Survival TV Shows Review

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The popularity of survival themed TV shows is undeniable. Are these shows helpful and informative, or are they dangerous to the average viewer with no wilderness experience? Does it give viewers a false sense of security and a cavalier attitude towards survival? Honestly, the answer to all of the above questions is, “Yes”. Huh? It really depends on the intelligence level of the individual viewer. These programs have to be viewed with a “Drama Filter” firmly in place. They are TV shows, and being such, the producers are more interested in ratings (which leads to advertising and syndication revenue) than they are in teaching people survival skills. They are “Entertainment” first and foremost. You must keep this in mind when watching them.

While a lot of “Survivalists” and “Bushcrafters” are quick to slam these shows and/ or the hosts, taking every opportunity to try to discredit them. That is not my aim here. I am quite sure that the talent on most of these shows possess an above average survival skill set. However, they have a script to follow and must make these shows exciting to regular folks at home, that aren’t watching to gain an education, but to be entertained. If you watch these shows putting aside the drama and sensationalism, it is possible to pick up some useful information and more importantly, get you to exercise your mind as to how you would handle the situations presented. They are also very good at showing examples of “What Not To Do”, which can be as important as knowing “What To Do”.

My main criticism of the “Survival Genre” is that it is predominantly focused on wilderness survival. Being an outdoorsman myself, I can appreciate this, but would like to see more shows focused on the more probable survival scenarios that viewers are likely to face such as; Natural Disasters, Rape, Robbery, etc. The average American is much more likely to be faced with that type of survival situation, than being lost in the deserts of Africa or the rain forests of the Amazon. For example: I would love for my teenage daughter to have the knowledge, confidence and skills to handle being lost in the outdoors. In all likelihood, if she were to become lost or stranded in the outdoors, she would more than likely be with her step father or myself. We would take the role of protector/ provider and guide her through. Unfortunately, according to statistics, it is more probable that she will face a “date rape” type situation, which clearly would not happen in the presence of her step father or I (unless there is an extremely unintelligent young man out there with a death wish). I would like to see survival shows covering situations in proportion to their probability of occurring.

Now that I’ve expressed my opinion of the genre in general, here are my thoughts on some of the individual programs themselves:

Show:
Man Vs. Wild
Cast:
Bear Grylls
Summary of Program:
Former British S.A.S. soldier, Bear Grylls is inserted into remote areas to demonstrate survival techniques and how to effect rescue.
Review:
If you frequent any of the survival or bushcraft message boards, you will find more criticism of this show than any other in the genre. Most of it is rooted in the dangerous techniques that Mr. Grylls demonstrates. While this show is widely criticized, it also has had higher ratings than the other shows (Naked and Afraid may have surpassed it by now, I’m too lazy to check at the moment). While there are very few useful techniques shown in this particular program (in fact, if you try to use the techniques shown, you will most likely be found dead), it is a perfect example of how NOT to handle a survival situation, which oddly enough, does make it useful. I won’t go as far as some of my peers and attack Bear Grylls as a fraud. I am quite sure that that he possesses higher than average survival skills. The content of the program was not dictated by him, he did as the producers wanted as that’s what he was paid to do.

Show:
Survivorman
Cast:
Les Stroud
Summary of Program:
Les is inserted into remote areas to demonstrate how to survive different scenarios. Unlike the other shows, Mr. Stroud has no camera crew, he goes it alone for 7 to 10 days and does all the filming himself.
Review:
Of all the shows in this genre, this is in my opinion the most informative and realistic. However, when I have watched it with friends that don’t share my interest in the outdoors, they feel it is boring and enjoy the other shows more. What I really like about this show in particular is that in addition to giving level headed advice and demonstrating some basic skills, Mr. Stroud effectively conveys many of the mental aspects of being isolated while in a survival situation such as depression, frustration and loneliness. I am a firm believer that survival is more of a mental struggle than a physical one and this show doesn’t try to sugarcoat that aspect at all.

Show:
Dual Survival
Cast:
Joe Teti and Matt Graham (current), also Cody Lundin and Dave Canterbury (former)
Summary of Program:
Two Survivalists are inserted into remote areas and work as a team to effect survival and rescue. One team member is from a military type background, the other is a primitive skills expert.
Review:
This show probably incites the most visceral reaction among the “Survival” and “Bushcraft” communities. Each host has their own followers and detractors and they all seem to be very outspoken! When watched with the “Drama Filter”, this show demonstrates some useful techniques and shows different approaches to wilderness survival. I enjoy seeing the different approaches and at times I feel that both cast members have valid points in different areas. A little background on the cast… Cody Lundin and Dave Canterbury were the original cast members. Mr. Lundin possesses great primitive skills and takes a very conservative approach to survival. He is very methodical and cautious, and at times comes off (to me anyways) as not very receptive to other people’s ideas of how to do things. He knows his way works and is reluctant to compromise. Mr. Canterbury has a military background in the U.S. Army and is a self proclaimed hillbilly. He tends to take a more proactive approach to survival that a lot of the primitive skills crowd feel is reckless (I feel that the more reckless ideas of his were the product of producers rather than how he would actually recommend someone handle the situations presented to him). Joe Teti also has a military background as a Recon Marine and an Army Green Beret. His approach to survival reflects his Special Operations background and is viewed by many as too aggressive. Being a Marine myself, I identify with how he thinks and I feel that he is the most misunderstood person on any of these programs. Matt Graham (also appearing in “Dude, You’re Screwed”) is a primitive skills expert and tends to lean more towards long term survival rather than the typical 72 hours (the average length of time a survival situation lasts). Matt not only displays amazing skills, he is very patient and open minded. True confession from yours truly: while I identify more with Joe Teti, I am trying to be more like Matt Graham 🙂

Show:
Naked and Afraid
Cast:
Different survivalists each week
Summary of Program:
Two strangers are inserted into remote locations to survive for 21 days, naked. Each gets to bring 1 survival item.
Review:
You definitely need to have the “Drama Filter” firmly in place while watching this show. It is extremely unlikely that anyone will find themselves naked in the wild and in a survival situation, there are however good bits of information to be gleaned from this program if you are observant. Lots of “What Not To Do’s” and some some good ideas thrown in from time to time. What I like best about this show is that it has a large following of viewers that aren’t particularly survivalist or bushcraft types, but maybe due to the “drama” or “naked” aspect they watch anyhow. I made a point of asking some people that I know watch the show, but don’t have any kind of survival or bushcraft background what items they would take into the wilderness if they knew they might become stranded. All of them answered the same… A knife, fire starter, pot and bug spray. Without any real life experience, by watching this show, they learned 3 important parts of the 5 c’s of survival (cutting tool, combustion, container, cordage and cover).

Show:
Man, Woman, Wild
Cast:
Mykel Hawke and Ruth England
Summary of Program:
Husband and wife, he a Special Forces survival expert and she a TV Journalist, are inserted into remote areas to effect survival and rescue.
Review:
Some solid techniques demonstrated, but what I found most interesting was the dynamic of being in a survival situation with a significant other. The scenarios presented were a bit far fetched for me, but not a terrible show at all.

Show:
Dude, You’re Screwed!
Cast:
Terry Schappert (Army Green Beret), Tom “Tomahawk” Moore (Army Vet, bushcraft expert), Jake Zweig (Navy SEAL), Matt Graham (Primitive Skills expert), John Hudson (SERE Instructor, UK Military).
Summary of Program:
Game show, meets survival show! The participants are kidnapped by the other cast members, blindfolded and inserted into an unknown (to the victim) remote location and given 100 hours to find civilization.
Review:
Not a serious show at all, but does show different approaches and techniques to survival. While a fun show to watch, don’t expect to learn too much from it. I enjoy it because it is the type of game my friends and I would play if we had the cash to gallivant across the globe playing practical jokes on one another. It should be noted, though, that Matt Graham displays his primitive skills which is always interesting and John Hudson is the probably the best in the whole survival genre! I hope to see more of Mr. Hudson in the future as the skills and presence of mind he displays apear to be far superior to anyone I’ve seen thus far on a survival type show, he’s definitely the “real deal”.

Show:
The Raft
Cast:
Different participants each week.
Summary of Program:
2 pairs of strangers are set adrift on life rafts in the Bermuda Triangle to survive for 7 days.
Review:
Lots of drama and very little technique demonstrated. The show does demonstrate the the importance of mental toughness. I watch to see how different people deal with what is my most dreaded survival situation. Many “What Not to Do’s” on this one!

Show:
Remote Survival
Cast:
Different participants each week, guided by survival experts Cliff Hodges and Alex Coker.
Summary of Program:
Participants are inserted into remote areas and guided via earpiece by a survival expert to navigate back to safety. The participants are filmed by drones as well as cameras placed along the route that the survival expert will send them.
Review:
Both survival experts take different approaches and attempt to instruct the participants in basic survival skills and techniques. You can pick up some useful stuff here, but the most interesting part is how the participants deal with the situations that they are faced with.

Show:
Extreme Survival
Cast:
Ray Mears
Summary of Program:
UK bushcraft expert Ray Mears travels to different locals to demonstrate survival techniques.
Review:
Ray Mears is right up there with Les Stroud as far as teaching conservative and effective techniques, but has far superior bushcraft skills, which makes any of his programs a must watch.

Show:
Fat Guys in the Woods
Cast:
Different participants, guide by Creek Stewart (Wilderness Survival Instructor) each episode.
Summary of Program:
Mr. Stewart takes a group of couch potatoes into the outdoors to teach them basic survival skills.
Review:
Mr. Stewart does a good job of teaching and demonstrating techniques as well as attitude to the participants. While no advanced skills are demonstrated, he gives the participants a foundation of skills to build upon, then sends them out for a solo overnighter where they have to use their newly acquired skills. Good program.

Show:
Surviving Disaster
Cast:
Different participants each episode, hosted by Cade Courtley (Navy SEAL).
Summary of Program:
Mr. Courtley guides the participants through different survival scenarios, interviews experts for tips to survive different types of survival situations as well.
Review:
Finally a show that doesn’t just cover wilderness survival, but natural disasters and man made disasters as well (Home Invasion, Active Shooter, Hijacking, etc.). While some of the scenarios are acted out kinda cheesy, a lot of solid tips are given on how to deal with the situations presented. Very informative and a lot to be learned.

Show:
I Shouldn’t Be Alive
Cast:
Varies
Summary of Program:
Documentary consisting of interviews with actual wilderness survivors and dramatic re-enactments of their ordeals.
Review:
A lot to be learned from these real scenarios, both good and bad. I find it interesting to see how different people react to the stress of a survival situation. The re-enactments can be kind of cheesy here as well.

Show:
I Survived…
Cast:
Varies
Summary of Program:
Documentary consisting of interviews with survivors and dramatic re-enactments.
Review:
This documentary is different than “I Shouldn’t Be Alive” as it consists mostly of people surviving violent crimes with a few natural disasters and wilderness situations sprinkled in. Very interesting, but you have to discover for yourself if there are any ways to prevent or deal with these situations yourself as there is no instruction or tips presented, just the telling of the survivors’ stories.

Show:
So You Think You’d Survive?
Cast:
Varies
Summary of Program:
Documentary showing different survival situations in a quiz type format.
Review:
This show covers a wide variety of different survival situations, but the main focus is on natural disasters, with a sprinkling of wilderness scenarios such as animal attacks. Very informative and helps to exercise your mind and get you thinking about how to handle different situations. Great for someone that may be new to preparedness and/ or survival.

I’m sure I’ve missed a few shows here, but this is a good start for someone that may be interested in watching these shows and trying to pick up some tips or techniques. Just please keep in mind that these TV programs are intended to entertain, not teach. You can learn some things from them if you are analytical and keep an open mind. While we all learn from our own mistakes, it can be much easier (not to mention less painful and safer) to learn from others’ mistakes! Take the information you get from these shows with a grain of salt and enjoy them for what they are. If you’re interested in really learning some survival skills, seek out a survival school or instructor in your area and get some dirt time in. Also, there are some “Honorable Mentions” if you are more interested in the primitive living or homesteading type of survival (long term and self sufficient type living) you might enjoy:
The Pioneers, Ultimate Survival Alaska and Life Below Zero.

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