For once, Bear Grylls had a good excuse to take refuge in a hotel, inasmuch as he was hosting the President of the United States. But instead, the host of NBC’s “Running Wild With Bear Grylls” took President Obama on a tour of the Alaskan wilderness, in an extended mutual admiration society that — in the best traditions of Hollywood and Washington — offered benefits to both sides.
For Obama, coming on the heels of the climate change accord recently negotiated in Paris, the hour in primetime provided a chance to push his initiatives to take action on climate change, which, he conceded right up front, was “one of the main purposes of our trip.” As for Grylls and NBC, the stunt gave them a highly promotable episode for this relatively dead window right before Christmas, even if the net result was about as boring as reality TV gets.
Granted, there are no shortage of shows devoted to Alaska — Discovery would surely copyright the state if it could — and the setting was certainly picturesque. Still, the bulk of the hour was occupied by the two men walking and talking, discussing questions about faith and fatherhood, about how they learned to love the great outdoors and, incidentally, how far the Exit Glacier has receded during Obama’s presidency.
The highlight, such as it was, involved Grylls finding a half-eaten salmon and grilling it for the President, who started the fire on which the fish got cooked. That followed Obama joking that, having some familiarity with Grylls’ eat-anything shtick, he was hoping to have the chance to chow down on “something you might see on a plate.” (Inevitably, the conversation turned to drinking urine and skinny-dipping in ice-cold water, providing Obama to show off his lighter side, much like a late-night TV appearance.)
Of course, Obama’s critics will deride this interlude for the love letter/promotional video that it was, but they bear at least part of the blame. After all, if the political climate hadn’t become toxic to the point where climate science is deemed a wholly partisan issue, Obama wouldn’t have to waste time engaging in this sort of endeavor to push the message.
“I’m in awe of what you’re doing to protect our planet,” Grylls said near the end, while Obama stated how impressed he was with the TV host’s commitment to the same cause, before the two prayed together and hugged. One suspects not many minds were changed, but it likely played well with their respective choirs. And despite the harrowing appearance of what Grylls does, and Obama’s references to how he can make his staff nervous by going off script, this was the epitome of a low-risk exercise — the PR equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel.