Take fourteen men and fourteen women, none of whom have any notable survival expertise and drop them on two separate desert islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. What have you got? TV Gold, of course, but also a rather unique social experiment. Bear Grylls himself tells us more
How does the new series differ from the last, aside from the inclusion of female contestants?
A lot of our safety guys said that the experience took them quite literally to the edge, in terms of both starvation and dehydration. We were thinking how we could push that further and thought 'how about doing it in the rainy season?'. It was so hard for them in the dry season but trying to start a fire in the torrential rain... What we didn't realise is how much exponentially harder it is for these guys, with zero skills, zero training, to be dumped on an island in the rainy season. The second thing is that we've extended the time. It pays off in the shows as you can tell already that it's much tougher and there was fallout from it in the sense that not everyone made it to the end. I think it gave my safety team heart palpitations but at the end of it, everyone lived.
Why were women brought in? Was it in response to the accusations of sexism in the last series or just simply something you were keen to do?
Well it's a really natural progression for us. When we started out we thought it would be interesting to do a study of modern masculinity because I get a lot of "What's happened to modern man?" but i've always had ambitions to expand this and doing a women's version was a natural step to take. You know there's lots of other things i'd like to do with this that i think would be interesting. I'm mega proud of these shows, I really believe that we've pushed the boundaries in a way that we didn't imagine when we first started out.
Did you have any idea which island would fare better when going into the series?
I got a lot of our team beforehand asking "what do you think is going to happen?" I had various different theories and the truth is none of them were right. It was shocking and revealing in a way that I believe people won't anticipate. What I do know is that I've worked with incredible women on expeditions and on our filming teams, so often they can be unsung heroes. On television we don't see enough women showing their survival skills so I was excited really to bring women to this and show just how incredible, as we know, women can be.
Would you ever consider an island with both men and women?
(Laughing) I think that would be a season eight. We've still got a lot to explore before we get to that.
In the first few episodes there's a few examples of the groups falling into gender stereotypes - the women standing around chatting and the men marching forward and appearing to be overly competitive. Is this contrast likely to continue throughout the series?
It does settle down. At the start the men were like Rambo - desperate to get out there and flex their muscles. I have three boys and they haven't yet got to a stage where they want to become an accountant, a business man or an author; they just want to be Rambo. The men attacked the island like that and the downside is that there's a lot of ego involved. The positive is that a hell of a lot got done very quickly because they're all out to prove themselves.
When I first dropped the women off my first thought was 'oh my goodness, this is going to be messy'. On the way to the island with the men I was feeding them and saying "eat the crisps, eat the nuts. You're going to need them, trust me'. The men gorged on food but when it came to the women they were like 'oh no, I'm fine thanks'.
By the end, those that remained earned respect through sweat, courage, kindness and humility. All of the things that we tend to think 'does that matter in survival?'. The answer is yes. Those that remained have my total respect - what they went through really was incredible.
The Island with Bear Grylls begins on Wednesday 8 April with the men's island and Thursday 9 April with the women's - both at 9pm on Channel 4
Words by Louis A W Sheridan