TV

'My wife was like, are you serious?': On 'Man Vs Bear,' humans go against grizzly bears


Ever wanted to compete against a 1,400-pound bear? Ever wanted to watch someone else do it?

In either case, Discovery’s new series “Man Vs Bear,” which premiered on Dec. 4, might be for you.

Yes, it’s quite the proposition. But it’s not as scary as you might think. “My wife was like, ‘Are you serious? You’re really about to go compete against a bear?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah,’ ” Kyran Ashford, one of the competitors and a Southwest Airlines operations agent supervisor, tells USA TODAY. His episode airs Jan. 1 at 9 p.m. EST.

Here’s the premise: At Bear Mountain, Utah, humans compete against grizzly bears in challenges that test strength, speed and stamina. The grizzly bears in question – “the stars of the show,” according to Joseph Boyle, Discovery’s senior vice president of production and development – are Bart, the biggest and most powerful bear at 8 feet, 6 inches tall and 1,400 pounds; Honey Bump, the only female on the mountain and the bear with the strongest predatory instinct; and Tank, a bear known for his healthy appetite. 

For a show called “Man Vs Bear,” there’s isn’t as much interaction between them as you’d expect, despite what the show’s moniker implies. Yes, contestants perform physical challenges, so “there’s always a chance of a contestant getting hurt, but not by a bear,” Boyle says.

For two decades, Doug and Lynne Seus have raised and taken care of all three bears on protected land. Boyle says animal welfare safety workers were available during filming and ensured people behaved properly on set.

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What happens during a ‘Man Vs Bear’ episode?

During each episode, three competitors go up against the bears in four challenges, and the top two contestants move on to a final challenge where they come face-to-face with Bart (well, sort of). After seven episodes and 21 competitors, the show will air a finale with the top three competitors across the season, crowning an ultimate champion.

Each challenge reflects what bears regularly do in the wild, from engaging in a “tug of war” game to rolling giant logs.

Here’s a breakdown of the challenges:

Tug of war

Contestants stand on a 22-foot high platform and engage in a tug of war with Bart. They wear a harness with a rope attached, across a small body of water from Bart who has the other end of it; however long they can stay on the platform, they earn one point. This challenge is inspired by the fact that grizzly bears have one of the strongest jaw pressures in the animal kingdom (why they can tear carcasses apart or steal whatever they want from other animals quite easily).

Log rolling

The three challengers have to push a log five times their body weight faster than Bart. As is the pattern with these challenges: This is a simple task for a grizzly bear.

Food bonanza

The humans get five piles of food in front of them (in the episode that airs Jan. 1, that’s blueberries, cabbage, turkey, mussels and silkworms) and have to eat as much as possible before Tank finishes the same amount.

Can you climb faster than a bear?

The contestants race through an obstacle course and climb up a tall tree, where they have to climb 42 feet and ring a bell faster than a grizzly bear would in the wild.

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Human prey

Two contestants remain at this point. Each scurries into a steel ball while they try to fend off Bart, who attempts to push them in the massive steel ball into a nearby crater. The longer they stay in the ball and out of the crater, the more points they’ll earn (measured by every five seconds they can avoid it).

The show also includes commentary from sports commentator Brandon Tierney and wildlife expert Casey Anderson.

Here’s how one contestant fared

Ashford tells USA TODAY he prepared for the show by heading to the gym three or four times a week, watching his diet and doing cardio like running and jumping rope.

The hardest part of the show? “I had to eat silkworms and I never in my life ever thought I would be eating anything worm-related,” he says. How did they taste? “Like peanut butter – but definitely not peanut butter,” he says.

Ashford says he felt safe on the show, though he signed a lot of  paperwork. What advice does he have for future contestants? “Be confident. Be fierce. That’s a 1,400-pound grizzly bear,” he says. “(The bear) doesn’t even know what fear is. It doesn’t even know how to spell fear.”

While you may not face actual grizzly bears in life, Ashford contends they serve as a metaphor.

“In life you may deal with grizzly bear-like situations, and you have to have the confidence to overcome these obstacles,” he says. 

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