Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The Bear Necessities

The thing about reality TV shows is that they're true to life. The thing about the Foreign Legion is that it no longer trains in north Africa, they insist on speaking French, and recruits have to sign up for five years. Put these two things together, and what do you get? 'Escape to the Legion' on Channel 4, a show where 12 volunteers spend a month in Morocco speaking English. It's like Celebrity Love Island, but with fewer bikinis.

On this occasion the dirty dozen are led by Bear Grylls, who sounds like a processed meat product from Canada, but is in fact a former SAS member and conqueror of Everest (the mountain, not the double-glazing company). Bear, who presumably lives in a big blue house and shits in the woods, has selected eleven other recruits from thousands of misguided applicants, all of whom hope to 'find themselves' in the desert, and avoid getting sand between their toes.

They include the likes of Steven, a former drug addict, Will, an ex public school boy (I don't know what's worse), and Dean Gardner (no relation) (I hope), a wedding dress designer from London who also likes to dress up as a woman and call himself Amber Deluxxe. And if you think Bear's a ridiculous name, another of them's called Burf. You have to wonder what these parents are playing at.

The group arrived at the old Moroccan fort they'll be calling home for the next month, and were immediately put to work carrying their duty-free up a big hill. Sergeant Chef (so presumably he can cook) Peter Hauser, who has eighteen years experience in the Foreign Legion, and likes to run double marathons for fun, welcomed them with the words "From this moment, don't think any more". Hey, they're reality TV show contestants - that won't be a problem.

Having been stripped down to their underwear, revealing Bear's rather fetching union jack boxer shorts, the men had their heads shaved, and were instructed to do a few pull-ups before dinner. The corporal, a man for whom modern political correctness clearly means nothing, requested that they do it like men, "not like women, and not like homosexuals". Which put Dean at an immediate disadvantage.

But the thing about the French Foreign Legion is that they know how to break a man. They have at their disposal an array of brutal army techniques designed to grind you down and crush the human spirit. Although sometimes all they need to do is wake you up at 5am. And so it was with Terry Morton, who works at PC World, a job which presumably doesn't require early starts. Having been awoken at dawn on the first morning, Terry dragged himself out of bed and immediately rang the bell outside, indicating that he was quitting the show.

Bear Grylls expressed surprise at Terry's decision, before going on to mention that he'd chosen the man for the programme specifically because "he has a history of never seeing anything through". The word "d'oh" springs to mind.

But no matter. The others pressed on with their punishment of having to climb a sand dune, which according to Bear is "like climbing a wall of treacle". A particularly tough punishment as everyone knows bears prefer honey.

The French Foreign Legion apparently inist that "pain is weakness leaving the body", though after their first meal of stale bread and jam, there was also quite a lot of diarrhoea on display. One of the corporals later commented that "this is good shit", though I'm hoping he meant something else by that.

The programme finished with the final departure of Terry, who filed past his former colleagues whilst commenting that he missed his girlfriend. As Bear himself said, "it's been a long way to come for a haircut". Not that it had been a waste of time for our Tel. The Channel 4 website has published a short interview with the man, in which they ask him "Did you get a sense of achievement from taking part?"

Terry, who'd lasted... oooh at least a couple of hours, and failed to complete so much as one pull-up, answered with a single word: