It was an unforgettable moment. It’s been a marvelous experience for us. —Jim Vach
A Mormon father-son team survived the final journey of NBC’s “Get Out Alive with Bear Grylls” and said the experience helped strengthen their relationship.
“Strong bonds that have been made even stronger. You guys leave with your heads held high,” host and survivalist Bear Grylls said of 24-year-old Austin Vach, technical accounting manager at Microsoft, and his father, 61-year-old Jim Vach, a retired fraud investigator, both of Maple Valley, Wash.
“We’ve got three very strong teams,” Grylls said before he chose a winner. “You’ve all earned my respect the hard way.”
The Vachs, of the Maple Valley Washington Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, watched the finale with about 200 people, tweeted during the show and answered questions during commercial breaks.
“We really appreciate the outpouring of support that we’ve felt,” Jim Vach, who serves as bishop in the Cedar River Ward, said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
Austin Vach, who is the elders quorum president in the Green Valley Young Single Adult Ward, said in a telephone interview Tuesday that he had watched Bear Grylls on television growing up and it was one of his favorite times on the show to meet him.
“He never gives up and keeps going until the job is done,” Austin Vach said. “He’s a genuine guy.”
Ten teams started the season and one was eliminated each week until there were three teams, including the Vachs, the Larsons and Dallas friends Chris Winter, 28, and Jeff Powell, 29, who survived a near-fatal motorcycle accident several months ago.
Each episode included a two-day survival journey in New Zealand’s South Island where each team drew a knife with a task — obstacle, food, shelter or fire — etched on it for their assignment. On the second day, there was a survival test where the winner got immunity from elimination and a trip to the Feast Pit. The Vachs had won three of the survival tests during the season.
“What you’re about to experience is about as close to a survival scenario that I believe is possible to create,” Grylls said.
It was the final journey that both Jim and Austin Vach said was the most difficult.
When they drew knives, they were blank — meaning that while they would be traveling as a group, they were responsible for their own shelter and fire.
The final journey during Monday's episode included jumping from a helicopter in a lake in a rainstorm, swimming to shore, navigating and bushwhacking through a rain forest, and floating down a cold, swollen river without a raft to the overnight camp. The next morning, they hiked through the marsh, built rafts, navigated to the coast of the Tasman Sea and built a signal fire.
“The vines seemed to be alive and trying to ensnare me! Chris (Winter) started calling me ‘Jungle Jim,’ ” Jim Vach tweeted during the show.
The ground was covered with puddles, some of which were waist-deep.
“All of these guys, it’s their first time in the rain forest,” Grylls said. “It really is a baptism of fire.”
At the riverbank, they tied their packs together so they could float as a group.
“The scary thing about floating down that river was that the river level had been elevated due to heavy rain,” Austin Vach said. “So, you could very easily run into hidden objects underneath.”
At the overnight campsite, the ground was dotted with puddles as each team set up shelter out of the fern trees in the dark that were dry.
After setting up their shelters, fire proved difficult as the flint from Austin Vach’s fire steel fell out and he couldn’t find it. The Larsons also struggled to make a fire.
They ended up getting fire from Winter and Powell to cook the deer heart that Grylls brought by.
“Never underestimate how hard this is for these guys,” Grylls said as he watched them. “They are about to spend their first night in the rain forest. It’s intimidating by day, but at nighttime, it can be a whole different ballgame.”
The Vachs built their raft with larger logs so it would be sturdy and buoyant, but it ended up getting caught in driftwood and falling behind the other two teams.
“It’s taking its toll on these guys; they’re soaking wet,” Grylls observed from his spot on shore. “They’re only human.”
In the marsh, there were deep bogs and streams to cross, including one that was swollen and that they strung a rope across. At the beach, they built their signal fire and Grylls came in on a helicopter to pick up the teams.
“It was an unforgettable moment,” Jim Vach said of reaching the coast. “It’s been a marvelous experience for us.”
“Standing there on the beach at the end, knowing that I was there because of my dad’s help, is something I am very grateful for,” Austin Vach said. “I’m glad that he came with me on this. It’s an experience we’re going to share for a long time.”
Back at camp, all three teams got to go to the Feast Pit for a meal and a bath, and there were letters from home.
At Bear’s Camp that night, Grylls reviewed the final journey and praised the teams.
“Jim and Austin — calm and cool under pressure,” Grylls said of them. “You won a record three survival tests. But above all, you’ve worked your backsides off journey after journey. You’ve always supported each other.”
Both Jim and Austin said in an interview Tuesday their experiences through the Scouting program helped give them a taste of what it was like being out in the wild.
“I got the nickname ‘the knot guy,’ ” Austin said, adding that he used three basic knots — bow line, clove hitch and taut line — during the show.
Jim Vach added that before going on the show they “had made up our minds to do our best” no matter what was asked of them.
They were also able to share about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
On the first night when they were sitting around the fire and introducing themselves, the Vachs shared they were Mormon and that Jim had served a mission in Finland and Austin in Argentina.
During the sixth journey, there were a half dozen people around the fire and Ryan Gwin asked Jim Vach about the LDS Church.
“I gave him a short summary of the apostasy and restoration,” said Jim Vach, who was baptized when he was 18. Also, Austin wore his CTR ring and was asked about it.
Austin Vach said they are planning their next adventure — hiking Mount Rainier in 2014 with his dad, three brothers and younger sister, who is currently serving an LDS mission.
“We’re going back with a heart full of gratitude for all of those little things we took for granted in this life and especially, good food,” he added.
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