Friday, July 17, 2015

Good Survival Television

& is used with permission.
I've made it plain that I have an absolute loathing for television like Doomsday Preppers (a show I once described as "designed to make everyone involved look bad') which is supposed to be about prepping and survival but is actually a collection of expensive supplies and a lot of drama.

So if Doomsday is bad survival television, surely there's such a thing as good survival television, right?

In theory? Yes.

In practice? No, not really. This is mostly due to the nature of the medium; most television is designed first and foremost as entertainment, with any instructional value second. A true and proper educational program about survival would likely be a DVD (and you can buy those), as the ratings wouldn't be high enough to sustain something like that as a series.

What you can get, however, are some series that aren't terrible. Sometimes you learn useful things from them; sometimes you learn what not to do by watching someone fail. But what's important is that you not confuse misinformation-as-good-TV with actual survival knowledge. Here, then, are some of the shows that I watch that don't suck.

1) Anything by Les Stroud
I've mentioned before that I absolutely adore the Survivorman and I will watch anything he's in (yes, even his Bigfoot investigations -- don't judge me), because the man knows his stuff and hasn't bought into his own hype like Bear Grylls.

He's been going out into the wilderness and surviving with just the gear on his back for about 15 years now, and while the frequency of his shows have slowed with age (don't we all?), they're still excellent.

I like that he not only takes time to explain what he's doing, but he usually focuses his cameras on it so we can see it as well. It's not specifically instructional, but it's the closest you're likely to find on television.

2) Naked and Afraid
This is billed as "the Everest of survival challenges," for pretty obvious reasons. In a re-enactment of Adam and Even exiled from Eden, a man and a woman are put in a harsh environment without clothes, given only two tools -- usually a fire starter and a blade -- and told to survive for 21 days (about the amount of time a human can live without food before starvation claims them).

I like this show because it doesn't candy-coat things: survival can suck.  Contestants on this show are often eaten alive by bugs, or suffer crippling dehydration, or injure themselves.  And despite being trained survivalists, a good percentage of contestants either tap out or are medically disqualified. Even those who survive experience a drastic change in their bodies by losing impressive amounts of weight.

A recent variation. Naked and Afraid XL, takes previous contestants, puts them in groups of three, and has them surviving for 40 days in what is the absolute worst hell-hole I've ever seen. This is what Survivor should have been, in my opinion.

3) Alone
This is the exact opposite of XL in many ways: 10 hunters, woodsmen and survivalists are given a limited selection of gear and told to survive on damp Vancouver Island by themselves (each contestant is separated from others by distance and challenging terrain). In addition to not having anyone to help them or watch their backs, they're on an island full of bears, cougars and wolves -- and no firearms for protection.

I've watched four episodes so far and already 5 people have left: one was charged by a black bear, one was drinking brackish water and suffering hallucinations from too much salt; one lost his ferro rod due to carelessness; and the other two just got scared and went home.

This program is an excellent study on how solitude can break some people and bring out excellence in others, and shows how crippling fear can be.

4) Fat Guys in the Woods
Disclaimer: I only just started watching this show, so it might turn out to be crap. But from just the first episode, it seems pretty good.

The premise is that esteemed survivalist Creek Stewart (the man who sells the Apocaboxes I review every other month) takes three middle-aged, couch-potato type men into the woods for a week of roughing it.

While there isn't a lot of actual learning to be gained from the show (I would prefer more emphasis on the how and why Creek is doing things rather than the emotional/spiritual male-bonding element), it's heartening to see how quickly three deskbound adults with "middle-age spread" take to survival mentality and use the skills they've been taught.

So while it may be short on instruction, it's long on encouragement that, yes, you could do it too. And given that mental fortitude and desire to live are important survival attributes, it's not something to be taken lightly.

These are my four "They don't suck" television recommendations for preppers. And on Sunday, check out my segment on the Gunblog Varietycast for some prepper skills  you can practice while you watch television.

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