Obama chases Exit with a Bear

Just when you think American politics cannot get weirder, the White House announced that ahead of his departure from the US presidency Barack Obama will trek through the Alaskan wilderness with Bear Grylls for an upcoming episode of Running Wild with Bear Grylls.

It sounds like an Onion spoof, or perhaps Sarah Palin’s worst nightmare, but on Tuesday the United States president is to undergo wilderness survival training from the British TV adventurer to raise awareness about climate change.

“President Obama will become the first US president to receive a crash course in survival techniques from Bear Grylls,” US broadcaster NBC said in a statement last Monday. The White House confirmed it, saying the president, currently on a three-day visit to Alaska, will team up with Grylls on Exit glacier in the Kenai mountains.

Pairing the world’s most protected man with a presenter famous for pushing celebrities to their physical limits sounds as natural as a Secret Service agent in a polar bear suit.

But it fits a pattern. Obama uses unorthodox methods and stunts to project his agenda, including appearing on the Funny Or Die web series Between Two Ferns and, more recently, on the podcast WTF with Marc Maron, recorded in the host’s garage.

With Donald Trump dominating headlines, and a Republican-controlled Congress determined to make Obama a lame-duck president, teaming up with Grylls will help the president grab headlines.

And maybe teach him how to skin something for dinner. The brief NBC statement offered few details. “Obama will meet with Grylls while visiting Alaska to observe the effects of climate change on the area. The two will then come together in the Alaskan wilderness.” The show will air later this year.

Running Wild with Bear Grylls, now in its second season, follows the presenter as he takes celebrities, who have included Kate Winslet, Kate Hudson, Zac Efron and Channing Tatum, on one-on-one adventures.

What he will do with the commander-in-chief, possibly under scrutiny from drones and satellites, is anyone’s guess. The most dangerous activity a sitting US president is usually allowed to do is drive a golf cart. Whenever Obama stretches his security bubble to visit a Starbucks, a diner or a cinema, he jokes that “the bear is loose”.

With a Grylls show accused of killing animals to boost ratings, and Obama shadowed by bodyguards, real bears may be advised to avoid the Exit glacier. – © Guardian News & Media 2015

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Rory Carroll
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