Running Wild Recap: Hamilton Star Daveed Diggs Goes from Broadway to Backcountry

Daveed Diggs, who portrayed Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in the hit musical Hamilton, had “zero survival experience” when he appeared on Running Wild with Bear Grylls: The Challenge, but by the end of Sunday’s episode, he may have gotten more than he bargained for. Grylls gives the actor and singer a crash course on how to climb, start fires, track, snuggle, and of course, the best way to eat a tarantula in Nevada’s Great Basin Desert.

Daveed Diggs
National Geographic for Disney/Ben Simms

Day One: Sand, Spiders, and Snuggles

Grylls and Diggs are dropped off on top of a white rock dome and they take in the surrounding moonscape. Because this part of Nevada’s harsh and unforgiving wilderness is so extreme, Grylls explains he’s had a ranger on horseback leave a cache of food, climbing gear, and other supplies for them somewhere in the distant desert.

The pair’s first mission is to get off the dome they landed on and into a nearby valley, where they will attempt to pick up the tracks of the ranger’s horse. Along the way, Grylls plans to teach Diggs skills he’ll need the following day when he has to earn his extraction from the wilderness on his own.

The catch: Grylls doesn’t know where the cache was left, what kind of climbing challenge Diggs will face, or the type of food they’ll have to eat.

To find their first cache, Grylls and Diggs must get down the 250-foot ancient petrified sand dune they’re standing on using a rope. Grylls teaches Diggs the first skill he’ll need: how to improvise an anchor point on the rock, since there’s nearly no hardy vegetation strong enough to secure the rope to.

Instead, Grylls ties the rope onto one of their backpacks, which is filled with sand, and explains they’ll situate the pack behind a boulder to act as a counterbalance. “I don’t know what I expected coming out here, but it wasn’t this,” a dubious Diggs says.

He follows Grylls’s instructions, jams the pack into a small crack, and tests the rope. He’s then hooked on to it with a carabiner, and Gryllss shows him how to lower himself down the rock. “Grylls says the best way to get down is to just go over the side of it, so I guess that’s what we’re doing,” the Stormpiercer actor says, adding: “He’s just so casual about it all.”

After Grylls expertly descends, Diggs admits he’s “terrified” but goes over the edge anyway. “If Grylls says it’s cool, then it’s cool. But this is nuts!”

“Trust Bear. Trust the rocks,” Diggs reminds himself upon successfully reaching Grylls at the bottom.

The two next begin trekking through the desert, discussing Diggs’s successful career in music and acting along the way. After reaching the valley they spotted earlier from above, they begin speculative tracking, or looking for hoofprints from the ranger’s horse or anything out of the ordinary that can lead them to their cache.

Together they spot the signs of the horse in the sand. Grylls explains they now must switch into systematic-tracking mode, which requires them to circle the area in a ring to look for more signs a horse was in the area so they can determine the direction they need to travel.

Diggs spots a horseshoe, but it appears old and likely not related to the horse they’re tracking. They continue on and find fresh manure, which points them toward the right way.

In the distance, they spot a burlap bag containing their cache suspended with ropes from the face of a steep sandstone ridge. A search of the bag turns up battery-powered auto ascenders but no food. “I know what he’s done,” Grylls says of the ranger. “He’s put the food at the top.”

The two now must go 100 feet up a nearly vertical slope using the ascenders. Grylls secures Diggs to the device and the rope that’s already secured on the slope’s face.

They easily glide up the rock, Mission Impossible style. “Just hanging out horizontally on the sheer cliff is an experience,” Diggs notes.

After unhooking from the ascenders, they follow a second rope on foot, avoiding a potential “death drop” over the cliff’s edge. Their reward awaits in a jar — a “dinner” consisting of dead tarantula. “We’re going to cook him up,” Grylls reveals. “We’re going to burn all those little hairs off, and then you just munch him down.”

The meal, Diggs says, is not what he was hoping for, especially since he doesn’t really like spiders.

Next mission: Return to the valley floor to find a place to sleep for the night. Grylls tells Diggs they’ll be setting up a classic “cowboy camp,” which he explains means using a rock for a mattress and stars for a blanket.

Back in the valley, the two stack small heat-storing boulders into a coffin shape that will act as a wind barrier. “It’s very narrow,” Diggs points out. “I feel like me and Grylls are going to get some good snuggling in.”

After the task is complete, Grylls shows Diggs how to start a fire, which he’ll need to do the next day. The two then roast their tarantulas over the flames for a “truly awful” meal, talk for a bit, and turn in for the night.

Daveed Diggs
National Geographic for Disney/Ben Simms

Day Two: Taking the Plunge

Grylls and Diggs wake up the next morning a bit worse for the wear after sleeping on the hard rock in the cold all night. “I need a chiropractor,” Grylls says. Diggs adds: “That was not the nicest night of sleep I’ve had.”

Also not nice? Grylls breaks the news to Diggs that he’s now going on ahead so the entertainer can test his mettle alone. Grylls explains he’ll leave markers along the way that will lead Diggs to a mine, where the survivalist will be waiting for him at the exit.

“I’m not sure what about my performance yesterday would lead him to believe that I would be able to follow a trail and find my way,” laughs Diggs once Grylls is gone.

He starts walking and eventually spots broken branches. He then moves on and finds fresh marks in the dirt. Grylls, Diggs recalls, “told me [to] start with the last track I saw and use that as the center of the circle and just look out in wider and wider circles” to find footprints and other indications that show the direction Grylls traveled.

Determining the correct direction, Diggs continues walking and comes to the mine entrance. “Absolutely not,” he says after peeking inside the dark chasm.

Despite his concern, Diggs perseveres. He fills his backpack with rocks, secures it behind a boulder, and uses a rope tied to the temporary anchor to descend the mineshaft. At the bottom, he finds a burlap bag containing some sort of pack and makes his way out of the mine. 

“The darkness and the tight space is not my favorite,” Diggs says, “so hearing Grylls’s voice on the other side and seeing the light coming through after I rounded the bend in the tunnel was very gratifying.”

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In a race against time, Diggs lights a signal fire to alert the helicopter that’s scheduled to save him from another night in the desert. Grylls then informs Diggs the pack he found in the mine contains a parachute: “We’re going jumping,” the survivalist announces.

After all, he points out: “Diggs wanted to come on this adventure to see what unexpected challenges that life has to offer, to see what there is beyond just his career.”

Soaring in the helicopter over the Great Basin Desert, Grylls jumps from the aircraft, followed by Diggs, who’s parachuting tandem.

“There’s not a lot of times I’ve been truly, truly scared in my life, but that was one of them,” Diggs says once safely back on the ground. “My heart is still racing!”

Watch Running Wild with Bear Grylls: The Challenge on Sundays on National Geographic at 9/8c.