Learn A Thing Or Two From Survival Shows

In an episode of Man, Woman, Wild, Ruth England and Mykel Hawke struggle through an Amazonian tributary on a makeshift raft, with two primitive paddles, as they try to find their way to some form of civilization.

This week, we’re going to take a break and have some fun. Specifically, we’re going to talk about TV shows that actually might have survival lessons included. In recent years, there have been several survival shows that have come onto the market, and it looks like several of them are going to be regular features.

Now, don’t think that watching a survival TV show for 42 minutes a week is going to make you a survivalist. That’s about as ridiculous as thinking that watching UFC fights is going to make you a fighter. They are both entertaining, and you will probably learn some new skills and tactics, but you really need to practice the skills to become proficient.

So, let me go over some of the survivor shows that are on TV. I’ll tell you what they cover and whether my wife and I consider them being worth the time to watch to help you get more prepared for surviving disasters.

I’ll start with the better-known ones, but the better shows are actually at the end of the list.

Survivor on CBS: This series is one of the grandfathers of reality survival TV, and I’m thankful for it because of that. But there are few, if any, survival lessons to be learned from it. There have been some interesting political and human-interaction lessons from it; but for the most part, it’s become a glorified soap opera. Even though the series has a great name, we don’t watch it.

Survivorman on Discovery Channel: This series ran in 2004, 2007 and 2008 and featured Les Stroud in the wilderness facing various survival situations without support. In fact, he carried all of his own camera equipment. The shows emphasized focus on the basics and how little time there is to focus on anything other than the basics in a survival situation. I don’t know Stroud, but we have a common acquaintance. He’s the real deal. He’s not superman, but he is willing to stake his survival on how well he performs in survival situations. I’m not a fan of his new series, but I do still watch Survivorman repeats occasionally.

Man vs. Wild on Discovery Channel: This is a very entertaining survival show and there are usually one or two good tips or tactics in each episode. Bear Grylls knows his stuff, but he is supported by a crew. And in order to make things more interesting, he takes a lot of risks that are unnecessary in a true solo survival situation. It does make good TV, but you really need to keep in mind the fact that a lot of Grylls’ stunts would be foolish to do without a support crew standing by to pick up the pieces.

Worst-Case Scenario on Discovery Channel: These are also very entertaining and well-filmed survival shows. Bear Grylls is the main expert in this one as well. The episodes I watched were primarily entertainment, but there were some good points. Grylls was one of the first survival experts to do shows on survival strategies in urban environments, and most of this series is set in urban areas. I disagree with his willingness to take unnecessary risks and his approach on self-defense — especially his emphasis on techniques that take a lot of skill and practice to use successfully. But, like in Man vs. Wild, it does make good TV.

Out Of the Wild on Discovery Channel: The first season ran in 2009 and followed several small groups of people surviving in the Alaskan wilderness. This series emphasized just how much effort it can take to simply cover your most basic needs in a survival situation. It clearly showed how important attitude, fire, shelter, water, food and sleep are. I don’t think you can appreciate how hungry, thirsty and tired you can get until you’ve gone a day or two in a survival situation without a good meal or clean water, but this series showed how various people break down in survival situations. I really enjoyed this series. There aren’t very many hard skills taught, but the human interaction and psychological lessons make it worth watching.

The second season, which was filmed in Venezuela, was a great look into how starvation, dehydration and exhaustion can wipe out people, place group dynamics under stress and dramatically change a person’s psychology in a matter of days. I really liked this series and strongly recommend catching a rerun or buying the DVD.

Dual Survival on Discovery Channel: This series is currently running again on Discovery. I originally recorded it because of my appreciation of Cody Lundin. I kept watching because of the vastly different approaches Lundin and Dave Canterbury take to wilderness-survival situations. Every episode follows the same script, much like real wilderness survival: Figure out shelter, fire, water, food and navigation, and get out. The neat part about this is that Lundin is a self-reliant, shoeless hippie and Canterbury is a former U.S. Army sniper/scout. In every challenge they face, I find myself relating to one or the other of their approaches.

Man, Woman, Wild on Discovery Channel: This is one of our favorite survival shows simply because there is a woman on the show whom my wife can relate to. In the show, Special Forces survival expert Mykel Hawke and his wife Ruth England take on various wilderness-survival scenarios starting with only knives and clothes. There are some how-to components to the show, but it mostly highlights the dynamics of two people being in a survival situation with only one of the two being a survival expert. And I can’t emphasize this enough: My wife likes this show way more than the all-man survival shows.

The Colony on Discovery Channel: This is urban-survival reality TV. The premise for season one was that a pandemic killed off the majority of the population and a mismatched group of people found each other and decided to work together. There were some bad pieces of advice — for example, using a bank of car batteries to power appliances — but it was a great series with at least a half-dozen solid urban survival lessons in each episode. Season two was a combination of a few good lessons and a lot of hair-pulling. That being said, it is a great tool to use to come up with scenarios to contemplate — especially figuring out how you would deal with being forced to survive with people who have very different skill and motivation levels.

MidwayUSA’s The Best Defense: Survival! on Outdoor Channel: This top-notch series was developed by three friends of mine: Michael Bane, Mike Janich and Rob Pincus. We have been trying to figure out how to best tie in my SurviveInPlace.com Urban Survival Course with this series. Hopefully, we will get it figured out in time for the season three launch in early 2012. This series is all meat and how-to. The Outdoor Channel let Bane, Janich and Pincus take off the gloves for season two, and they knocked it out of the park. They covered survival rooms, food, water, medical, bugging out, surviving in place and more.

The important thing about all of these shows is that the skills they teach are next to useless until you take ownership of them, practice them and make them your own. There are occasional stories about how people survive disasters by doing something that they saw on TV, but the reason those stories make the news is because they are so rare. Someone who learns skills, practices them and successfully applies them under stress is normal and not newsworthy.

Do you have any favorite survival or preparedness TV shows or movies you like? Do you have any thoughts on the series I mentioned? When you watch a show that demonstrates survival skills, do you go out and practice it afterword? Share your thoughts by commenting below.

Personal Liberty

David Morris

Since 2008, “Survival Dave” has taught over 10,000 people how to survive long term breakdowns in civil order in urban areas-without having to run away to a fully stocked rural retreat. His students range from lifelong SpecOps operators & paramedics to newlyweds & retirees just waking up to preparedness. They all share a common desire to “be the solution” when disasters happen rather than depending on government to save the day. He is the creator of the SurviveInPlace.com Urban Survival Course, the author of the “Urban Survival Guide,” and his Urban Survival Playing Cards were recently featured on Glenn Beck’s Christmas Special as a “must have” gift for 2010.

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