaimer that will precede each episode explaining that some of the events being depicted are dramatized.

On July 13, Grylls spoke at the Television Critics Assn. summer press tour about production of the series but gave little hint of any shenanigans behind the scenes. At one point, he described what it was like to bed down in the wild.

"Often at nighttime, they will get helicoptered out, and they might have to recharge camera batteries and hand in footage, and then they leave me a little minicamera for the night stuff, and they come and rejoin me in the morning," he said.
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