“671 kilometers of jungles, rivers, ocean, and swamp. And it is…brutal”
So says World’s Toughest Race host (and producer) Bear Grylls to an accumulative 66 teams as they gather patiently to learn just what they’re in for over the course of the next 11 days. And if there’s anyone who knows the extremities of the wilderness, it would be him.
An Amazing Race-type format injected with a more brutal mentality where each team of 4 are at the mercy of their own running mates – Grylls informs each team that if a member gives up or injures themselves, the whole team must forfeit – Eco-Challenge Fiji forgoes the usual wicked personality-driven drama of “reality TV” and instead presents a multitude of characters who all appear as genuine folk just wanting to finish the race; though, as it’s described at one point, “It’s not a race, but an expedition”.
And indeed, Eco-Challenge Fiji is a show built on the individual competition that each team have set for themselves internally. It’s split into 5 legs, there’s medallions hidden at each respective leg, and there are cut-off time periods that determine whether or not a team will continue on, and though there are several teams that earn prominent air-time due to their past experiences with former Toughest Race outings – Team New Zealand are one of the top adventure crews in the world – for many on hand it’s merely a case of finishing, rather than finishing first.
Whilst fans of The Amazing Race fit-out where certain team members have to perform the most bizarre of tasks will be underwhelmed with the more grounded approach Eco-Challenge Fiji takes, this show succeeds in that it showcases its subject island country in all its beauty and precariousness in equal measure. And it’s an incredibly inclusive and inspiring program, managing to highlight the strength of those with limiting disabilities (a female war veteran on a USA team dubbed Unbroken reveals she’s legally deaf, whilst another on Team Endure is battling alzheimers) and the pride of the LGBT community (the first African-American endurance team, Team Onyx, has a founding member who wants to inspire the younger generations of the community) without resorting to manipulative melodrama or a pandering temperament.
Though World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji isn’t without a little cheese padding – Grylls has a few typical “inspiring speech” moments, and the accompanying score sounds eerily close to The Avengers theme song – the show’s honesty and authenticity consistently break through. A welcome change of pace to the reality TV format that so often feels disingenuous, Eco-Challenge Fiji could easily be your next healthy binge.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji is available to stream now on Amazon Prime Video.