Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Discovery Channel Survival Shows

Until October, I never had cable television. Climbers I'd worked with over the years told me about Survivorman and about Man vs. Wild on the Discovery Channel, but I never had the opportunity to see these shows.

For those of you who are as clueless as I was, Survivorman follows a survival expert named Les Stroud on his exploits. Stroud brings his own camera equipment and records himself making survival decisions. In Man vs. Wild, a former officer in the British Special Forces named Bear Grylls is followed by a camera crew as he "survives" in the wilderness.

At the beginning of October I finally broke down and got basic cable. And with basic cable came my opinion about these two shows. In short, Survivorman is both entertaining and full of useful survival techniques. Man vs. Wild is completely and utterly ludicrous.

Les Stroud knows what he's doing. He masterfully builds shelters, hunts, forages, and uses good mountain sense. Bear Grylls does the most sensational things -- many of which would get you killed in a real survival situation -- in order to raise the ratings of his innane show.

There are a few great examples of Grylls and his lack of mountain sense. In one show he swings on a vine over a sink hole with no idea whether or not the vine will hold. In another he says it's minus twenty degrees as he jumps in the water...clearly it wasn't or he would have died. And in another he makes a toboggan to slide down a steep hill with cliffs on either side when he could have just walked. This is also the guy who eats snakes, frogs and a variety of other animals without killing or cooking them. It's all about sensationalism.

It appears that Bear actually enjoys a little luxury when he's supposed to be in the wild. Numerous reports have come out about this so-called outdoor hardman, which indicate that he is not quite so hard. Indeed, there are a list of grievances against the television star. That which tops the list is the use of a hotel. Yep, his highly honed survival instincts have allegedly brought him to a shower and a warm bed on more than one occasion when it appears to the television audience that he is spending the night in the wilderness.

ABC News published the following on some of the other television illusions from Man vs. Wild:

Among the Grylls grievances is an episode supposedly set on a deserted island (actually Hawaii) that shows him building a raft, which was actually constructed and then disassembled by show consultants so that the host could easily put it together.

And though Grylls claims to be a horse wrangler, another charge maintains that the wild horses Grylls happened upon in the Sierra Nevada were not so wild, and were in fact from a trekking station.

It's clear that Stroud doesn't have the ability to get to a hotel or a motel to take a break. Instead he does what he says he does; he uses a variety of time-tested survival techniques to stay alive. This guy provides valuable information for the wilderness traveler that could potentially be used in a a number of environments.

Following is a great example that some fan of Survivorman posted on the internet about the difference between the two shows. Note the sensationalism of Man vs. Wild. And also note that Bear is an idiot.

Survivorman Vs. Bear Grylls - Click here for funny video clips

Stroud and Grylls have both attained lucrative advertising contracts. These alone provide some insight into who actually respects these individuals. SPOT locators have hired Stroud to be their spokesman and Trail Mix Cereal hired Grylls be theirs for a ludicrous commercial. SPOT is somewhat respected by outdoors people for the creation of their backcountry emergency locators. Trail Mix Cereal is cereal. I don't think anybody really respects cereal.

Ultimately SPOT vs. the cereal is a great metaphor for the substance of each show's quality. Stroud knows what he's doing and the techniques he teaches are educational and interesting. Grylls is a complete doof who doesn't really do anything that is worth anything.

--Jason D. Martin


Bryan E. said...

Jason -

I read your posts on a regular basis and find them to be very interesting and valuable to an aspiring mountaineer. However, this post taking shots at Bear Grylls seems somewhat off mark. I can understand accusations of 'sensationalism' in his TV show (it is TV...) but to personally attack him (i.e. calling him an idiot) or question his 'mountain sense' is ridiculous.

In response to your claim that he has a 'lack of mountain sense' I would suggest reading the book, 'The Kid Who Climbed Everest'. I think the details of this story speak for themself.

As well, the personal tone your post takes in your attacks on him simply crosses the line. Specifically, when you say, 'Grylls is a complete doof who doesn't really do anything that is worth anything.' This couldn't be more baseless. Many of the 'stunts' Grylls does are in an effort to raise attention and funds to support SEVERAL different charitable organizations.


Finally, he has a wife and kids and seems like an all round nice guy! I don't think he'd use his blog as a vehicle to take shots at you or AAI...spread love, it's the PNW way!


American Alpine Institute said...


Perhaps you're right about the personal potshots toward this celebrity, that was more about me attempting to write a tongue and cheek article that people would enjoy reading than anything else. So I apologize for that if you took offense.

However, I disagree one hundred percent about the mountain sense issue. I really feel that the things that he demonstrates in his show are dangerous and unrealistic for anybody who wants to stay alive in the wilderness.

It's great that Bear gives to charitable organizations and it's great that he has kids and he may very well be a great guy. It's not great that what he shows in his television show is presented as expert opinions on survival techniques when it's clear that the things he demonstrates in his show would certainly get an individual killed.

I haven't read, "The Kid Who Climbed Everest." And I don't think that really matters. He may present a lot of really valuable things in that book. But I'm not providing criticism of that book. A television show should not have to be supplemented by a book in order to be valid.

Bear presents himself as a survival expert, but then promotes techniques that are in direct opposition to what one should do in a survival situation. I believe that this is inappropriate.

In the American Mountain Guides Association, we define "mountain sense" as a compilation of a number of things. One should be able to see the best route up a mountain or crag. One should stay on route. One should make good decisions while in the mountains and one should have sound judgement. I would argue that Bear is not demonstrating these things in his television show.

--Jason D. Martin

Mark Vander Pol said...

Jason -

Thanks for your blog and for AAI, I love you guys. However, I have to agree with Bryan. Sure Bear sensationalizes many things on his show, but there are also things that he does that Les would never do intentionally because he could literally be killed. For instance, falling into a frozen lake - it is educational to actually see somebody do that in the "wilderness" and what needs to be done to get out of the water and to warm up one's self. I like watching both shows, but Surviorman is definitely better, but Man vs. Wild is fun as well for its own purposes.

Anonymous said...

I fully concur with your assessment of the two shows. But, Bear has the cuter butt.
Best Regards,
Basecamp Karen

Anonymous said...

"Attempting to write a tongue and cheek article that people would enjoy reading than anything else"... similar to the sensationalism Bear implements in Man vs Wild which people would enjoy watching than anything else??

True, one tactic spices up a blog and the other deals with a TV show, but c'mon, we're talking about TV here. If we were comparing documentaries or survival instruction manuals then it would be a different story because those are required to be completely accurate. TV shows are supposed to be entertaining - the most entertaining show gets the high ratings which results in a more popular client for advertising.

Neither show is causing people to die, as far as I know, and either program would be beneficial to watch than nothing at all.


Bryan E. said...

looks like at least one person has benefited from watching man vs. wild...

Young Utah Boy Uses TV Show Skills To Survive Wild

American Alpine Institute said...

Good thing it wasn't 35 degrees and raining, otherwise we'd have a dead nine year old boy as a result of a TV show...

We definitely recommend against destroying your shell material in an emergency situation. Accidents in North American Mountaineering is full of people who suffered hypothermia due the lack of proper clothing.

All that said, I am very happy that this child is okay...


Bryan E. said...

"...otherwise we'd have a dead nine year old boy as a result of a TV show..."

i think it would be more the result of incompetent parents.

American Alpine Institute said...

Yeah, I agree...the kid should have never been lost in the first place. But then again, we don't know the circumstances behind the separation...