Published On: Thu, Apr 18th, 2019

Streaming recommendations: You vs. Wild won’t let you kill Bear Grylls. I tried

You vs. Wild

Bear Grylls in You Vs. Wild.
Bear Grylls in You Vs. Wild.  (Courtesy of Netflix / Courtesy of Netflix)

Life is a choice.

Just as we learn more of Apple and Disney’s plans to challenge Netflix’s top-dog status in the streaming world, potentially giving us more choice, it is fitting that You vs. Wild is one of the latter site’s latest additions that show the benefits of its huge lead in this space and how it continues to experiment with new formats.

Starring survival-TV star Bear Grylls, You vs. Wild is the second Netflix show that uses the interactive technology, a.k.a. choose your own path/adventure storytelling, after it was first showcased in the Black Mirror: Bandersnatch episode last December.

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Basically, these shows allow a branching-path narrative, where Grylls will intermittently give you two onscreen choices — as he so often says: “You’re in charge. You’re on this journey with me.”

Bandersnatch was reportedly a huge hit for Netflix, leading it to commit to create more of these. YouTube has already experimented with interactive advertising, but earlier this month announced it was looking to create more of these type of shows.

“We now have amazing new tools and opportunities to create and tell multi-layered and interactive stories,” Susanne Daniels, YouTube’s head of original programming, told Bloomberg in a statement.

YouTube and Netflix don’t have the field to themselves: Wal-Mart has invested $ 250 million US with a startup called Eko to make original interactive TV. There might, however, be a legal snag: ChooseCo LLC, the publisher that owns the rights to Choose your own Adventure series of kids’ books, wants to sue Netflix for $ 25 million US, though the streaming site argues that giving narrative choice in an interactive story cannot be trademarked.

As a big player of video games, I am really curious where these things might go, but at this point Netflix’s version just feels like a really bad video game — or, better put, a rudimentary one. All of the options are binary, and while Bandersnatch at least artfully implemented the technology and played with the idea behind it, You vs. Wild shows how tedious and contrived it can be.

This has all the good things of a Grylls show like Man Vs. Wild — like incredible locations, great production values and the host’s charisma and knowledge while he’s foraging through different terrains and eating super gross things.

The problem here is that for the sake of the interactive aspect, they have set him in fake scenarios, and while obviously no expense was spared on things like helicopters, they really could — and should — have shelled out for a few writers to make this part interesting.

Part of the conundrum comes from using someone like Grylls, a real and well-known person whose appeal is built on surviving in the dangerous wild; we know he’s in no real danger in this. Yes, he’s a familiar, solo performer who’s used to directly speaking to the camera, and yes, some of the in-nature segments are fine, but the use of the tech here feels pretty superfluous.

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One of the scenarios is trying to find a lost St. Bernard in the Alps, where one of the choices is picking the nuts out of bear feces, or keep on looking for something else to eat. And that is probably the biggest draw here. Despite my best efforts, you can’t really kill or harm Grylls, but you can make him eat bear pooh and other gross things and throw up. I’ll admit I lost a few of these episodes, and while it’s forgiving enough to let you go back and make changes and try again, I didn’t care enough to go back and replay an episode.

You vs. Wild makes for an OK show, but a boring game. Gaming is eating the world, and it feels like only a matter of time before someone cracks the code on how to make something really compelling with this. But perhaps not. It’s not like there’s not enough other stuff to watch or play that we can choose from.

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TORONTO STAR

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Streaming recommendations: You vs. Wild won’t let you kill Bear Grylls. I tried