Reality AF: Jimmy Chin's Edge of the Unknown Destroys Misconceptions of Adventure Athletes + What to Watch This Week

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Reality AF: Jimmy Chin's <i>Edge of the Unknown</i> Destroys Misconceptions of Adventure Athletes + What to Watch This Week

Editor’s Note: Welcome to our new column, Reality AF. Every Monday, Terry Terrones will check in and talk about the state of reality TV, plus provide a Top 5 list of what’s coming up this week that you should not miss.

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My mouth hung agape while watching the “Before Free Solo” episode of Edge of the Unknown.

Seeing legendary rock climber Alex Honnold prepare for what would eventually be his epic climb of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, a moment that would be made famous in the film Free Solo, by climbing the Atlas Mountains in Morocco was a sight to behold.

Visually stunning and technically difficult, what Honnold does is nothing short of amazing. The episode shows the work, planning, and grit it took Honnold to complete something most of us would never dare. Narration is provided by Jimmy Chin, the same man who would later film Honnold’s El Cap climb in Free Solo, earning him an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2018.

The overlying message that adventure athletes like Honnold aren’t just thrill seekers resonates throughout Chin’s 10-part NatGeo series, Edge of the Unknown. A professional mountain athlete, director, and photographer, Chin and co-producer E. Chai Vasarhelyi’s new series focuses not just on stunning scenery but also tells short, yet powerful, stories about bravery, perseverance, and resilience.

Seeing a surfer recover from a violet wipeout, a mountain climber deal with a heart attack at 20,000 feet, and learning how Chin’s approach to life changed after living through an avalanche is inspiring.

I recently had a quick chat with Jimmy Chin. Here’s an excerpt from our brief conversation.

How did you decide which athletes to feature?
We chose the best of the best for the Edge of the Unknown. When we were thinking about who to feature, we had many factors to consider. We thought about the athlete’s story, which was the most important criteria to the show. We only considered athletes who are masters of their craft, it didn’t matter if they had name recognition to someone outside of the elite outdoor world. They had to be the best of the best.

My goal was to give the audience an insider’s view of what it’s like to be a professional outdoor athlete and give people more of an appreciation of everything that goes into it. There is also a big misconception around these athletes. People think they want to pull off stunts while chasing adrenaline, when in reality they are some of the most intentional people I know and acknowledge the dangerous conditions they face.

You mentioned misconceptions. What are some others about adventure athletes?
The notion that they are fearless. These athletes feel fear all the time. It’s scary to push to the very edge of what they can do. These athletes live outside of their comfort zone. They must constantly ask themselves, is this possible? Can I do this? Can I do this and live? It’s very intense and I don’t think many people outside of that world understand that these aren’t stunts. You can see in Edge of the Unknown that one misstep can lead to major consequences.

What do all these athletes have in common?
All of these athletes have very deep intention. There is always a depth of thought about what they are going to do, whether it’s snowboarding a crazy line down a steep face, surfing a big wave, or planning an arctic exploration. These athletes also approach challenges differently than most people.

What some people would find miserable, these extreme athletes find almost heavenly. Are adventure athletes wired differently?
Now that I have kids, I think about the question of how much of this is hardwired and how much of this is influenced. I haven’t figured out the answer, but I do think that there are naturally talented athletes through their commitment and drive to become great. To be great at anything you must have the mindset of trying things outside of your comfort zone and be willing to push the limits. I think there are a lot of layers to this, and that’s what we want to share in the series. To these athletes, their sport is a lifestyle, they belong to a community, and this provides deep meaning and purpose. There is also the transcendent experience where years of training leads to pulling off a seemingly impossible goal. I can attest that there is no other experience that matches that feeling. Once you feel that, it’s hard to walk away.

Edge of the Unknown premieres September 5 on NatGeo. It will begin airing on its regular night, Tuesday, beginning September 6, and will stream on Disney+.

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5 Reality Shows to Watch This Week

1. Edge of the Unknown (NatGeo, September 5 and 6)

Why you should watch it: On Monday viewers get the first two Edge episodes. The first is on Honnold’s Morocco climb, the second details skier Angel Collinson’s 1000-foot fall in Alaska. It’s a great start to a wonderful new series.

2. Below Deck Mediterranean (Bravo, September 5)

Why you should watch it: This series has a chief stew problem. While Hannah Ferrier (June, June, Hannah!) may have had her own drama-plagued issues, at least she was good at her job. Natasha is the weakest chief stew we’ve seen on this franchise. But at least it’s leading to good TV, and the possible topic for next week’s column.

3. Married at First Sight (Lifetime, September 7)

Why you should watch it: I can’t wait to prove to my wife that I was right, which is every husband’s dream. All these couples are terrible, and the “matchmakers’’ are anything but. I wouldn’t let them match my outfit for work.

4. The Challenge: USA (CBS, September 7)

Why you should watch it: After Survivor, this is the reality show that has challenges I’d most enjoy doing personally, so I’ll continue to watch even as some of my favorite players get eliminated.

5. Welcome to Wrexham (FX, September 7)

Why you should watch it: To be honest, I didn’t think I’d enjoy this series as much as I have but I really like the pacing, I’m enjoying that Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney are involved JUST the right amount, and I love the salt-of-the-earth people of Wrexham. As a guy who was born in Liverpool and lived there when it was going through a recession, I can relate to a community desperate for a win.



Terry Terrones is a Television Critics Association and Critics Choice Association member, licensed drone pilot, and aspiring hand model. When he’s not applying for Survivor, you can find him hiking in the mountains of Colorado. You can follow him on Twitter @terryterrones.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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