Survivorman is a television program about wilderness survival. It can be seen on the Discovery Channel (and others?). It’s all about one man against the elements, and the man in this case is Les Stroud. He is put in various environments to survive for seven days while filming himself.
Having no camera crew may be the most novel idea in the show. You are sure the danger is real – there won’t be a cameraman slipping food or water to Les when the camera is off. Stroud is alone, and really does get into trouble at times. His challenges are made tougher by the fact that he has to lug around camera equipment, and then use it when he might like to get straight to gathering food or building a shelter.
One creative feature of Survivorman is that each show has a “theme.” The episode in the Canadian arctic, for example, has Stroud left with a broken-down snowmobile, which he cannibalizes for various useful items, including the seat cushion, which he uses for a insulating sleeping pad. In the Sonoran desert episode, Stroud is in the middle of a desert wilderness with a broken dirt bike. He uses wires from this to weave a blanket of grass.
This “scenario” aspect makes Survivorman more realistic than if it was just a man in the wilderness with nothing. It has the viewer thinking about ALL the possibilities. If a plane crash puts you in a survival situation, you’ll be remembering the “Survivorman” using plane fuel to start a fire, and you’ll be looking at every part of that plane for useful items. If your boat sinks, leaving you on an isolated island trying to survive, you’ll think about how Stroud used plastic containers from washed-up beach debris to hold water, and you’ll look at all the debris with a eye towards using it in some way.
Can Survivorman Be Dangerous?
A few reviewers point out that Survivorman may give viewers a false sense of confidence and even spread some bad ideas. In the desert episode, for example, Stroud does drink water straight from a stream. It’s a good way to get sick, and he could have used the gas tank from the dirt bike to boil the water in. In the Canadian boreal forest episode he uses his one match the first night. Then, rather than keep the fire going, he starts the second night’s fire without matches. This is extremely hard to do for those without experience, and a better lesson might have been to keep that fire alive.
Those are minor flaws, however, compared to the wealth of useful knowledge the show teaches. They may be in part due to the nature of doing a television program. Stroud wouldn’t get to show us how to use a bow and drill to start a fire if he didn’t need a fire started. There are often times in various episodes when he may have been better off doing something else, but the point of the show is to show all the possibilities. It might be more efficient to keep gathering one type of food, for example, but then how do the viewers learn about the others?
This is a creative and informative show. Of course there are all the specific techniques of survival that Stroud shows us. In addition to that, though, is the inspiration the show provides. Survivorman lets you know that you can survive – and it gets you in the habit of thinking about how to use everything around you.
Steve Gillman is a long-time advocate of lightweight backpacking. His tips, photos, gear recommendations and new Wilderness Survival Guide can be found at
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