Why Most Survival Shows Kinda Suck

Let me start off by saying that the last thing I want to do with this post is hate on survival show presenters. A lot of these guys are extremely knowledgable and experienced.  It's easy to see this through what they do in their normal lives.

Second, don't feel bad if you watch all the survival shows. This is just my general thought on the whole "survival show"craze.

The idea of a survival show is impractical. 

It's probably impossible to capture every aspect of a "survival situation" for a cable TV show.  We see this through all of the different styles of survival tv that are all equally bad.  However, this never became more evident to me then when I had the chance to help with a pilot for a new survival show.

The show isn't going to air, but I did learn just how impractical it is to mesh wilderness survival with the television industry.

The presenter was extremely knowledgeable.  Holy cow, did he know his stuff! But his knowledge and skill was flattened simply by the fact that there was a show to be filmed, and a strict time crunch to get everything done.   We faked literally every skill in the book.  After my experience faking the skills I got really good at spotting fake survival on TV (don't even get my started on Man, Woman, Wild). Here's how it works in a nutshell.
The director (who was actually a super great guy) says 'ok, time to film a hand drill fire.' After 5 minutes of working on the hand drill the director says 'ok, let's just fake this one. We need to move on."

Les Stroud's Survivorman stands out as being the best survival show in my book, simply because it's so real. I can't even imagine how exhausting it would be to do what he does.

The wilderness doesn't care about that "indescribable star quality"

You either know what to do, or you  don't. Being a good presenter has nothing to do with having great wilderness skills.  Since many of the best instructors and "survivalists" in the world aren't great presenters (or just don't have the look that the network is going for) they're forced to pull people from the lowest common denominator to host the show.

This begs the question, if they have no clue how to teach survival skills, then what's the point of the show? Purely entertainment. Enter Bear Grylls.

Bear Grylls is probably the best example of this.  Keep in mind, he's super cool. The guy summited everest at age 23! Talk about impressive! He's also just a classy, talented guy in general. But, does he have survival skills? Not really.

After years of filming Man vs. Wild he inevitably knows some survival skills,  but  in  the beginning he was just an awesome climber who was tough as nails and would eat anything. What could go wrong? Which brings us to... the network.

People  make TV shows to get good ratings. If we put bushcraft expert Mors Kochanski in front of a camera and filmed him presenting survival skills for an hour it would be extremely informative, and survival peeps all over the world would oogle at his skills. However, there aren't enough survival peeps for a show like this to get good ratings, so we put a super good looking (hey now, hear me out) young guy in front of a camera that soccer moms think is hot, and every 11 year old boy envies.

Most survival shows are made for the everyday person. They present a few basic skills, but they don't ever actually show them in good enough detail for the everyday viewer to pick up. Instead, the presenter shoves an  enormous grub into his mouth, and the other 97% of the population now enjoys the show. As we saw with Man vs. Wild, this can get out of hand really fast.

I picture the producers of survival shows sitting back in their offices sipping hot coffee and pondering 'hmmm, ratings are down. I wonder if we can get him to eat some poop or tame a wild moose and ride it to safety.'  The fact of the matter is that there's only so many disgusting things you can eat, and only so many stupid, dangerous things you can have someone do on camera in a wilderness survival setting before people lose interest.  Then, a new survival show gets created! Because that will make everything better, right? Nope... it just gets worse. Way, way worse.

Thanks so much for reading guys! I hope you enjoyed this!


Samuel LarsonComment