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Can Outdoor Adventure Lead to Romance? 10 Couples Give It a Go on 'Love in the Wild'

Is rappelling down a waterfall a good first date? Is a jungle a good place to find love? Who makes a better partner: Someone with the physical skills to help you win a big prize or someone whose intangibles make your heart sing?

For answers, NBC presents us with Love in the Wild, a summertime reality television confection that was originally scheduled to debut June 1 but on Thursday (May 26) was pushed out to June 29.

The concept: 10 men and 10 women, attractive singles (ages 23-31) who claim to have faced tough luck in dating (hard to imagine), are whisked away to Costa Rica. Over 8 hour-long episodes, they team up in pairs and compete in a series of outdoor challenges—raft-building (followed by paddling their creation down a river populated by crocodiles); rappelling down a low-volume waterfall; treasure hunting while navigating by map via routes that include hanging bridges and and narrow caves occupied by bats.

First impression: This sounds 1,000 times better than the bar scene.

Winning couples earn a night in posh, romantic accommodations; also-rans must shuffle off to basic cabins. One twosome faces elimination on each show. Crucially, participants take part in a hand-wringing Couples' Choice ceremony where they individually elect to change partners or remain in their existing tandem—though they may discover their partner has other plans. The reward for finishing first in the final episode: A trip around the world for 2.

Sounds spicy. Or cheesy, if you're a jaded viewer who regards reality TV as preordained silliness that targets ignoble voyeuristic tendencies.

Darren McMullenNot so with this show, insists Love in the Wild host Darren McMullen, a native of Scotland and host of various programs in Australia, most notably that country's version of Minute to Win It. He's also known for creating some daffy, over-the-top alter egos (e.g., Cheesy Mac) while hosting a few MTV Australia programs. He is making his American television debut.

"I really love what they've done with it," says McMullen, 29. "It's nothing too dramatic or serious. It's almost like watching a romantic comedy, the way the contestants interact with each other. It's really nice."

REI: Skeptics are going to claim it sounds like some hybrid of The Bachelorette and Survivor. Is that a fair assessment?

MapMcMullen: "It's definitely not Bachelorette. I just watched the first run the other day. What I got from it was that it was very different, like nothing I had seen before. It's quite fun and cheeky. It almost comes across like a Romancing the Stone kind of show. Do you remember that movie? This comes across like a fun romantic comedy, where they're actually out in the elements, going through some pretty treacherous terrain and challenges that we put in front of them. The whole time they're either working together and falling in love at the same time, or they can't stand each other, just can't wait to finish the challenge and get as far away from this person as possible."

REI: One of the challenges for couples is building a raft—then they float it down a jungle river?

raftMcMullen: "Yeah; here they've just met each other and soon they take off down this croc-infested river. I thought we were just winding people up, saying, 'Oh, yeah, it's croc-infested. Sure.' Then the producer told me, 'Oh yeah; they actually just pulled a 15-foot croc out of there yesterday.' I was like, S***! What the hell are we doing in a croc-infested river? Are they actor crocs?' He said, 'Well, you know, there will be a survival expert on hand if anything goes wrong.' That's definitely something I wouldn't have done."

"Some of these adventures were pretty crazy, especially some of the ones that went overnight. You're trekking, it's raining, you're trudging through mud. Even in Costa Rica, where you get nice weather a lot of the time, in the early morning it can be incredibly cold, especially if you're up high. Some people weren't (mentally) equipped for that."

REI: Are you the adventurous type yourself?

McMullen: "I backpacked around a lot when I was younger. I always like to take on challenges. I'm one of these people who says, let's go whitewater rafting, bungee-jumping or skydiving. Whenever I'm traveling I like doing something that's a little bit left-of-center. I'm definitely not a Bear Grylls, but I'd love to go on his show, though. It would be a lot of fun.

"A lot of them challenges were pretty daunting, but at the same time an outdoorsy person sitting at home will think, 'Damn, I wish I was doing that.' My favorite moments of the show were probably the down time, when I got to do some of the crazy stuff these guys were doing. I was a really hands-on host, much to the annoyance of most of the producers."

bushREI: Did you find that couples put in adventurous situations in the outdoors had their relationships strengthened or strained?

McMullen: "I think that's why these relationships worked or didn't work. If you paddle down a croc-infested river, your raft is falling apart and you're falling in, your game face goes right out the window. You see a person's true colors. You either love her or you hate her. So there you go. There's a tip for you. If you want to see if a girl's for you, throw her in a shark tank and see how she reacts. (Laughs.) That should be No. 1 for finding the right partner.

REI: I'll put that on the list. So what were the participants like?

McMullen: "Everybody on this show went through a pretty rigorous screening process to make sure we weren't getting people who just wanted to be on a reality TV show, be crazy and get their 15 minutes of fame. These are all genuine people who struggled to find partners in other aspects of life, whether it be speed dating, internet dating, friends fixing them up. When this came up, they thought, 'Hell, why not? I'll give this a go.'

"When they got there, however, I think their competitive side definitely kicked in. It was about, 'Yeah, let's do this. Let's take on this challenge and be No. 1.' In saying that, though, I don't think anybody stayed together just to win an adventure. The ultimate prize for this show is a trip around the world, first class, to some of the most romantic destinations in the world with the person you win with. But I think it becomes evident throughout the show that people aren't staying together just for the grand prize."

REI: Did either gender perform better in these outdoor challenges?

treeMcMullen: "Not really. I think all the women were just as able and as fit as the men. The men are going to be more competitive by nature, I think—chest-beating men. Whenever there's a challenge in front of guys, the animal instincts tend to come out, the Neanderthal man arises. But there were never really too many situations where they were competing at a higher level than their partner.

"A number of the people on this show had problems swimming, or a fear of heights or of tight areas. Every one of them, actually, pulled themselves up to the challenge. They all stood up and took it head on.

"Some adventures lasted a few hours, some went overnight into the next day. So there were definitely endurance aspects to them, ones that required a lot of physical strength. Then there were ones that were sort of quiet, where they had to work together as a team and use their brains to solve problems in order to move on to the next round. Weirdly enough, it was the mental challenges over everything else that probably tested the relationships the most. During the physical challenges, because a lot of the competitors on the show were quite physical, there wasn't too much back and forth or moaning or whatever else. But as soon as they had to stop and use the brain to solve problems and use logic, that's when the arguments happened. It was quite interesting to watch."

REI: After watching these people interact, what influence would you say outdoor adventure has on a budding romantic relationship?

McMullen: "I would say it was a good thing. Because they were going through these hazardous or emotionally draining or stressful or sometimes just fun adventures, their real person came out. They're out of their day-to-day job and being put in situations where they can be the person that they truly are. I think more than anything, that actually brings people together.

cables"In a relationship, everybody has their game face on for the first 3 to 6 months. But on the show people decided: 'I'm going to drop the act.' I think that's a good thing. Life's short. What's the point of pretending to be somebody else for 3 to 6 months, and then the true colors come through? Why not just find out right off the bat? Just be yourself. Take on a little adventure and see what happens. I think it's a great thing for a relationship.

"The argument is, 'Oh, what happens when you get back to the real world and you're not competing in these fun adventures any more; the 9-to-5 job starts, et cetera, et cetera.' But I say all these challenges weren't fun when they were doing them. They're fun in retrospect, but when you're going through pretty treacherous wilderness and you've lost your map, or you're dealing with crocodiles, snakes and the stress of working with this person you've hardly known that long—that's not fun at the time. That's what either brings somebody together or else you realize, 'You're really not for me.'

"So I'd say it was fantastic for their relationships. I'm sure that the people who are going to stay together will tell you the same thing: 'What an amazing gift we were given to take part in that kind of show where we really got to know each other.'

map consultREI: Got a favorite moment we should watch out for?

McMullen: "A few of the Couples' Choice ceremonies—and I don't want to give away too much—were completely shocking. When it came down to only a few people left, we thought they were all going to be very run-of-the-mill decisions. 'OK, we know what's going to happen now. They're all going to fight to stay together and the last-place couple is going to go home.' But no. It never went down like that. In fact that ones (decisions) that I always thought were going to be the most straightforward always turned out to be the most shocking.

REI: Did any couples stick together?

McMullen: "I'd say that several genuine connections happened. We were all very surprised at the number of genuine connections we had in that show."

REI: Your goal is to promote the show, so I have to assume you're duty-bound to say good things about it, but it sounds as though you're sold on the concept.

McMullen: "I really am. I was a little bit hesitant getting involved. 'How's this going to work? What if they people don't like each other?' I didn't want to be one of those overly dramatic series hosts, either. That just comes across as bull****, excuse my French. I think the general public out there in TV land is smarter than that.

"The great thing, to the producers' credit, is they didn't script this show. They let the drama be the reality. I think the best drama comes from reality. You can't script that kind of stuff. So I'm really happy with it."

"As a very cynical reality television watcher myself, the biggest compliment I can give the show is that I actually thoroughly enjoyed it. I got immersed in it. I actually cared what these people were up to. I was interested in the progression of the relationships as they were going on these adventures. If I can love it, I'm sure reality television fans will warm to it."

Love in the Wild details:

First episode: June 29, 10 p.m. (9 p.m. CT), NBC; final episode: Aug. 17 (tentative).

When filmed: Mid-March to mid-April, 2011.

Where filmed: Various locations in Costa Rica, including Arenal Volcano National Park, Lake Arenal and Venado Caves.

If the show's scenery appeals to you, REI Adventures leads 3 activity-focused trips in Costa Rica:
• Costa Rica Family Adventure
• Costa Rica Ultimate Adventure (plus Manuel Antonio National Park and beaches extension)
• Jungle & Sea Multisport (plus Arenal Volcano National Park extension)

Photo credits: NBC

Group shot

Posted on at 2:50 AM

Tagged: Arenal Volcano National Park, Costa Rica, Darren McMullen, Love in the Wild, NBC, REI Adventures and Travel

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Love in the Wild series could be a fantastic summer blockbuster if they have integrated the Costa Rican "Pura Vida" locations and romance into the mix – remains to be seen and I'm waiting ... and if Darren is as funny as he's been on his other shows, it's going to be great!

Cheers, Tee

Tee is senior editor of Love In the Wild Fans Magazine and Costa Rica Magazine

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