It’s a fun concept, but the inability to properly torture Bear Grylls can’t help but disappoint.
First thing’s first: You vs Wild, as a concept, is genius. It raises all kinds of interesting and exciting questions about the future of the interactive technology that Netflix paid a fortune for. In it, Bear Grylls is deposited into various hostile climates with a mission to complete, and you, the audience, get to determine the decisions he makes along the way. It’s an eight-part interactive Bear Grylls torture simulator, and there is absolutely a market for that.
Needless to say, I resolved to always make the most unpleasant or perilous decisions possible. When it comes time for Bear to gobble a mouthful of termites or a fat, juicy grub, goddamnit he’s getting the grub. He’s dragging himself across rickety rope bridges and plunging through razor-sharp grass. He’s spending the night in a cave that possibly — **** it, hopefully — is home to a hungry jaguar. And that’s just in the first couple of episodes.
Honestly, I don’t see much of a point to Bear Grylls beyond this. I very much enjoy his new NatGeo series Hostile Planet, but he’s the worst thing about it. I relish the opportunity to torture him. If You vs Wild has a single unique selling point beyond its interactivity, it’s that.
The problem isn’t with the concept: It’s with the execution. I’m all for choice-based narrative, but to a long-time video game player, these binary options feel lackluster. You select one tame option or the other, pretty secure in the knowledge that it scarcely matters. Since all the possible choices have to be accounted for, and doing so in live-action is tricky and expensive, there isn’t — can’t be, really — much of a difference between them. Some of the choices are “wrong”, in that they result in mission failure and a second attempt, which just amounts to selecting the only other available option instead. But there’s nothing truly dangerous or exciting here; nothing that’ll make you feel as though anything you’re seeing or participating in is actually real.
Don’t misunderstand me: I don’t expect to be actually determining Bear’s fate. I know it’s all a gimmick. But the point is that it shouldn’t feel like one, and You vs Wild feels like nothing but. Bear’s acting is so awfully over-the-top, and each step of each adventure is so nakedly dripping with artifice, that there’s never any feeling of actual jeopardy to any of it. The advantage that Black Mirror: Bandersnatch had was that you were determining a narrative; your decisions could pay off in far-reaching and unexpected ways that mattered dramatically. Here, it’s all just superficial. Nothing you choose really matters. Bear always gets out unscathed. There’s a limit to what you can make him do, and you feel that limit all the time. Far from being You vs Wild, Netflix’s new interactive series is you vs technology that doesn’t want to accommodate you.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.