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World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji Review 2020 Tv Show Series Season Cast Crew Online
Stars: Bear Grylls, Melissa Coombes, Gretchen Evans
The Eco-Challenge series of adventure races isn’t new; Mark Burnett produced a number of specials and series documenting these grueling multi-day races from 1995 to 2002. After being absent for most of the last 17 years (with one or two one-year exceptions), a new race was run around Fiji last September. For eleven days, 66 teams ran through hot, humid, rugged terrain while trying to figure out how to marshal their resources in order to win, or in some cases, just finish the race. And not only is Burnett back in the producer’s chair, but the host is TV’s current adventure king, Bear Grylls.
Opening Shot: Bear Grylls flies over Fiji on a helicopter, and we hear him say in voice over: “Welcome to Fiji, and this year’s Eco-Challenge adventure race: The World’s Toughest Race.”
The Gist: Grylls hosts this Mark Burnett-produced revival of the Eco-Challenge race series, which aired on various cable channels from 1995 through 2002. As before, the series documents a number of teams racing on a treacherous 11-day course, making all sorts of decisions that could gain or lose them time as the course goes on.
In this race, there are 66 teams, from various countries, and of various skill levels. All have to reach a certain checkpoint at the two-and-a-half day mark or be eliminated, and if a member of their team is too injured to continue, the entire team needs to drop out. As Grylls tells the teams during the intro, “Embrace the hurting. You’re going to get blisters. Blisters heal. Get over it.”
The first day requires hours of rowing in a tributary into the open ocean, where the teams either row for the entire 65 km or put up their sails. Then they get to the island of Ovalau, where they’re supposed to circle through hilly, jungle terrain, return back to the boats and row back. During that part of the journey, they have to find the first medallion, representing each of the five legs of the journey, about 15 feet below the surface.
The directors tend to concentrate on teams from the U.S., though the defending-champion New Zealand team busts out to a lead after capsizing their boat at the start of the race. There’s also an Indian team led by twin sisters who are trying to bust stereotypes of Indian women.
For the longest time, a team from Bend, Oregon is in the lead, but after rowing the entire way to Ovalau, one of their team members gets overcome with heatstroke and the team has to essentially carry him through the course. Other teams featured include Team Onyx, the only all-Black team; a team with two retired Army members, one of whom lost her hearing in Afghanistan; a father-son team where the father, a veteran adventure racer, is in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s; a father-daughters team, and more.
Our Take: In the hands of Burnett, who produced all of the previous Eco-Challenge series and specials, the action in this revival is bound to be beautifully-shot and expertly-edited from the first seconds. It also helps to have the presence of Grylls, who could probably be on one these teams and kick butt for 11 days. Let’s just say he’s not overwhelmed by the ruggedness of the terrain in Fiji.
But, let’s admit something here: Why are you watching this new version of Eco-Challenge? To see the amazing limits people can push themselves to win an endurance race such as this? The triumph of the spirit and the ways the mind can overcome pain? People teaming together with different purposes in the race, such as just finishing, finishing in a decent spot or outright winning?
No, you’re watching Eco-Challenge to see teams make fateful decisions that mess them up later on, or see people fall, get hurt or get sick (though hopefully not seriously) and see whether their teams decide to drag them along to stay in the race or drop out. You’re watching for arguments and rivalries, you’re watching for the last place team to desperately hit their cut-off point on time, and you’re watching to see just what condition these people are in after 11 days of pushing themselves on very little sleep in hot, humid, rugged conditions.
Burnett knows this. Grylls knows this. And that’s why the best story of the first part was the Bend team sprinting out to the lead, using all their energy rowing in the open ocean, and basically falling into close to last place because they overextended themselves. It’s interesting to see their struggle on the island versus the New Zealand team, who also rowed all the way to the island, but is either in better condition or just knows how to pace themselves, as their captain mentioned. They easily bypass the Bend team and almost effortlessly maintain their lead. Burnett doesn’t position them as the bad guys, necessarily, but they certainly setting the audience to root for them to mess up at some point.
Otherwise, it’s a pretty straightforward show in the vein of Burnett’s pride and joy, Survivor. Combine that show and a show Burnett wishes he produced, The Amazing Race, and you have Eco-Challenge. Fans of this genre of reality show will likely really get into the storylines presented here.
We wish that Burnett and his producers concentrated on more non-American teams. And, for all we know, they will in subsequent episodes. But with 66 teams to follow, it’s likely hard for them to figure out who to follow, especially at the beginning. Either that, or they pre-selected the teams to follow and will stay with them to the bitter end. Not sure. Either way, we hope we see a bit more of a cultural diversity during the rest of the season.