Monday, March 24, 2008

Man v. Nature

There are a couple of shows with kind of the same "man v nature" theme on TV right now; one which I really enjoy and one that really disturbs me. First the good news: I really enjoy the show Survivorman. Les Stroud is the host, photographer and the only person in front of and behind the camera. The idea of the show is that Les puts himself in serious life threatening situations and then films his own struggle to find water, food, shelter and just stay alive. Many of his adventures don't go off quite as he had planned. Nevertheless, he continues to film and document what can happen if you were to make the same mistakes. While hiking in the snow he makes the mistake of sweating and getting wet. He then realizes that if he stops he'll get cold and hypothermic very quickly, so he walks all through the night rather than risk death. The show never takes a "Hey look at me" tone. It always takes a very humble and respectful view of the natural world. He's quick to point at that nature is simultaneously beautiful and deadly. I'd recommend this program to anybody.
Now for the bad news; Man v. Wild is one of the stupidest, most artificial programs that I've ever seen. The host Bear Grills is this cocky little punk who walks around bragging about all the adventures he's done. It's obvious he has multiple cameramen following him. He also flat out lies and tells people to do dangerous things. The most grievous of these lies was when he tells people that the best way to go downstream along a river is to "inflate" your pack and use it as a life preserver. Yet in the footage of this moron sliding down class 3 rapids he's floating way up out of the water. Later it's obvious that he has a PFD on under his shirt. He drags himself up on a sandbar and finds a nice pile of dry sticks that lights with one strike of his flint. I've started a fire with flint before and it took over an hour of just smacking these rocks together. The only way he did it in one strike is with a serious dose of kerosene.
What makes Survivorman so enjoyable is that it shows that with even years of roughing it experience it's still a humbling experience to be out on your own. What make Man v Wild so personally intolerable is that it conveys this unrealistic man can conquer anything attitude, even when it's clear that at least that man can't without a PFD and help from his crew. As a Scoutmaster I worry that boys will accept Bear Grill's pompous advice and actually try them out. Many of his stunts are seriously life threatening. On the other hand, I hope that my scouts would adopt Stroud's attitude and heed his advice. It may very well save one of their lives in the future.
In May I'm going to be teaching the Wilderness survival merit badge. We're going to be building primitive shelters on some property behind the church and then sleeping in them. We'll have power and a covered shelter just a few feet away but even considering this I'm still rather concerned that things might go wrong. I will respect the situation and try to teach these boys reverence for nature at the same time not teach them to overly fear it.
This weekend we went backpacking in the Cohutta Wilderness. We had to cross several rivers and streams. One proved to be more than we were up for. The river was very cold and moving very fast. It was about 100 feet across and probably mid-thigh deep. Even if we had forced our way across it we'd have had several more crossings and then have to walk 7 miles out with wet feet. We'd have all had nasty blisters. The biggest reason that we didn't force our way across was that we were very unprepared for anything that serious. The boys had too much cotton clothing and nothing was stored in water tight bags. One little mistake and we'd have been in rescue mode trying to keep a boy warm with minimal resources. I have no regrets about the decision to turn back rather than attempt the crossing. I would like to return with Aaron, properly prepared to show him that the crossing would have been possible with the proper equipment. If we do head back we'll be sure to take Les Stroud's advice and attitude with us and leave Bear Grill's fool heartedness and arrogance at home.


  1. I wonder what wood scorpions taste like? I bet Les Stroud would say they were nummy!

  2. I do believe Discover Channel didn't renew Man vs Nature for many of the same complaints you mentioned. I enjoy Les sense of humor too, especially when he complains about his camera equipment.

  3. I too like his sense of humor. I think the complaining about the cameras, although real, is a little scripted. I think that's his little way of reminding the viewer that he doesn't have a camera crew like that other bozo.

    Mmmmm Toasted wood scorpions....