Bear Grylls and the middle ground


Bear Gryll’s TV show The Island is one of the Top 10 TV shows of financial independence.

For international readers, I should explain that Bear Grylls is a British ex special forces soldier and survival specialist turned TV presenter. Bear seems like a good guy who is up for lots of fun and dangerous stunts.

As well as jumping out of helicopters and climbing up waterfalls, he does a nice line in culinary demonstration, showing how to eat spiders, cockroaches, grubs and other stuff (see clip below).  This makes for more interesting TV than the competing but blander fare offered up by cookery programmes such as Masterchef etc.

The Island features ordinary men and women surviving on a desert island for a month living on rainwater and whatever food they can catch for themselves: fish or turkey if they’re lucky…snails or starvation if they’re not.  With no money and zero spending, you can think of this as an illustration of extreme frugality.

The whole experience changes the people for the better.  Without the ability to throw money at the problem they are forced to be more creative. The programme shows the islanders learning to harden the fuck up, to co-operate and be resourceful. And, as I’ve said before, a bit of fasting is good for you.

Everything is relative.  As the contestants experience extreme hunger, they realise how incredibly cushy life is in the West.  Things like finding drinking water or catching a fish become opportunities for joy.  They relearn the gratitude for simple things and the wonder at the natural world that they had as children.  They learn to live free range.

They also learn about risk.  If spend too much time reading financial news and websites, you may absorb the idea that risk is volatility (i.e. share prices going up and down).  Its not. No, real risk is falling down a rock face or cardiac arrest or catching malaria.  Or failing to live up to your potential and achieve what you are capable of during your short time on this planet.

The most interesting part for me is the contrast when the contestants return to the the comforts and the incredible affluence of modern society: a hot shower, clean towels, a cold beer, a soft bed and plenty of hot tasty food. No food eaten by a billionaire at Gordon Ramsey’s latest restaurant can ever compete with the joy of eating when you have been starving and surviving by eating nothing but snails for the past month.  As one of my friends once said down the pub:

You have to taste the rough to appreciate the smooth.  

The problem of spending money on anything is that the joy soon wears off. If you are, say, Mr Burns from The Simpsons, the sad truth is that you will inevitably become blase about your mansion, your limousine and caviar dinners.  This is hedonic adaptation.

It occurred to me whilst watching the programme that Bear Grylls is an interesting illustration of the different possible paths to financial independence.  That’s because he is financially independent even with no money.

If you ask a typical person to imagine someone who is so rich that they don’t need to ever work again, one of a few clichés will spring into their mind. They may think of successful entrepreneurs like Richard Branson or Mark Zuckerberg. They may think of lottery winners. They may think of footballers or film stars. These categories have 3 things in common 1) they make up a tiny % of the population (do the maths). 2) they are highly visible thanks to media coverage. 3) They mostly spray their money around like a Grand Prix winner sprays champagne.

This is how our world view can get distorted  –  we see the world the wrong way because we are have images in our heads that are unrepresentative, but easy to recall from mental storage.  If you read The Millionaire Next Door, you will realise that the great majority of financially independent people take a very different path to spending and wealth accumulation.  But because they are quiet and low-key, we don’t take much notice of them.

Bear Grylls is on TV a lot. You can buy his DVDs. His auto-biography is available from all good book shops. He is, I guess, paid a lot of money by TV companies and publishers for all this stuff. Celebrities have pricing power and their products are scalable (they can be sold to a lot of people and the marginal cost of delivery is effectively zero).

As a result, I’m sure that Bear is worth several million pounds. If not, something is wrong and he should get a new agent (Bear: you can email me on

However, Bear is very unusual amongst celebrities in that he also illustrates another, very different path to financial independence.

Bear’s speciality is surviving in any environment.  He finds water, food, shelter and other stuff you need to live without money, without convenience stores and without the whole infrastructure of a modern economy.  Bear knows he will always be able to survive and thrive in any economy.  His boss can never wake up one day and downsize him.  Should western civilisation collapse following The Zombie Apocalypse, Bear will probably outlast most of the rest of us.

You are financially independent and need never work again once you have investable assets of 25x your annual spending.  That should probably be enough.

So, if you are currently spending £24,000 per year (including any tax you have to pay), then you are financially independent if you have a portfolio of about £600,000.  The maths works the same if you double the numbers.  So if you are spending £48,000 per year, you need about £1.2m of net assets…and so on.

If however you are Bear Grylls, you have the comfort of knowing that you can survive without spending any money at all.  So even if someone stole all Bear’s money, he would still be financially independent.  Angry, but still financially independent.

Getting to financial independence is a bit like running a marathon in the sense that you need some grit, some effort and some patience: it takes a while even if you are a fast runner. But financial independence is different from running a marathon in that its not a fixed distance (or £/$/€ amount) that you need to run (or save) to get to the finish line.

Every £1 you reduce from your annual spending reduces the amount you need to get to financial independence by £25.

So the question you need to ask yourself is how far can you bring down your spending to bring the “finish line” of financial independence closer.

Let’s face it, none of us really want to eat snails and grubs but I’m guessing that knowing that he can, if push came to shove, is a source of mental strength and confidence for Bear.  As a result, he has the power to say “No” to people.  This may be why I have never seen Bear Grylls commuting, sitting all day in a cubicle nor attending sales conferences with a plastic name badge that says “Bear”.

The Escape Artist is no more keen on eating grubs than the next man.  It does however, seem logical that there could be a sensible middle ground between the zero cost diet modelled by Bear and the ridiculous debt fuelled over-consumption of the West.

Our mission on this website is to reveal that middle ground.


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  1. That GIF is outstanding.

    I really enjoyed this show as well, and wish it was on for a few more weeks as I would have liked to have seen how the camp evolved. I feel like they were just getting started!

    It really did show what normal people can be capable of when chucked in the deep end. And on the other hand, what pampered big babies we all* are in our current state of “civilisation “.

    I love all the extra thoughts you got out of it though, I remember thinking similar themes when watching but didn’t get quite as deep as you have here, cracking stuff!

    *most people in the western world!

  2. As you explain, this is a huge lesson in relativity and strength. While society is truly addicted to i-shite, this man can turn a tree into a house in no time. I reckon deep down we all have this capacity but it has been drowned by all the noise from the dishwashers, liquidizers, articulated trucks and overflying helicopters.

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