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The Problem with Survival Television

Survival shows are entertaining, but are they realistic?

survival television

By Brian Meyer

It would stand to reason that anything that helps get people excited about prepping and survival is a good thing, but awareness isn’t always the best thing. For example, take the popular survival shows on cable television today. Hosts like Bear Grylls will show you how to hunt an elk, survive falling into glacial ice water, and even drink dirty water via an enema, but how much of this is really important?

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More likely than not, you will never find yourself in any of these situations. These extreme locations bring with them their own unique survival techniques and skills, and anyone in them should learn them one-on-one by a trained professional.

Sadly, you never see Bear or his compatriots showing you how to read a map or stop infection-causing blisters, but you will see them trying to wrestle an alligator with one arm, in case that’s how you find yourself.

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Most of these survival shows give viewers a false sense of security in that they believe they know how to survive after watching a few episodes, when in actuality most of the show is highly staged. It’s easy to jump into ice cold water when you know there’s someone there to help you if things go bad, but that changes when you’re the only person available to rely on.

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Most survival television helps to set incorrect survival priorities. Instead of showing people worrying about essentials like fire, shelter, and water, the shows often focus on finding food immediately. It’s not only incorrect, but it gives people the wrong set of priorities if they do indeed find themselves in a true emergency situation.


Actual survival isn’t entertaining to watch. Showing someone spending an entire day collecting enough water to take 3 drinks of it isn’t going to win any awards or get people talking the next day, but drink your own urine or squeeze water from elephant dung and now you’re talking. There’s no excitement in picking berries and plants all day, but show someone that you can take down an elk on your own and everyone think they can too. Remember, you can go nearly 3 weeks without food, and only 3 days without water.

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Don’t get me wrong, Bear Grylls is a serious badass. He served in the British SAS and was properly trained in survival and evasion, mountaineering, and intense hand-to-hand combat. These guys are trained to do exactly what he does, and that’s be dropped into somewhere with little or no supplies, get their job done, and get back home safely.

Crazy stunts are fine for television, but when they’re marketed as true survival tips, entertainment can turn into a dangerous situation pretty quickly. Not all survival shows are terrible though. For example, Les Stroud’s Survivorman show focuses on real survival situations and what it takes to make it in an emergency. Instead of falling into an ice lake when you’re by yourself, Stroud shows you how to find your way out of a wooded area if you’re hiking and get turned around, or if you’re in a lifeboat on the ocean. Survivorman is filmed by Les, meaning that he is truly by himself in each survival situation, so every choice he makes is truly important for his survival.

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Even this show, with it’s realism and honest videography still can mislead people. Les goes in days before each shoot to talk to natives, locals, and experts on how to survive in each specific location. He doesn’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of every tree, insect, and animal out there, he just prepares before he goes in.

If there’s one thing to learn from survival television, it’s that whenever heading to an unfamiliar place, become acquainted with the local flora and fauna as well as basic landmarks and any issues that might be present. It also doesn’t hurt to have a map of the area and compass, too.

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Sure, survival shows are entertaining, I mean, who didn’t like seeing Bear Grylls wipe his urine on his face in the desert, but for true survivalists and people focused on the idea of survival and prepping, we can see through the shows for what they are. Most people however feel that this is actually what survival is, and that is a very dangerous thing.

This article was originally published at Ready Nutrition™ on September 23rd, 2014

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