“Where you’re going now, small mistakes, big consequences. Pack an extra bag of fortitude,” Grylls said.
Each episode includes a two-day survival journey in New Zealand’s South Island and each team draws a knife with a task — obstacle, food, shelter or fire — etched on it for their assignment. On the second day there is a Survival Test where the winner gets immunity from elimination and a trip to the Feast Pit.
There were 10 teams at the beginning of the season, and the Vachs, of the Maple Valley Washington Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, will be in the finale next week.
At the beginning of the seventh journey, the Vachs, of Maple Valley, Wash., drew the obstacle knife and were to help all of the teams get across the glacier safely and avoid the crevasses.
“This is one of the most dynamic, unpredictable environments on the planet,” Grylls said of the cold temperatures, how glaciers are moving, leaving crevasses along the way, and how everyone needs to be careful with every step.
Engaged couple Ryan Gwin and Madeline Mitchell, both 24, of Mobile, Ala., drew the fire knife and had hexamine blocks and strikers to light the fire and help cook the food.
The teams were dropped off at the top edge of the mountain glacier with the helicopter rudders on one edge of the ridge and the other hovering.
“The good news is that from here on, it’s more or less all downhill,” Grylls told the teams after the helicopters dropped them off. “The bad news is that between here and your campsite is one of nature’s real mine fields.”
The Vachs were in charge of tying everyone together so that if one of them fell as they traversed the glacier, the others could help pull him or her out. No one fell down a crevasse as they slowly walked down the slick ice and snow on the glacier.
“I’m extremely proud of my dad. He’s pushed himself outside of his comfort zone and he’s come to love it, I think,” said 24-year-old Austin Vach, technical accounting manager at Microsoft.
“This is phenomenal. This will keep me young, this kind of stuff, instead of sitting in a rocking chair and reading a book or something,” said 61-year-old Jim Vach, a retired fraud investigator. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
Powell, who had a serious leg injury from a motorcycle accident and had to relearn to walk, went down the crevasse to get the dead goat Grylls had left for them. Austin Vach anchored Powell as Powell went after the food successfully. Later as they hiked, Powell's knee gave out and he had to work through it to keep going.
At their overnight camp, it took awhile for Gwin and Mitchell to start the fire as they didn’t take the hexamine tablets out of the packages. And the Larsons set up a small rock windbreak for the shelter, but the wind shifted.
Once the fire was started and the meat was cooked, everyone seemed to enjoy dinner and the view from the ridge.
The next morning, the Survival Test included using a 3-in-1 hoist to recover a haul bag that was the about the weight of the child. One team member had to lower himself down, attach a haul bag line, climb back up and then attach it into the Z-shaped ropes in the pulley to pull up the bag.
For the Vachs, Austin went down to clip in the haul bag line and was the first back up over the edge. But the teams were about even as they figured out the ropes and hauled up their bags.
“It’s looking more like a snakes’ wedding of ropes than a proper 3-in-1 hoist,” Grylls observed during the test.
It was the Larsons who won the challenge and the trip to the Feast Pit, with fajitas and a bath — and one of the three spots in the final journey.
At Bear’s Camp that evening, Grylls had both praise and criticism for each team as they completed their tasks.
“I’m looking at four incredible teams here,” Grylls said. “You’re the four teams who have shown me that you can put up with fatigue and hunger and pain and hardship. I’m proud of you.”
For the Vachs, the criticism was not anchoring the line of people with the largest members of the group at the back. For Gwin and Mitchell, it was how long it took to get the fire started. And for Winter and Powell, it was Powell insisting to get the food instead of sending Winter to get it. He told the Larsons that their shelter wasn’t adequate, either.
“Jim and Austin, I think there is a pattern of trying to do it on your own,” Grylls said of not using everyone’s strengths to help the whole group, but praised their dependability.
“The wild is always revealing,” Grylls said. “The lesson is the rewards in life don’t always go to the biggest or the bravest or the smartest. The rewards go to the dogged.”
In the end, it was Gwin and Mitchell who were eliminated.
“The weather forecast the next few days is horrific,” Grylls told the remaining three teams. “I like that because it’s going to bring out the best in you.”
The Vachs will compete in one more journey where the final team will win $500,000.
“Get Out Alive with Bear Grylls” airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on NBC.
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