Tag Archives: Bear Grylls

Survival Shows: What’s the big draw?


Bear Grylls

I love survival shows. Whether watching Bear Grylls wriggle into a wetsuit fashioned from seal skin, Les Stroud survive with no food, water, shelter, or camera crew, or the new duo on the scene, Dave and Cody suck water from their own socks in the Rockies, I flip on one of these programs and quickly become engrossed. This is pure entertainment. Or is it?

While I love to watch Bear strip to his skivvys and swim under a frozen lake as much as the next girl, I have to ask an important question. Who are these survival skills for? Granted there are still a few rare places in the world that these skills might come in handy, truly off-the-grid locales are harder to find. So why are these shows suddenly so popular? Is it to titillate the arm-chair adventurer or merely offer a little eye-candy and drive up ratings for Discovery Channel?

I recently watched Dual Survival, Discovery Channel’s latest reality show pitting man against nature. Two men, Cody Lundin and Dave Canterbury, showcase their survival

Dave and Cody

skills in Wyoming’s Rocky Mountains during winter. Dave is an army-trained sniper and scout and Cody never wears shoes or long pants, even when he’s post-holing through thigh deep snow. In this scenario, the two men recreate the skills needed to survive the aftermath of an avalanche with only a nearly empty pack of gear. Dave and Cody  demonstrate how to get out of this “brutal wilderness” with only one pair of snowshoes, one ski pole, a wad of p-cord, one tube of lip balm and a nearly empty book of matches. Granted, the show would have been MUCH more interesting if the two demonstrated how to survive the actual avalanche, but I can imagine that the men weren’t too keen on honing that particular skill, since the chances of surviving a real avalanche are slim.

During their retreat towards civilization, the two create a snow cave for shelter, build a fire to melt snow for drinking and salvage a dead elk for food. For a while the two slog through the snow, using the snowshoes for balance, until they finally decide that one should actually don the snow shoes. Of course, Cody wears only socks and shorts, making the survival situation all the more dire (the temperature is 3 degrees and dropping). He claims he’s “not a normal person.” He strengthens his mitochondria by exposing himself in this manner so that he can “kick ass” in cold temperatures. Whatever. It makes for an interesting show.

Fortunately for them, a camera man was close enough to catch their descent from the site

Cody Lundin

of the avalanche down to a frozen lake, where Dave (I’m not sure how he pulled the short stick on that decision) walks out onto the dangerous lake to post a signal pole, so that rescuers can eventually find them.

Les Stroud

The most authentic of all these shows is Survivorman, where Les Stroud strolls out into inhospitable locales and films his own survival. My favorite episode takes place in the canyons of Utah, where Les makes a primitive mouse trap with a stick and a heavy slab of rock. The tension builds each time he checks his empty trap; the viewer can almost hear his stomach grumbling. Finally, he catches a squirrel and the burnt, sinewy meal made from it looks hideous, but makes the man grin wildly into his own camera.

So I ask you, what’s the point of these shows? Why am I so fascinated by them? I am not actually taking notes for future reference, watching how Les ties the knots around the stick or builds a fire with his flint stick. I’m not really paying such close attention that if caught in the Florida everglades I would actually remember what that awful looking bug that Bear dangled above his mouth before dropping it in and chewing heartily looked like.

Is it just me? Or are you, too, fascinated by this new survival-when-its-least-needed kind of show. This kind of information might have come in handy a century ago, but today, not so much. And yet still, I have a feeling these shows are far more popular today than Boy Scouts ever was.

So what’s the big draw? Am I the only one captivated by these shows, or are you, like me, pretending to amass an arsenal of never-to-be-used techniques of wilderness survival?

Does technology help or hinder backcountry rescue?


Last week, the NYT published an article about National Park visitors using cellphones and other technology during their recreation trips. 

One woman, a visitor at Yellowstone video taped her husband’s close encounter with a buffalo.  She even joked “Watch Donald get gored.”  Turns out, the buffalo attacked her, causing bruises and other minor injuries.

The author of the article goes on to discuss other misguided tourists.  One family, while backpacking into the Grand Canyon, sent out an emergency signal on their personal satellite messaging device, calling in a helicopter because their water “tasted salty.” 

These tourists are certainly taxing the patience and funds of rescuers.   The “salty water” family sent out a total of three emergency signals, all of which were non-life threatening situations.  On the third helicopter assist, the rescuers gave them no choice.  The bothersome family had to return home. 

However, my experience as a ski patroller at Crystal Mountain refutes the examples given in this article.  Last year alone, several backside searches were aided by the injured party’s cellphone calls. 

One man, skiing alone just outside the boundary of the ski area, got caught in an avalanche and severely injured.  It was late in the day and getting dark.  He was partially buried in deep snow, suffering from broken bones and internal injuries and no one knew where he was. 

He was able to extract his cellphone from his breast pocket (only his upper body was out of the avalanche debris) and make a call.  Fortunately for him, he had the Crystal Mountain Ski Patrol number programmed into his phone.  He called our dispatch and within minutes help was on the way. 

Without that phone, it may have been a few hours before anyone knew he was missing.  If he didn’t have good cellphone coverage, we wouldn’t have received a call at all.  Perhaps his wife would have called 911, the patrol may have left for the day, and it would have been too dark to search by helicopter.  Instead, the ski patroller on duty would have initiated a search, and wouldn’t have even known where to start. 

Certainly the buffalo videotaper and the “salty water” family used their technology irresponsibly.  Backcountry travellers should never substitute an emergency satellite locator or a cell phone for good common sense and preparedness. 

Perhaps it is the proliferation of survival shows that have jump-started this surge in ill-prepared backcountry travel.  One of the examples sited in the article was the death of two young men who tried to navigate Utah’s Virgin River on a log raft.  They were video-taping the trip as an entry into the Man vs. Wild competition.  They had no prior whitewater experience.

I’m the first to admit that Bear Grylls is fun to watch.  And not just because he can catch a salmon with his bare hands or float a crocodile-infested river on a hand-made raft.  Let’s face it.  Bear Grylls is hot. 

But he does his homework.  And he has experience.  But most importantly, what any backcountry traveller needs is good judgement.  No amount of rescue technology is going to save you from bad judgement.

But cell phones should be considered an essential piece of equipment in the backcountry.  Just like Bear always has his huge Crocodile Dundee knife and a piece of flint to start a fire, so should we all carry a cell phone and the judgement not to ever need it.

Here’s the link to the article:  http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/22/science/earth/22parks.html