By Steve Gillman
Survivorman is a program about wilderness survival, seen on
the Discovery Channel (and others?). It is about one man against
the elements. The man in this case is Les Stroud. He is left
in various environments and has to survive for seven days while
Going without a camera crew may be the most novel idea in
the show. You can be sure that the danger is real, and a cameraman
won't be slipping some food or water to Les when the camera is
off. Stroud really is alone, and really does get into trouble
at times. His challenges are actually made tougher by the fact
that he has to lug around camera equipment, and use it when he
might like to get straight to gathering food or building a shelter.
Another novel feature of Survivorman is that each show has
a "theme." In the episode in the Canadian arctic, for
example, Stroud is left with a broken-down snowmobile, which
he cannibalizes for various useful items, including using the
seat cushion for a insulating sleeping pad. In the Sonoran desert
episode, he is in the middle of a desert wilderness with a broken
dirt bike. He uses the wires from this to weave a blanket of
This makes Survivorman more realistic than if it was just
a man in the wilderness with nothing. It gets the viewer thinking
about ALL the possibilities. If a plane crash is what puts you
in a survival situation, you will 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 and you
are 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 to help yourself.
Is Survivorman Dangerous?
Some reviewers have pointed out that Survivorman may give
viewers a false sense of confidence and even spread some bad
ideas. In the Sonoran desert episode, for example, he does drink
water straight from a stream. This is 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, and rather than keep the fire going,
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.
These are minor flaws, however, and perhaps due to the nature
of doing a television program. In other words, 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. In fact, 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 may be better to keep gathering one type of food, for example,
but then how do the viewers learn about the others?
Overall, this is a creative and informative show. There are
all the specific techniques of survival that Stroud shows us.
Beyond those, though, is the inspiration the show provides. Survivorman
lets you know that you can survive, and gets you in the habit
of thinking about how to use everything around you.