Mental Floss

Survivorman Returns

Chris Higgins

One of my favorite TV shows is coming back for a second season in August, after a long hiatus. Survivorman is a one-man survival show, hosted by Canadian survival expert/musician/TV producer Les Stroud. Each episode finds Les completely alone in the wilderness for seven days, carrying his own cameras and recording himself on a seven-day survival trek. Let me emphasize that: this guy is alone, schlepping fifty pounds of camera gear himself, while devising his own food, water, and shelter (he typically brings the most absurdly minimal survival gear with him, like a single match, a candy bar, maybe a rusty tin can). He's hardcore. And he's quite a nice guy, which makes you root for him as he survives the elements.

Tons more after the jump.

The first season of Survivorman found Les in locales such as a Georgia swamp; simulating a plane crash in the northern Ontario forest (there's a nice scene where he starts a fire by shorting the plane's battery and igniting a tiny bit of gasoline left in the tank); and my personal favorite: lost at sea off the coast of Belize. For that last one there was a support boat tailing his life raft, with a radio in case of emergencies. The raft was leaking, so much of his time was spent bailing seawater. I'm telling you: hardcore.

Much of the joy of Survivorman comes from how it operates on multiple levels. On the surface level, it's a show about survival, which is fairly interesting. But on the level below, it's a show about making a show about survival -- watching how this guy is all alone out there, making compelling TV. When you see some of the stuff Les is doing, you have to ask: how in the world did he get that shot? The Season 1 DVD has a behind-the-scenes episode that explains the lengths he goes to in order to record himself doing things like trekking across arctic ice floes (the short answer: he sets up a camera, treks for a few miles, then comes back and gets the camera). Finally, there's a slight Grizzly Man element to the whole thing -- what if he dies out there in the field? Would there be a final episode cobbled together from the tapes he left behind? I sure hope it doesn't come to that, but still, I have to wonder.

While shooting the second season, Les has been blogging from the wilderness (I guess this means he's carrying a computer too?). Here's an example from his entry in the Kalahari Desert:

My challenge is to spend my time in this extremely hot ecosystem and make my way across the desert to the crew camp. My personal survival items consist of only my watch, a multi tool and 20 litres (about 4 gallons) of water. With the truck I found: two empty pop cans, a nearly finished jar of peanut butter, a can of jam, two buckets, some cups, a can of coffee and an empty glass sugar dispenser from a restaurant. The locals sent me in with an ostrich egg as a gift and I've snuck in a small piece of chocolate I had in my pocket. Heh heh. I've brought all the stuff here under the tree with me. It's mandatory that a person has at least one gallon per day if they expect to survive dehydration in this kind of heat. I have 20L - roughly 4 gallons - enough for four days. I'm supposed to stay here for seven.

Survivorman returns to the Discovery Channel on August 10, and OLN (Outdoor Life Network) on October 2. You can read more about the Season 2 premiere, but the best preparation is to watch old episodes from Season 1 (Les wants you to buy the DVD but episodes are often on Discovery in syndication). A word of warning: there are cut-down 30-minute episodes on some networks in syndication. The original episodes are an hour long, and you lose a lot in the edit.