Bear Grylls is teaching essential survival skills to the world’s biggest celebrities on the second season of Running Wild with Bear Grylls: The Challenge (Sundays on National Geographic at 9/8c). This week, he’s meeting up with Benedict Cumberbatch on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. Following the learning phase of their two-day adventure, which includes descending massive sea cliffs and braving ice-cold conditions, Bear tests the British actor’s mettle by making him go off on his own to apply the vital lessons he’s learned.
Benedict is a fan of Running Wild, but he admits he knows very little about what’s in store for him when he meets up with Bear. “That’s kind of part why I’m here,” he says. “I like a challenge, and I want to see how I react to something unknown.”
Benedict has a connection to the Isle of Skye. His grandfather was a Royal Navy submariner and trained there during World War II. Now, Bear has brought Benedict to the same place off Scotland’s northwest coast to experience this rugged area on the North Atlantic. “This is going to test Benedict like no role he’s ever played,” Bear promises.
Day One: Maps, Transceivers, and Climbing Talons
A helicopter drops Bear and Benedict off in what appears to be a desolate field, and the two begin a miles-long hike to locate caches filled with critical supplies and gear for their journey. Bear notes that Benedict has an adventurous spirit and likes to skydive, scuba, and go on other extreme adventures. “I’ve had a couple of near-death experiences,” the Doctor Strange actor says, explaining that these activities allow him to feel more in control “in a reckless way.”
As they embark on their own wild trek, Bear shows Benedict a transceiver they must use to figure out direction and distance to zero in on their first cache. The pair discover it near a steep 200-foot cliff and take out climbing talons, which are ideal for sticking into soft ground and using as an anchor point for repelling.
Bear instructs Benedict on how to set up the metal talons, attach his carabiners, tie an Italian hitch—a double-looped rope knot—to secure himself and descend the cliff’s face to get their second cache below. “It’s not the same as doing stunts on a Marvel film; it’s a lot more real,” Benedict says as Bear disappears over the precipice.
When it’s Benedict’s turn to go over the edge, he realizes that the “surreal” technique is a little like leaning out of an airplane when getting ready to skydive. Despite his nerves, he slowly and successfully makes his way down. “It wasn’t pretty, especially at the beginning,” he says. But Bear gives him respect anyway for conquering the steep, slippery obstacle.
The two continue to use a map and their transceiver to pinpoint the next cache about a mile away on the other side of some unforgiving terrain along the wave-battered coast. Benedict relies on his transceiver lessons and manages to find the location of the second cache—a lobster trap in the shadow of a thundering waterfall.
Unfortunately, what was supposed to be a food source turns up empty, because scavengers had eaten all the bait. Always resourceful, Bear tells Benedict they can instead feast on seaweed and limpets (aquatic snails). Bear notes, “It’s a downgrade from what I’d hoped, which was lobster.”
The pair then plan their next move. After consulting the map, they realize they have to reascend the cliffs. Bear explains to the Doctor Strange star that working together in a buddy-buddy system is critical to get to the top, since the cliff is covered with slick grass. If one slips, the other can help. The reward for completing the difficult climb is a stunning view of snowy mountains beyond a sweeping expanse. “Now that’s what I call heaven,” Benedict gushes.
Bear decides it’s time to find their last cache of the day so they can set up camp for the evening, rest, eat, and dry out their gear. Arriving at the hidden stash of supplies, they find a tarp tent to protect them from the wind and cold rain, sheepskins to provide warmth, firewood and waterproof matches to build a fire for cooking and additional heat, and, of course, a flask of high-quality whiskey to provide some fuel for the flames—and themselves.
As the evening draws to a close, Benedict acknowledges the following day is going to be big, since he’ll be doing things on his own. “Who knows what’s in store,” he says.
Day Two: From Cliffs to Watercraft
Benedict begins the next morning with a confession: He didn’t sleep very well, and it was incredibly cold. His tentmate, Bear, is already on his A-game, fashioning new, improvised climbing talons out of long bent bolts he found in old fence posts in the area.
Benedict is now ready to venture out on his own to use the skills he learned, like utilizing the set of climbing talons, making a belay device with an Italian hitch, and navigating to the final cache with a map and a transceiver.
Benedict anticipates having “danger for breakfast” when he sets off. Almost immediately, Benedict has trouble getting a signal on the transponder, but he carries on, and eventually he’s able to use the tracker to locate the cache.
He must now use the improvised talons Bear gave him earlier to get himself and the heavy new supply bag down a cliff to where the survivalist is waiting.
After securing the talons into the grass, Benedict makes multiple attempts to tie a hitch with the rope before he succeeds. He then attaches a carabiner to the talons and cache and tosses the bundle over the edge. Next, Benedict takes the plunge himself and repels down. “It’s in the back of your mind that there are just these pieces of metal in quite loose sod, really,” he says.
Despite the seemingly iffy setup, he takes several deep breaths and goes over the edge. “It’s slippery and cold, but it’s also a lot of fun,” he says on the way down.
It’s time for Benedict to find out what the cache he found contains. Bear unfurls the bundle to show Benedict it’s a foldable Klepper kayak, a style often used in reconnaissance missions during World War II.
Now with Bear by his side for the extraction from this harsh wilderness, the two head out in the kayak into the cold sea, where the British Royal Navy intercepts them in a patrol craft. The moment is meaningful for Benedict, since it makes him feel connected to his veteran grandfather he never got to meet.
Bear has one final surprise in store for Benedict: the chance to explore a nuclear submarine, a nod to his grandfather’s service in the Royal Navy.
“The past couple of days have been extraordinary. What an experience,” Benedict says at the end of his adventure. “To round it all off, it just became more and more about a narrative I wasn’t expecting.”
Are you tuning in for this season of Running Wild? Tell us your favorite moment so far in the comments.