Are TV Survival Shows Worth Watching?

Alone in the wild
Alone in the wild

Is the state of reality for survival shows really that dangerous?

After watching the survival shows on TV, people may think (or dream) they could survive for days or weeks while stranded in the rain forest of the Amazon, the Sahara Desert or the Rocky Mountains. In order to survive in such places - with little or no equipment or supplies - you need two things: (1) mental and physical ability, and (2) knowledge of the area in which you’re stranded.

Of course, even if you have ability and knowledge, it helps to have a least some basic equipment to assure your survival when marooned. At the very least, you’ll need a camping knife (some might prefer a multi-tool), a way to make fire and a water bottle or canteen. Some people might like to carry a compass too, but if you know how to read the sun, stars and terrain, you won’t need one.

As for food and water, both are heavy to carry, especially water, so living off the land is a better option – as long as you can gather, hunt and fish. Otherwise, having lots of body fat to sustain you for days or weeks could save your tail!

Bearing these tips in mind, let’s explore the survival shows on TV. Which ones truly reflect reality or are nothing more than entertainment or BS.

Naked and Afraid

In spite of this show’s silly title, its level of authenticity and danger appears high. Couples comprising a man and woman face the challenge of surviving in the wild for 21 days before being airlifted out by helicopter. This task is difficult enough, since these brave folks start with very little survival gear – a machete, knife or metal cooking pot – they must also cope while wearing no clothes. (If at some point they want clothes, they must make such things themselves.)

Of course, many native peoples across the planet, particularly in tropical areas, live most of their lives naked as wild boars. But is this trial au naturel designed to get these couples in the mood for survival strategies, or do the producers have titillation in mind? After all, some of the men are hunks and some of the women pretty. Many adult movies have started with less plot. At any rate, these young, hardy folks seem to have good, if not excellent, survival skills, and some get very dirty while trying to cope with nasty wilderness conditions. Bear Grylls rarely looks so filthy as these tough men and women!

Since Naked and Afraid has received good ratings, more scantily clad folks will probably venture into the wilderness with video crews recording it all, for better or worse. Have you been watching? Maybe you should.

Dave Canterbury (left) and Cody Lundin
Dave Canterbury (left) and Cody Lundin
Cody Lundin (left) and Joe Teti at the Atacama Desert in Chile
Cody Lundin (left) and Joe Teti at the Atacama Desert in Chile
Matt Graham (left) and Joe Teti
Matt Graham (left) and Joe Teti
Grady Powell (left) and Bill McConnell
Grady Powell (left) and Bill McConnell
Jeff Zausch (left) and E.J. Snyder
Jeff Zausch (left) and E.J. Snyder

Dual Survival

Dual Survival utilizes the buddy movie format. Two survival experts are dropped into dire scenarios, such as that of lost hikers or plane crash victims, at which point they have only what equipment or supplies they could reasonably expect to possess when stuck in the wilderness. Of course, a film crew comes along to record the action.

The best part about the show is that these two guys differ in temperament and wilderness theory. Cody Lundin is a “living with nature” minimalist who sports Indian-style pigtails and nearly always walks barefoot. In contrast, Dave Canterbury is a hard-ass survivalist who’ll do just about anything to prove how tough and capable he is. Their differences obvious, they often banter with each other, adding humor to the show.

In a winter alpine episode, the duo is stranded with little more then a flintlock rifle and some black power. Unfortunately, they have no shot for the rifle, so Canterbury, apparently needing something to do with the fire stick, opens a two-inch cut on his forearm. Then he pours black power into the wound and, using the flint striking mechanism in the rifle, sets the powder aflame – poof! - demonstrating the technique of cauterizing a wound. Amazingly, the wound doesn’t get infected.

For the third season of the program beginning in early 2013, Joe Teti replaced Dave Canterbury. Teti, a former special forces operative from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, seems as tough as any desert nomad. While trekking through the Atacama desert, one of the driest places on the planet, Teti proves his mettle by drinking his own urine – just for the psychological effect!

While filming season four in 2013, Cody Lundin left the show. Perhaps he was fired, who can know for sure? Anyway, Lundin was replaced by Matt Graham, a hunter/gatherer survivalist, who once spent six months living solo in the Utah desert. If anybody can truly live off the land, it’s probably Matt Graham. Graham is somewhat like Lundin, both whom are spiritual, tree-hugger, shamanistic types; and, while Lundin always goes barefoot, Graham simply wears sandals he made himself.

The Cast Changes Again and Again

Now that Joe Teti was fired and Matt Graham left the show, Dual Survival has two new survival studs: former U.S. Army Green Beret Grady Powell, and off-the-grid expert Bill McConnell. In episode one of season seven, McConnell swears to Powell that he can make fire whenever he wants, yet he fails. Then Powell fails to make fire too! Can these two guys crawl to episode two?

In season eight, Grady Powell and Josh James and later - Powell and Bo McGlone - unite for more survivalist adventures.

In season nine, Jeff Zausch and E.J. Snyder, both of whom veterans of 40 days of rigorous trials on Naked and Afraid XL, team up for more hair-raising experiences as the latest daring duo on Dual Survival. Zausch and Snyder seem as capable and cautious as any of the burly guys appearing on the show; nevertheless, in episode one, they drink water from two different sources, not bothering to sterilize the H2O, something one’s never supposed to do, unless dying of thirst, yet they drink away, apparently not thinking twice about possible infection from bacteria, amoebae or parasites!

Les Stroud makes fire
Les Stroud makes fire


Among the first of the TV survival shows is Survivorman, but this program’s precursor was a program entitled Stranded, shown on the Canadian Discovery Channel in 2001. Originally aired from 2004 to 2008, Survivorman presents the adventures of Les Stroud, who places himself in survival situations where he must manage with few supplies and equipment for a period of seven days. Surviving in remote locations is hard enough, of course, but Stroud videotapes his adventures by himself. Videotaping oneself would be hard enough but, keep in mind, he must carry these cameras from place to place!

Since Stroud has no film crew with him, there is an element of danger on the show, though, bear in mind, he carries a satellite phone with him at all times. However, he emphasizes that the phone doesn’t always work. Stroud is often entertaining as well, as he always plays his harmonica and, at least one time, also brings a guitar, one of the strings of which he eventually scavenges to make a squirrel snare!

On many shows, Stroud genuinely appears to suffer from lack of food and drinkable water and often copes with uncomfortable weather conditions. Dangerous wild animals and pestiferous bugs are often a concern as well. And consuming water that may not have been purified properly has made him sick at least once. Stroud contracted an intestinal parasite that took him a year to get rid of!

However, Stroud’s major difficulty is carrying and setting up the cameras, and that’s why, he says, he discontinued the program. Otherwise, it would almost certainly still be in production - it’s really good!

Bear Grylls
Bear Grylls

Man vs. Wild

In comparison to Survivorman, the next show, Man vs. Wild, seems painted with the Hollywood brush, as it appears more like the typical TV action-adventure. Starring Bear Grylls, alumnus of the United Kingdom Special Forces, each program begins with him airdropping into some of the remotest regions of the planet. But Grylls, who appears capable of surviving on Mars – without a spacesuit – treks with a two-man film crew, to whom he speaks on occasion and/or helps over rough terrain.

Just exactly what danger Grylls really encounters on this program is debatable, but he really dangles from hovering helicopters and parachutes from planes, a mishap of which broke his back in the middle 1990s (18 months later he climbed Everest at 23). Perhaps Grylls most impressive skill is climbing – with climbing gear, sometimes without – various cliffs, towering trees and escarpments. You hold your breath watching this guy scale just about anything. On these survival shows, nobody seems to risk more than Bear Grylls!

Amusingly, people joke about Grylls willingness to drink his own urine. Urine is full of bacteria and salt but, Grylls insists, when you’ve got nothing else to drink, you partake! As for eating, Grylls, when hungry, will consume just about anything available, including insects, arachnids and worms – sometimes cooked, but often not. In one episode, he snatches a palm-sized spider from the floor of a cave in Belize and pops it into his mouth. Would Survivorman do that?

Man and wife in the wild
Man and wife in the wild

Man, Woman, Wild

Of the three aforementioned programs, Man, Woman, Wild may be the least authentic. Reportedly, this married couple has on occasion needed help from the film crew, so the BS level may be high on this program. The man is Mykel Hawke, retired from the U.S. Army Special Forces, and the woman is Hawke’s wife, Ruth England, a TV journalist.

Both man and woman seem capable survivalists, finding shelter, and then drinkable water and food in the order of the survivalist’s priority, so you believe they’re up to the task. It’s a refreshing change to have a comely woman along for one of these survivalist scenarios. As pretty women often seem to be, England is squeamish about killing animals for food and won’t eat just anything. Nothing squishy or gooey – yuck! Anyway, one wonders if they have “conjugal visits” when the crew isn’t looking!

On a much more serious note, Mykel and Ruth sometimes encounter situations they simply can’t endure. In the Chihuahuan Desert of Mexico, the rescue crew had to bring bottled water to Ruth or she could have died of dehydration and sunstroke. Nevertheless, after re-hydrating, Ruth continued the four-day adventure. But while struggling in the wintry pine forest of Alaska, in an area known as the Alaskan Bermuda Triangle, both Mykel and Ruth had to be rescued or they almost certainly would have starved to death!

Running Wild

Having left the Discovery Channel, Bear Grylls now works for NBC, and this show, Running Wild as it’s called, may be the most commercial of all the survival shows. In each episode, Grylls treks from one wild place to another, and tagging along is a celebrity such as Marshawn Lynch, Shaquille O’Neal, Lindsey Vonn or Courteney Cox. Some celebs act terrified at times, while others not so much. They make lots of wisecracks too, of course, giving the show some comedic input.

But there is a degree of danger in these trips, because Grylls and his famous sidekick trudge to remote places and, along the way, may climb up or rappel down treacherous cliffs or jump from a height into a body of water. Of course, there must be emergency folks hanging around, keeping Grylls and the celebrity as safe as possible. A nasty lawsuit could ensue otherwise.

These shows are entertaining but diehard fans of survival programming will probably not be satisfied with this prime time fluff - even when Bear Grylls stars.

The nine volunteers for the show "Out of the Wild: Venezuela"
The nine volunteers for the show "Out of the Wild: Venezuela"

Out of the Wild

Out of the Wild shows the survivalist adventures of nine ordinary people who aren’t stranded in remote locations; instead, they choose to cope with inhospitable conditions for days or weeks at a time. Beginning in 2008, the first two seasons showed urbanites facing the Alaskan wilderness.

During the third season, nine volunteers travel to South America, where a helicopter leaves them atop Mt.Roraima, an isolated plateau or “lost world,” from which the intrepid folks must descend and then trek 70 miles through the surrounding jungle and savanna, eventually rejoining civilization. Each person has some food and supplies, but they must carry all of it in their backpacks!

Each person is also given a GPS device to call a rescue chopper. Well, because of exhaustion and/or injuries, several push their buttons and leave the show, while the others survive an arduous journey, starving at times, assailed by numerous creepy-crawlies, sleeping in rain-soaked bogs and arguing among themselves. You feel great compassion for these incredibly resilient people, and when they remaining five finally make it back to city life, you want to cheer for them.

Scene from "Survivor"
Scene from "Survivor"


Each one of the shows on this list exhibits a level of danger and authenticity that may be hard if not impossible to ascertain. Simply put, you either buy into it or you don’t.

But at the very least, these programs have a much higher level of believability and taste than a program such as Survivor, a so-called reality show in which contestants - not volunteers or experts - try to win a huge cash prize (and maybe a book or movie contract, who knows?) Programs such as Survivor are pure entertainment and BS – that’s all.

Perhaps the best of the authentic shows is Survivorman, because it shows just one person against the deprivation, danger, remoteness and solitude found in wilderness conditions. However, if you prefer pathos and camaraderie, then Out of the Wild is hard to beat. As for Bear Grylls, you never know what he might pop into his mouth!

So, are survival shows on TV worth watching? Most of them definitely are! Would you rather watch sports?

Please leave a comment.

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Comments 22 comments

Kosmo profile image

Kosmo 2 years ago from California Author

Thanks for the comment, Robert Feld. Perhaps most survival shows are rubbish, but not "Survivorman." Later!

robert feld profile image

robert feld 2 years ago from Brighton, United Kingdom

They're rubbish.

Kosmo profile image

Kosmo 2 years ago from California Author

Thanks for the comment, Reaper2rp. The problem with these shows is that somebody has to carry the camera. Only Survivorman carried his own, and he got so tired of doing it that he quit the show. Later!

Reaper2rp 2 years ago

All of these survival shows are complete crap. Just once I want someone to make a show where someone walks into a survival situation with nothing but the clothes on his back. Just the lint in his pockets. No knife, no match, no spare food. That is all BS how many people go for a hike with more than their water bottle. I bet the number is pretty slim. Who the fuck brings spare clothes in a backpack? It is not like they plan to spend the night. Sure a knife is a great tool to have at all times and I carry one most of the time but lets be honest I don't have it all the time and I never carry matches because I don't smoke. I don't need food for a hike or a stroll through the forest. Non of these shows have someone by themselves with absolutely nothing. I prefer no knowledge of the area as well. Of course they can have basic survival knowledge but who knows the name of every plant in the area? It is all nonsense.

CJ 2 years ago

Am I the only one out there who thinks these shows are completely ethnocentric? Whenever I hear a commercial with Les Stroud saying "why do I get key self into these situations?", my blood boils. You are getting paid for it. Millions of people on this earth live in third world conditions and have to worry about where their next meal is coming from every day of their life. Humans have lived in every imaginable environment on earth for eons, and it's their collective knowledge and oral histories that are being exploited without credit here.

Kosmo profile image

Kosmo 3 years ago from California Author

Hey, Acoustic, I'd like to check out Ray Mears, but I don't have access to his programs on cable. Nevertheless, I'll be looking for him and I'll add him to this list if I think he fits the genre. Thanks for the heads up. Later!

Acoustic 3 years ago

Why did you ignored Ray Mears.

When that master made survival tv programs, the ones that you mentioned where playing about building sand castles.

vash 3 years ago

well survivorman is the best one but I'm sorry but you can't just through someone into the complete wild and be like OK we will be back someday lol what show do u have just in case something happens you know plus like me no matter where if anywhere I get lost m going to have a lighter on me I'm a smoker so no matter what even real survival you will have something like survivor man and that's y he goes to each location with different items as if he went there like normal its the closest thing if not real survival for the fact that if someone shot him a bear kills him he's effed GPS or sat phone won't help him then lol so yea that in my opinion is real survival ow and man women wild love it but she's as bitchy as it gets even my girl is annoyed bye her a lot lol but still love it both great shows as well as in the wild they need more season of all of em but great hub but I think your wrong about authenticity in man women u don't puck like that when its bs and yes firefighter around but shit happens and that wildfire could have effed them up lol

Kosmo profile image

Kosmo 3 years ago from California Author

Thanks for the comment, tonymead60. I'm glad you enjoyed the hub. Hey, I just watched another episode of "Dual Survival" yesterday. Anyway, I'd like to see Ray Meers. Does he have a TV show? Later!

tonymead60 profile image

tonymead60 3 years ago from Yorkshire


nice interesting hub, we have a chap called Ray Meers who looks at survival but often through the eyes of ancient people, hunter gatherer societies of various nations. I really enjoy his way of presenting and the content of his programmes, because they are not contrived like some I've seen, you see him finding, cooking and eating everything from grubs to mammals and every sort of plant.

voted up and all the knobs.



Kosmo profile image

Kosmo 4 years ago from California Author

Good idea for a show, Iris. Go to Hollywood and make your pitch. But who will be the survivor? Only Survivor Man could do it. Later!

iris 4 years ago

I would love a survivor show where someone had to live, not just survive in a completely wild environment for a year. It would take someone with amazing knowledge to do that.

Artrimil 5 years ago

Don't forget Air Force SERE Specialists, ruffridyer. I don't like running into them on bases just casually, they have this look in their eyes that say "I've seen some s**t and don't mess with me unless you want to also". And these guys don't even go into combat, they just teach survival, evasion, resistance, and escape from POW camps, as the name SERE stands for lol.

Kosmo profile image

Kosmo 5 years ago from California Author

Thanks for the comment, Time4Travel. "Survivorman" is the best of the bunch, certainly regarding the realistic experience, anyway. But I do like "Dual Survival" as well, as Cody and Dave are an odd couple that's fun to watch. Later!

Time4Travel profile image

Time4Travel 5 years ago from Canada

I've only watched Survivorman and haven't heard of the others. Yes, there is a trend to create more authentic reality shows. Looks like the original Survivor is getting some heavy competition.

ruffridyer 5 years ago from Dayton, ohio

I like survival shows but I see no need for some one to die to prove how real they are. As for Survivor, I would like them to have several three man teams, U.S.Navy seals, Green Berets, Army Rangers and Marines. Put them in an isolated area needing to find food, shelter and real conditions to find out who really is the best.

RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

I asked my husband to watch it once - he's hooked now:). It is crazy - these guys hunt Aligators in little bitty boats! One dude wrestles them with his bare hands. They get tags for four weeks out of the year (similar to deer hunting) and they make thousands of dollars thinning out the gators in the swamps. Pretty entertaining I'm sure you would like it.

Kosmo profile image

Kosmo 5 years ago from California Author

I agree with you, RealHousewife, survival shows are definitely my favorite reality shows. I may check out "Swamp People" once of these days. Later!

RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

I love the survivor shows - I would not think I could survive in one myself (no big bathroom with hot shower - no real housewife;) but those are my favorite reality shows. I do not like any of the bachelor crap or teenagers gone crazy or snooky stuff - just the outdoor survival stuff. I've been watching Swamp People lately - morbid fascination?

Kosmo profile image

Kosmo 5 years ago from California Author

You're both right, TV survival shows definitely have some contrivance and BS, yet I still love them anyway. I guess that's why I wrote this hub. Later!

kafsoa profile image

kafsoa 5 years ago

Just shows, but sometimes I watch them although I know it's not real:) Thanks for sharing. Voted up.

Cardisa profile image

Cardisa 5 years ago from Jamaica

i must say I like your hub, but in reality I hate survivor shows because I don't think they show the real deal at all.

As you stated, for someone to survive in the wilderness they need some kind of equipment to assist in their survival.

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