Bear Gryll's World's Toughest Race: Team NZ defies odds, wins $150k prize

This article contains spoilers for the World's Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji series. 

Team New Zealand overcame exhaustion, extreme conditions and a sinking canoe to win the notoriously gruelling Eco-Challenge Fiji event in the Amazon Prime series World's Toughest Race, hosted by Bear Grylls. 

The five person team beat out 65 other teams from 30 different countries, covering 671km of punishing terrain in just 141 hours and 23 minutes. 

Team captain Nathan Fa'avae along with his crew Mark Rayward and racers Sophie Hart, Stuart Lynch and Chris Forne were awarded US$100,000 (NZ$152,854) prize money along with the sought-after title of winner. 

Fa'avae told Newshub in the hours before the win his team "didn't know if they would even finish the race" when their outrigger canoe fell apart at sea. 

Battling torrential rain and visibility of less than 10m, Fa'avae said the team "felt like they were in a washing machine for several hours" but had "no option but to carry on". 

"We had quite an ordeal," he said. "We did manage to win though, but because of the epic situation we'd had in the hours leading up to the finish line, I think it was more a sense of relief rather than jubilation." 

It took Team NZ just under six days to complete the five-leg race, which sees participants trek, bike, raft, climb, paddleboard, swim, rappel and cross oceans to reach the finish line - rarely stopping to sleep or eat.

"Mentally the hardest times are when you're really tired from lack of sleep and you need to keep going knowing that any chance of sleep is hours away, possibly the next day - that can be hard to get your head around," Fa'avae explained. 

The Nelson-based father-of-three added that racers are also often contending with bouts of nausea due to "a combo of lack of sleep, exertion and not eating proper meals". 

"Physically, it's dealing with the weather. In Fiji it was mainly heat and humidity, but we also got very cold at night." 

Television presenter and survival expert Bear Grylls hosts The World's Toughest Race, with the mantra: "Respect the wild, embrace the hurt, and never leave a team member behind." 

The Man vs Wild star checked in with participants most days on the course.

"He was always very friendly, encouraging and enthusiastic," Fa'avae said. "It was always good to see him." 

Team NZ took out the race just under two hours ahead of their closest competitor, with Team Canada Adventure clocking in second with a time of 143 hours. At least 22 of the teams were not able to finish the race due to sickness, injury, running out of time or voluntarily pulling out. 

Having also captained the Kiwi team that won the last Eco-Challenge back in 2002, Fa'avae said the 2020 team was "thrilled to win, for many reasons". 

"We had to overcome some unforeseen obstacles," he said. "But we overcame them and earned the victory."