Are TV Survival Shows Worth Watching?

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After watching the survival shows on TV, people may think (or dream) they could survive for days or weeks while stranded in the rain forest of the Amazon, the Sahara Desert or the Rocky Mountains. In order to survive in such places – with little or no equipment or supplies – you need two things: (1) mental and physical ability, and (2) knowledge of the area in which you’re stranded.

Of course, even if you have ability and knowledge, it helps to have a least some basic equipment to assure your survival when marooned. At the very least, you’ll need a camping knife (some might prefer a multi-tool), a way to make fire and a water bottle or canteen. Some people might like to carry a compass too, but if you know how to read the sun, stars and terrain, you won’t need one.

As for food and water, both are heavy to carry, especially water, so living off the land is a better option – as long as you can gather, hunt and fish. Otherwise, having lots of body fat to sustain you for days or weeks could save your tail!

Bearing these tips in mind, let’s explore the survival shows on TV. Which ones truly reflect reality or are nothing more than entertainment or BS.

Naked and Afraid

Naked and Afraid

In spite of this show’s silly title, its level of authenticity and danger appears high. Couples comprising a man and woman face the challenge of surviving in the wild for 21 days before being airlifted out by helicopter. This task is difficult enough, since these brave folks start with very little survival gear – a machete, knife or metal cooking pot – they must also cope while wearing no clothes. (If at some point they want clothes, they must make such things themselves.)

Of course, many native peoples across the planet, particularly in tropical areas, live most of their lives naked as wild boars. But is this trial au naturel designed to get these couples in the mood for survival strategies, or do the producers have titillation in mind? After all, some of the men are hunks and some of the women pretty. Many adult movies have started with less plot. At any rate, these young, hardy folks seem to have good, if not excellent, survival skills, and some get very dirty while trying to cope with nasty wilderness conditions. Bear Grylls rarely looks so filthy as these tough men and women!

Naked and Afraid _01

Since Naked and Afraid has received good ratings, more scantily clad folks will probably venture into the wilderness with video crews recording it all, for better or worse. Have you been watching? Maybe you should.

Dual Survival

Dual Survival

    Joe Teti (left) and Cody Lundin

Dual Survival utilizes the buddy movie format. Two survival experts are dropped into dire scenarios, such as that of lost hikers or plane crash victims, at which point they have only what equipment or supplies they could reasonably expect to possess when stuck in the wilderness. Of course, a film crew comes along to record the action.

The best part about the show is that these two guys differ in temperament and wilderness theory. Cody Lundin is a “living with nature” minimalist who sports Indian-style pigtails and nearly always walks barefoot. In contrast, Dave Canterbury is a hard-ass survivalist who’ll do just about anything to prove how tough and capable he is. Their differences obvious, they often banter with each other, adding humor to the show.

Dual Survival_01

     Cody and Joe at the Atacama Desert in Chile

In a winter alpine episode, the duo is stranded with little more then a flintlock rifle and some black power. Unfortunately, they have no shot for the rifle, so Canterbury, apparently needing something to do with the fire stick, opens a two-inch cut on his forearm. Then he pours black power into the wound and, using the flint striking mechanism in the rifle, sets the powder aflame – poof! – demonstrating the technique of cauterizing a wound. Amazingly, the wound doesn’t get infected.

For the third season of the program beginning in early 2013, Joe Teti replaces Dave Canterbury. Teti, a former special forces operative from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, seems as tough as any desert nomad. While trekking through the Atacama desert, one of the driest places on the planet, Teti proves his mettle by drinking his own urine – just for the psychological effect!



   Les Stroud makes fire

Among the first of the TV survival shows is Survivorman, but this program’s precursor was a program entitled Stranded, shown on the Canadian Discovery Channel in 2001. Originally aired from 2004 to 2008, Survivorman presents the adventures of Les Stroud, who places himself in survival situations where he must manage with few supplies and equipment for a period of seven days. Surviving in remote locations is hard enough, of course, but Stroud videotapes his adventures by himself. Videotaping oneself would be hard enough but, keep in mind, he must carry these cameras from place to place!

Since Stroud has no film crew with him, there is an element of danger on the show, though, bear in mind, he carries a satellite phone with him at all times. However, he emphasizes that the phone doesn’t always work. Stroud is often entertaining as well, as he always plays his harmonica and, at least one time, also brings a guitar, one of the strings of which he eventually scavenges to make a squirrel snare!

On many shows, Stroud genuinely appears to suffer from lack of food and drinkable water and often copes with uncomfortable weather conditions. Dangerous wild animals and pestiferous bugs are often a concern as well. And consuming water that may not have been purified properly has made him sick at least once. Stroud contracted an intestinal parasite that took him a year to get rid of!

However, Stroud’s major difficulty is carrying and setting up the cameras, and that’s why, he says, he discontinued the program. Otherwise, it would almost certainly still be in production – it’s really good!

Man vs. Wild

Man vs. Wild

     Bear Grylls

In comparison to Survivorman, the next show, Man vs. Wild, seems painted with the Hollywood brush, as it appears more like the typical TV action-adventure. Starring Bear Grylls, alumnus of the United Kingdom Special Forces, each program begins with him airdropping into some of the remotest regions of the planet. But Grylls, who appears capable of surviving on Mars – without a spacesuit – treks with a two-man film crew, to whom he speaks on occasion and/or helps over rough terrain.

Just exactly what danger Grylls really encounters on this program is debatable, but he really dangles from hovering helicopters and parachutes from planes, a mishap of which broke his back in the middle 1990s (18 months later he climbed Everest at 23). Perhaps Grylls most impressive skill is climbing – with climbing gear, sometimes without – various cliffs, towering trees and escarpments. You hold your breath watching this guy scale just about anything. On these survival shows, nobody seems to risk more than Bear Grylls!

Amusingly, people joke about Grylls willingness to drink his own urine. Urine is full of bacteria and salt but, Grylls insists, when you’ve got nothing else to drink, you partake! As for eating, Grylls, when hungry, will consume just about anything available, including insects, arachnids and worms – sometimes cooked, but often not. In one episode, he snatches a palm-sized spider from the floor of a cave in Belize and pops it into his mouth. Would Survivorman do that?

Man, Woman, Wild

Man, Woman, Wild

  Man and wife in the wild

Of the three aforementioned programs, Man, Woman, Wild may be the least authentic. Reportedly, this married couple has on occasion needed help from the film crew, so the BS level may be high on this program. The man is Mykel Hawke, retired from the U.S. Army Special Forces, and the woman is Hawke’s wife, Ruth England, a TV journalist.

Both man and woman seem capable survivalists, finding shelter, and then drinkable water and food in the order of the survivalist’s priority, so you believe they’re up to the task. It’s a refreshing change to have a comely woman along for one of these survivalist scenarios. As pretty women often seem to be, England is squeamish about killing animals for food and won’t eat just anything. Nothing squishy or gooey – yuck! Anyway, one wonders if they have “conjugal visits” when the crew isn’t looking!

Man, Woman, Wild_1

On a much more serious note, Mykel and Ruth sometimes encounter situations they simply can’t endure. In the Chihuahuan Desert of Mexico, the rescue crew had to bring bottled water to Ruth or she could have died of dehydration and sun stroke. Nevertheless, after re-hydrating, Ruth continued the four-day adventure. But while struggling in the wintry pine forest of Alaska, in an area known as the Alaskan Bermuda Triangle, both Mykel and Ruth had to be rescued or they almost certainly would have starved to death!

Get Out Alive

Get Out Alive

This time survivalist supreme Bear Grylls supervises, mentors and critiques various couples as they attempt to survive arduous conditions in the wilds of the South Island in New Zealand. These couples, who range in age from young to old, vie for a grand prize of $500,000, which will be given to the couple that shows the greatest potential for survival – as judged by Bear Grylls, of course.

Get Out Alive_1

 Grylls not only makes the couples travel over, under and around rough terrain, he also makes them compete against each other by exhibiting endurance, capability and determination. On one show, Grylls makes one person in each couple drink a concoction of their own urine and some muddy water presumably taken from the nearby environment. The couples’ must make this cloudy brew drinkable by boiling and then cooling it, and then one of them must drink it to the last drop. The couple that does this first then survives to the next round, while the others must fret about their chances going forward.

Get Out Alive is similar to Survivor, though perhaps a little more realistic and, of course, the addition of the incomparable Grylls gives the show added cachet and much greater potential for suspense and entertainment.

Out of the Wild

Out of the Wild

   The nine volunteers for the show “Out of the Wild: Venezuela”

Out of the Wild shows the survivalist adventures of nine ordinary people who aren’t stranded in remote locations; instead, they choose to cope with inhospitable conditions for days or weeks at a time. Beginning in 2008, the first two seasons showed urbanites facing the Alaskan wilderness.

During the third season, nine volunteers travel to South America, where a helicopter leaves them atop Mt.Roraima, an isolated plateau or “lost world,” from which the intrepid folks must descend and then trek 70 miles through the surrounding jungle and savanna, eventually rejoining civilization. Each person has some food and supplies, but they must carry all of it in their backpacks!

Out of the Wild_1

Each person is also given a GPS device to call a rescue chopper. Well, because of exhaustion and/or injuries, several push their buttons and leave the show, while the others survive an arduous journey, starving at times, assailed by numerous creepy-crawlies, sleeping in rain-soaked bogs and arguing among themselves. You feel great compassion for these incredibly resilient people, and when they remaining five finally make it back to city life, you want to cheer for them.


Scene from “Survivor”


Each one of the shows on this list exhibits a level of danger and authenticity that may be hard if not impossible to ascertain. Simply put, you either buy into it or you don’t.

But at the very least, these programs have a much higher level of believability and taste than a program such as Survivor, a so-called reality show in which contestants – not volunteers or experts – try to win a huge cash prize (and maybe a book or movie contract, who knows?) Programs such as Survivor are pure entertainment and BS – that’s all.

Perhaps the best of the authentic shows is Survivorman, because it shows just one person against the deprivation, danger, remoteness and solitude found in wilderness conditions. However, if you prefer pathos and camaraderie, then Out of the Wild is hard to beat. As for Bear Grylls, you never know what he might pop into his mouth!

So, are survival shows on TV worth watching? Most of them definitely are! Would you rather watch sports?

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  • By Josh Collier, March 26, 2014 @ 20:07

    A great one to watch is The colony this has a lot of cool inventions and how to live in a TEOTWAWKI scenario. Just started watching it again. It’s a good watch.

  • By iowahomestead, March 27, 2014 @ 14:06

    These shows are all Hollywood hype. They are cheap to produce, and people watch them. Without a created element of danger, they would be boring.

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