“ONE! TWO! THREE!” And with that, Bear Grylls, Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren, and one unlucky volunteer from the congregation all toss back a handful of worms and maggots. The crowd of some 5,000 inside this Orange County megachurch groans and cheers, followed by an awful moment filled with the miked-up sounds of chewing and swallowing. Then Warren—evangelical icon, best-selling author, and the minister who delivered the invocation at President Obama’s inauguration—digs into the squirming glass bowl for seconds. The place erupts. “EEEWWW!”
Welcome to Bear Grylls, live on stage.
It’s early May, and Grylls, 38, star of Discovery Channel’s Man vs. Wild, is six days into a PR blitz to promote the U.S. release of his autobiography (and 11th book), Mud, Sweat and Tears. Today’s performance, a version of an act he debuted in 2011, follows a simple formula: Grylls makes a dramatic entrance by—look up there!—rappelling down from the ceiling. He plays some Man vs. Wild clips. He chats with a cohost about his life of adventure. He gets audience members to eat bugs. It’s hardly as thrilling as watching him brave nature’s cruelest punishments on TV, but for Grylls fans it’s crack. In the past year, he’s sold out 17 shows in the U.K., Australia, and Norway. Here at Saddleback—where, at the invitation of Warren, he’s performing free of charge—churchgoers vigorously applaud every Man vs. Wild video. They hush in reverence when he discusses his faith. (“You don’t meet too many atheists in the Death Zone on Everest.”) They guffaw at his punch lines. (“I thought, Typical, it’s the best-hung goat in the hemisphere!”)
Indeed, last spring it seemed that everything was going right for Bear Grylls. Mud, Sweat and Tears had already become a bestseller in Australia and the U.K. His signature collection of survival products for Gerber, including the $62 Ultimate Knife, which has sold a million units since 2010, was adding 12 new tools. His outdoor-clothing line with British brand Craghoppers was also expanding. He’d recently become the face of a Dockers ad campaign and had starred in a high-profile TV commercial for Degree deodorant. (“Sweat is like tasty gravy to a hungry wolf,” Grylls deadpans.) In the days surrounding the Saddleback appearance, he taught Al Roker how to light a fire, gave stranded-mom survival tips to Rachael Ray, and shot arrows for Jay Leno.
There was just one thing missing: Bear Grylls no longer had a TV show.
“LET’S GET LASHED!” says Grylls as we roll north through L.A. traffic toward his hotel in Beverly Hills. It’s about half an hour since he took his bows at Saddleback, and we’re sitting in the backseat of a red Kia SUV driven by Delbert Shoopman, who manages social media and licensing for Bear Grylls Ventures USA, the company Grylls launched this year to nurture his growing commercial empire. Riding shotgun is publicist Heather Krug, who Grylls will soon name CEO. The two of them chuckle and roll their eyes at their boss. They know we will not be getting drunk; the man is a Boy Scout, figuratively and literally. (He was appointed the U.K.’s chief scout in 2009.) He just likes to say that he’s going to get lashed.
He also likes to say how much he loves just about everything.
On being best known for drinking his own pee: “I love it!”