There was big news from the world of adventure racing yesterday as it was announced that mega-television producer Mark Burnett is teaming up with adventure personality Bear Grylls to revive the Eco-Challenge, an event that many feel is still the greatest adventure racing series ever.
Burnett, who has gone on to produce such big TV hits as Survivor and The Voice, cut his teeth in reality television with Eco-Challenge. The event, which was a real adventure race that was produced for television, featured 10 different races over the course of about eight years. The races would routinely attract more than 50 four-person, coed teams, from around the world and were held in such places as Borneo, Morocco, Fiji, and British Columbia.
At the time, Eco-Challenge was seen as one of the toughest endurance races on the planet and it drew a large and devoted audience. It also helped introduce adventure racing to the mainstream public, with viewers tuning in to watch a week-long presentation of the race that showed the best AR teams in the world struggling against one another and the environment in some of the most spectacular and remote places on the planet. For many of us, it was our first real taste of adventure racing and it served as a gateway to Primal Quest and many other races that followed.
The details on the new Eco-Challenge are a bit sparse, but the project appears to be moving forward, and quickly. Burnett says that he has always wanted to bring the race back, but wasn’t sure how to do that exactly. He adds that Bear Grylls is the perfect figure head to have at the helm of the race and will help bring it to a larger audience.
I had a chance to meet Mark Burnett behind the scenes of one of his television shows a number of years back and I asked him about Eco-Challenge. At the time, he told me it was his favorite project that he’d ever worked on and that he would love to revive it. The probably was the high level of liability that went into the show and getting insurance to cover it. Obviously he’s found a way to overcome that challenge, as Eco is coming back.
Production on the event is expected to ramp up later this year, but as of now there is no indication of where and when the race will take place. But, a new Eco-Challenge website is already in place and it promises to alert visitors when more information is available. There is even a form in place for anyone interested in the event to request more information once it becomes available. The dates and location of previous Eco-Challenges are listed as well, along with a photo of Grylls.
As a huge fan of Eco-Challenge, I’m excited to hear the news. That said, the landscape for adventure racing has changed dramatically since the race last took place back in 2002. Will the new Eco-Challenge find a home in a very competitive landscape? Personally, I wouldn’t bet against Burnett, who seems to be successful in almost ever venture he undertakes. He’ll certainly have the interest of networks to air the show on television, which is a step up from most other AR events. He’s also got a great partner in Grylls to help helm the program as well. This might even be a jumpstart for adventure racing as a sport too. Only time will tell.
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