The call of the wild

TV reality survival shows can be entertaining and instructive.

January 22, 2017 20:36
THE CAST of ‘Survive That!’

THE CAST of ‘Survive That!’. (photo credit: DISCOVERY CHANNEL)


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I am an armchair adventurer. One step up from a couch potato perhaps, I love to watch real-life survival programs, where people are pitted against the elements and have to fend for themselves in the wild. I find it exhilarating to see how they use their physical strength and mental acuity to confront the challenges that nature sets for them and work their way back to safety and civilization. This is more than ironic, of course. While I have enough trouble getting myself off the couch to get a glass of water, I am fascinated by the unstinting stamina that these stalwart survivalists exhibit.

The guru of conquering the challenges of the great outdoors is British adventurer Bear Grylls. With a slew of TV series under his belt such as Running Wild with Bear Grylls and The Island with Bear Grylls, the master nature maven takes ordinary people and exposes them to extraordinary situations.

On The Island, for example, a small group of participants are deposited on a remote uninhabited tropical island for six weeks. They are left completely alone, filming themselves, with only the clothes on their backs, a few basic tools and two days of survival training.

I find it fascinating to see how complete strangers from diverse walks of life, left to their own devices, figure out how to build shelters, make a fire, purify water, forage for plant food, and hunt and fish for their sustenance. And, even more challenging, try to stay healthy and get along with one another for the duration.

For those that can’t make it for whatever reason, an emergency team is summoned to take them out of the equation.

On the series Running Wild with Bear Grylls, each episode features Grylls taking a celebrity on a treacherous trek of a lifetime. On a one-on-one adventure, he spends two days with the celeb in an isolated locale such as a jungle, a desert, a glacier or a mountain range. His roster of intrepid companions has included well-known personalities such as Kate Winslet, Shaquille O’Neal, Zac Efron, Channing Tatum, Kate Hudson, Ben Stiller, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Courteney Cox, Lindsey Von, Mel B and even Barack Obama. In each episode, Grylls puts his guests through some truly grueling paces. Depending on where the episode takes place, a guest may parachute out of a plane, rappel down a steep cliff, scale a jagged mountain and/or hike through dense foliage or frozen terrain, not to mention catch, cook and eat not only fish or game but also insects, worms, snakes or rodents and, if need be, drink their own urine.

Facing their own fears and confronting challenges that far exceed the rigors of their celebrated lives, they invariably come away from the experience feeling extremely energized and empowered. And as a viewer, I sit there safe and warm, cheering them on.

Another outdoor adventure I thoroughly enjoy is a series called Survive That! Here, as opposed to neophytes being cast into the wild, a group of hardcore professionals challenge each other to what they call “the game.” Made up of a Navy SEAL, a Green Beret, an RAF advanced survival instructor, a primitive skills expert and a US survival skills instructor, the macho crew devise elaborate ways to put each other to the ultimate test. In each episode, the gang abduct one of their members when he least expects it, put a hood over his head and airlift him to some far-flung inhospitable environment such as a desert, a forest, a jungle or frozen terrain. Depositing him there with a bizarre array of items that serve as a survival kit, they abandon him to find his way out. The object of the game is to make human contact within 100 hours, be it a town, a village, a campsite or even just another person. If he fails to do so within the allotted time, he loses the game – which none of these diehards would want to do.

In the meantime, the other men set up a base camp nearby and watch their pal’s movements via remote and monitor his vital signs. Depending on the climate conditions, if his core temperature gets too high or too low, the guys swoop in and extract him, and he automatically loses the game.

I find this show totally enthralling. It is very exciting to see how these outdoor experts use their professional skills and innate wisdom to brave the elements and figure their way out. The good-natured gang get such a kick out of seeing how their buddy deals with the challenges they set for him, that I get a real kick out of watching them. For example, when primitive skills expert Matt Graham was left stranded in the midst of the Arctic Circle, he derived some sustenance from eating the inner bark of a pine tree, which he said was full of nutrients. As Navy SEAL Jake Zweig commented when he saw that, “After not eating for three days, that is filet mignon!” And speaking of fine food, another reality show that’s interesting to watch is Kings of the Wild. On that program, New Zealand hunter Josh James and British chef Matt Tebbutt attempt to prove that they can eat like kings in the most extreme conditions. In each episode, armed with basic weapons and utensils, they spend a week in a different remote locale, looking for edible flora and fauna and ways to prepare it gourmet style. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the dishes the chef conjures up, but it’s intriguing to watch how the two obtain their ingredients and create their menus.

So what have I learned from watching such shows, which air on the Discovery Channel? I have learned Bear Grylls’s rule of three: You can survive three minutes without air, three days without water and three weeks without food. I learned that if you are lost in the wild, you should try to get to higher ground so you can survey the lay of the land and determine in which direction to proceed. You should try to find and follow a body of water, as civilizations are invariably built near water. And at night, you should construct your sleeping area above the ground to avoid insects and other creeping creatures.

And while coconuts are an excellent source of nutrition, you cannot survive on them alone, as after three days you will develop diarrhea. And, of course, any kind of water you find must be boiled before drinking it – expect for seawater, which you must not drink in any form, as it is too salty. The initial signs of dehydration are headache, lack of energy and disorientation.

In extremely cold climates, even though you may not feel thirsty, you must drink water. You can drink melted snow or freezing cold water from a stream, but you must keep it in your mouth for 20 seconds before swallowing it, as it will shock your system if it is too cold.

These are just some of the things that come to mind in terms of being stranded somewhere out in the wild.

But even on my own home turf, these shows have served as an inspiration. When I’m carrying bags of groceries and lumbering up the two flights of stairs to my apartment with no elevator, I picture the wilderness warriors scaling treacherous mountain cliffs, and that spurs me on. Not exactly Tarzan swinging from the vines, I know, but it does give me the impetus to slog up the steps.

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