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'Top Gear' host Chris Harris calls harrowing Nepal trek 'life-affirming'

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"Top Gear" Season 28 kicks off Sunday on BBC America with a special that takes Paddy McGuinness (L,) Freddie Flintoff (C) and Chris Harris to Nepal. Photo courtesy of BBC America  
"Top Gear" Season 28 kicks off Sunday on BBC America with a special that takes Paddy McGuinness (L,) Freddie Flintoff (C) and Chris Harris to Nepal. Photo courtesy of BBC America  

NEW YORK, Aug. 30 (UPI) -- Top Gear co-hosts Chris Harris and Paddy McGuinness said they might have refused a Season 28 challenge in Nepal if they knew ahead of time it would include driving on treacherous, unpaved roads with little room between their vehicles and sheer cliff drops.

Fortunately, they -- and co-star Freddie Flintoff -- lived to tell the tale, and U.S. viewers can watch the harrowing adventure when Top Gear kicks off its 28th season on BBC America on Sunday.

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"It was a fantastic, life-affirming adventure, but there are bits of the road that, looking back, I probably would have refused to drive on, to be honest with you," Harris told UPI in a recent phone interview.

"Bits of it are just parked in the back of my head, so that I don't have to ever think of them or acknowledge that they happened," the famed motoring journalist said. "I'm not that fond of heights, so when they said we are going to the Himalayas, I just sort of grinned and bore it and tried to ignore the potential for being scared."

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Hours spent trudging along the muddy paths of the foothills of enormous mountains were particularly "soul-destroying," Harris recalled.

"You just couldn't get anywhere. We spent five hours doing a mile and a half and, at that point, every 10 minutes, you're getting out of the car, digging it out, and you think: 'What are we doing this for? This is just bloody horrible. Get me out of here,'" Harris said.

"Some of the roads were just crazy high, the vertical drop to the side of you," McGuinness said in a separate chat with UPI.

"If they told you that before you got there, you'd say, 'I'm never going to do that.' But because you are actually there, you are in the zone and you just push through that. Some of the stuff we'd seen over there was just amazing," the comedian said.

Harris said that snacks are what kept them going through the week of 15- to 16-hour days.

"The snack game on Top Gear is the best in the world," he said. "We take with us a lot of British snacks because people like comfort food, don't they? And we also buy indigineous snacks. Without that, you can't keep going. If you don't have petrol in the tank, you can't operate."

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But McGuinness was motivated by something else.

"The thought of the other two having a go at you drives you on," McGuinness said of his co-hosts. "You think, 'I can't be the first to bail.' I think that's why we end up doing quite dangerous things -- because none of us wants to quit first."

It was also very important to maintain a sense of humor when in a situation like they found themselves in.

"It's very easy to kind of panic and lose it a little bit. You have a laugh with it and you know how dangerous it is, but it just helps you push on through," McGuinness said.

The hourlong episode reflected what they intended to do, but couldn't possibly capture the guys' entire experience.

"The reality of television is what you go through to make it is never fully realized in the edit," Harris said, acknowledging some stories get left out in the interest of time.

The spontaneity and unscripted nature of the show make for riveting television.

For the road-trip portions, the producers think up ridiculous, secret challenges for the guys and send them on their way, Harris said.

When they arrive at their destination, the cameras start rolling and the filmmaking team says: "Off you go. Just do it now."

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"The hyperbolical aspect of Top Gear is about taking cars where they really shouldn't be and that is always going to be difficult. You know that before you go," Harris said. "I trust the people that I work with implicitly."

McGuinness, who didn't fly regularly until recently, likes that Top Gear forces him out of his comfort zone.

"Just actually getting on planes and going to these exotic places and seeing parts of the world I would have never ever seen -- that is a big thing for me in itself," he said.

Getting the right team to front the show has been a labor of love for the BBC, but Top Gear seems to have found its groove again.

Top Gear began in 2002 and was hosted for most of its life by Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond, who exited together in 2015.

Since then, numerous hosts have come and gone, with Harris, McGuinness and Flintoff permanently taking over in 2019 for Season 27.

After achieving its highest ratings since Season 22, the program has moved from BBC Two to BBC One, which Harris sees as a vote of confidence from the network.

He credits the genuine chemistry with his co-hosts as the reason people are coming back to the show.

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"I work with two guys that I respect massively and enjoy spending time with, and you know when you get on with someone really well and you can take the mickey out of them. That's the basis of friendship, and we can do that," Harris said. "Our humor is different to our predecessors, but it is really working over here in the U.K."

Harris first joined the show in 2016 with six other rotating hosts.

Seeing himself as a motoring journalist who could drive a car and talk to the camera at the same time, Harris left the humor and adventure to his cohorts.

"I said get funny people to go and do your big trips, if you want people to look ridiculous. I'm not a comedian, but I can do serious car issues. And I told them never, ever will you make me do something stupid," Harris said, noting how his job has changed now that there are only three hosts.

"My children watched me dressed up as a T-rex getting golf balls whacked at me," he said.

According to McGuinness, about 90 percent of the show is ad-libbed.

"It is difficult to do scripted stuff with Chris and Fred because they can't read," McGuiness quipped.

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Although they tease each other mercilessly, the three are great friends. McGuinness thinks that is clear to viewers.

"I'll never get rid of them. I am trying my damnedest, but they still keep turning up," he joked about Harris and Flintoff.

McGuinness said his strengths are as a television personality and car enthusiast, more than as an expert, while Fred is the resident daredevil.

"I was dead honest about that," McGuinness said. "We love cars and we know about cars, but when you want to get really in depth, that is why Chris is on the show. We all bring something a little bit different."

McGuinness is pleased to meet people who tell him they don't care that much about cars, but watch Top Gear with their families because it is so much fun.

He also thinks Americans stuck in their homes for months due to the coronavirus pandemic will be happy to receive fresh programming that doesn't depend on Zoom-type, video-conferencing technology.

"I think people are crying out for real TV -- TV before the pandemic kicked in," he said.

"We're lucky we got these episodes before all that happened. Even in the studio, we've got all the audience around us and we're having a laugh, even things like that people sort of miss. Fingers crossed, they'll enjoy it."

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