Once upon a time, there were three baby grizzly bears, orphaned and left to their own devices in the wild.
Their story ends not with tragedy, but with happiness… and lawyers penning their catering demands (insane amounts of blueberries, M&M’s minus the brown ones and fresh salmon) and contract rider bidding, as the apex predators are fully grown and frolicking about in the stunning Utah mountains with their human parents Doug and Lynne Seus. They now have TV careers and unlimited access to craft services.
Enter Discovery’s curveball of the late 2019 TV slate, as tonight heralds the premiere of Man vs. Bear, where 21 amateur and professional athletes, male and female, go head to snout with three enormous grizzlies in close, breath-smelling proximity.
The fun part of this is the co-stars who guide us through the challenges and educate us about the facts of grizzlies, which are pretty intimidating. Casey Anderson is the bear expert. His best buddy Brutus was an orphaned grizzly cub that he raised, who pretty much loves him to bits. He even served as the best man at his first marriage to actor Missi Pyle. Anderson now is remarried and has a young daughter.
Five challenges are served: King of the Mountain is a tug-of-war on a platform 22-feet high. Brute Force, Apex Predator (an eating challenge), Grizzly Heights, where the female chases the contestants up trees and the last one, Human Prey, a metal cage ball close encounter. The last challenge is pitted against the top two points leaders to winnow down the queen/king of the pic-a-nic basket award. We kid.
Each episode kicks off with three ripped and fit contestants engaging in five dangerous challenges against thousand-pound grizzly bears Tank, Honey-Bump and her brother, Bart, who made his TV bones on Game of Thrones.
Anderson is a talented multi-hyphenate, a naturalist with experience at networks like National Geographic and Travel Channel. He is a Montana born and bred wildlife expert, filmmaker, adventurer and explorer with more than a quarter-century studying and photographing animals in their habitat.
He is also a vocal advocate for protecting the endangered big cats and the apex predators like his buddy Brutus.
His path as a steward of the animal works began at age 18, and by the age of 26, he co-founded the Montana Grizzly Encounter – a sanctuary for grizzly bears saved from inhumane situations.
Anderson is joined by CBS Sports personality Brandon Tierney. Tierney does the sports commentary as Anderson explains the logistics and why the bears are pretty much the favored in all the tasks. It’s a fun show, with loads of production parallels to American Ninja Warrior in the pacing and humorous lilt…minus a live audience.
We spoke to Casey yesterday about his new TV buddies, Tierney, Tank, Honey-Bump and Bart who bring this inter-species reality series to the network.
Monsters and Critics: I love your show. It’s like American Ninja Warriors, but with bears.
Casey Anderson: Exactly. I think it’s a good analogy there.
M&C: For viewers who are discovering you for the first time, or maybe unfamiliar with your background, you had the wonderful happenstance to meet and befriend Brutus the bear, even to the point where he was the best man at a wedding of yours. How is Brutus?
Casey Anderson: He’s great. He’s kind of in his prime now, so you guys got a lot of years left. You know, the older he gets, when winter comes around, he’s a little less wanting to be adventurous. He kind of wants to be an old man and chill out. But I get it. I feel the same way once in a while.
So we have a new little spunky guy we just rescued this spring from Alaska, an orphan named Max, who I actually spent the last couple of days with quite a bit. So there’s never going to be another Brutus, but the mission continues.
M&C: Before we get into talking about Bart, Honey-Bump, and Tank, what is the difference in nature between a bear and a canine or a canid-like a wolf? What is it about a bear’s nature that bonds them to a human when you raise them in a sanctuary setting like the one in Utah where you do the show?
Casey Anderson: April, that’s a very complicated question. I mean, it’s a great point. No one’s ever asked me that before. Yeah, you look at a dog, any kind of canid, they’re usually social. Having a pack and having those relationships is a big part of who they are. So it’s easy for that to happen with another species.
A bear, we look at them as kind of this solo wanderer out there. They might hang out with their cubs for a couple of years, but after that, they’re alone.
So where does that yearning to bond come from?
Well, if you look at those first three years of a bear’s life when they’re with their mother, I mean, they are glued to her hip. She teaches them everything that they need to know to survive in the wild. And she’s protecting them from every danger that they encounter. And it is arguably one of the strongest bonds I’ve ever witnessed in the wild.
The only other animals that I’ve seen to even compete with that are other very sentient beings like orcas, and elephants, and gorillas. And bears have that same thing. So we turn 18, our parents kick us out of the house, and we go to college and get a job.
They [bears] turn three, mom kicks them out of the house, they go to college and get a job. In this situation, they don’t want to. I mean, not in the wild. They don’t want to. Mom does because she’s just tired of feeding them and taking care of them.
But they still have that bond. And, in fact, I’ve witnessed moms and cubs from 10 years prior encounter each other, recognize each other, pick up where they left off, play for the entire day, and then go about their way.
We don’t have to break that bond when you raise a bear. So Brutus, and Max, and all the bears, Honey-Bump, and Bart, and Tank, they get to have and maintain that bond for their entire life.
M&C: They like the human contact…
Casey Anderson: They love it. The emotion of love, for lack of a better term, whatever you want to define and at whatever level they feel it, it’s as important to them as food and water.
M&C: Are you concerned that you’re going to get push-back on this show? That people like PETA and groups like that, they’re going to say that this is exploitative and that you shouldn’t be doing this? Are you anticipating any pushback from some of these groups? Have you seen any?
Casey Anderson: I count on it. I count on it. And, you know what? I’ll tell you what. I hope. I hope. We’re trying to shake it up a little bit here. This show is unlike any other show before.
You know what kind of shows I make. I make wildlife documentaries, and sometimes there are no people on them. It’s just animals walking around doing pretty things, and you know who tunes into those.
The people who already care about the wild, they’re already… I’m preaching to the choir.
This show has the ability to completely engage an audience that doesn’t even think twice about grizzly bears. And then that’s my job on the show is to educate. During this educating, there’s a competition, is talk about what’s happened, what you’re seeing, giving anecdotes and analogies or things that I’ve witnessed in the wild, showcasing them in a way that’s relatable to people.
They watch Ninja Warriors. It’s a very popular thing right now. Now pop culture is embracing the grizzly bear. And that is what I’ve been fighting for. So if everybody gets pissed off about it and it’s controversial, good. Give it some more…
No press is bad press, because I’ll tell you what. It’s due for these bears to get some attention, and this show does it. Yeah. I mean, I know I’m going to get flak for it, but you know what? We’re doing something.
M&C: How did they find you and who made the decision to pair you with Brandon Tierney?
Casey Anderson: That’s a good question. (laughs) You know, you look up grizzly bear guy in the phone book, and I’m the only guy on there.
There [were] a few people that were going to be the co-host potential that Brandon filled. And it was all about chemistry. I mean, me and Brandon…we hit it off immediately. He’s just like the ultimate guy’s guy.
What I loved about Brandon is that he really wanted to know a lot about bears, and he asked me questions. I could look into his eyes and he was like a little kid and had no ego about it, just wanted to hear. And so I had the ability… He represented the audience. So it made my job easier.
I could tell him in a very clear way what we were seeing, and what we are encountering, and witnessing, and yeah. He was basically setting it up for the audience for me to answer those questions. And he’s such a good guy, and so excited all the time. Genuinely. And it brings the energy and celebration to the competition that we needed.
M&C: I like how you structured the show with the five challenges. It seems like the last one, human prey, where people are in the steel cage ball, of all of the challenges, that seems like that’s the one that’s going to be the sly mega injury creator because of how people bounce around inside that cage, does it end well for them in that?
Casey Anderson: Pretty good. Like always, April, it ended pretty good. I can’t reveal all its secrets, but yeah. I call that one the human blender. Yeah, the shake, rattle and roll. The forces of nature that were involved in that were A, a giant bear, and B, gravity and inertia. And I would say that the set medic probably, well no doubt, visited people post-human prey the most.
M&C: I had a feeling. I’m really curious to know. You were in Utah. Your sanctuary is in Montana, correct?
Casey Anderson: Right.
M&C: Were you able to get near Tank, Honey-Bump or Bart in any way, shape or form? Or are they just like they’re cool with their people but they don’t know you? Do you have a way of communicating with these bears and being up close to them where you’re safe?
Casey Anderson: Well, that’s another great question. I’ve known Doug and Lynn for 20 years. They know who I am. They know my track record. Hung out. There is [a] pretty good mutual respect. But like the pros that they are, I literally probably would refer to three of those bears most of the time. I’ve never interacted with them.
They didn’t let anybody interact with them at all. I mean, that’s their job is to be responsible. And no, it’s just those bears have a relationship and rapport with the people that they love and know. As soon as you even take a chance, even if it’s a bear expert from Montana, you can’t do that.
And that proved to me how awesome they are, and they stuck to it. And also at the same time, I never wanted to say, “Hey. Can I hang out with the bears?” Because I know better, too. But they stuck to it, you know?
I think a lot of their people maybe would have said, “Hey. Why don’t you come over here? You want to meet Bart?” But I wouldn’t have done a show with those people, and Discovery would have never done the show with those people. And they were vetted and they picked the best. Literally.
M&C: Now your co-host there, Brandon. Does he want to meet Brutus and hug him?
Casey Anderson: No. Again, his ego doesn’t get in his own way. He’s very clear. Like he’d look at me and he’d say, “Man. I just don’t like the look of that bear, what he’s got on his face.” And I’d say, “You know what, dude? The fact that you actually are more worried or concerned is way better than somebody who’s oblivious.”
It’s like he was on his game and he paid attention and respected the bear, fully respected him. And that’s what I love about Brandon.
M&C: Tonight’s premiere features Paulina, who is in amazing shape. Is she consistent with all of your 21 competitors, and did the women kind of finish more on the bottom because of strength issues?
Casey Anderson: None. Actually not at all. Nope. I’m not going to tell you anymore, but I’ll tell you what.
M&C: I just want to know if the women have a chance.
Casey Anderson: Yes. I think they have the advantage.
M&C: Why do you say that?
Casey Anderson: Heart. And they also don’t get in their own way. But I’ll just spell it out a little bit and I’ll let you draw the conclusion. On the end of the rope, there could be a 250-pound bodybuilding, deadlifting, million-pound guy, or a hundred-pound girl.
The difference to Bart [the biggest bear] is nothing. It does not matter. That amount does not matter to him. So how you handle that rope is the difference, and how you handled that situation is the difference. And women get it.
They’re [women] a little more tuned to their instincts, I think. I mean the ones that we had on the show, definitely.
M&C: I noticed that a lot of shows like Alone on History and other survivalist is shows, women do pretty well, and they do pretty well alone, too…
Casey Anderson: Guys are just wimps. I mean, that’s just it. They really are.
Man vs. Bear airs Wednesday nights at 9 PM on Discovery.