Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Business of Survival


Image credit: Bear Grylls in a tree courtesy of Discovery Channel

Survival is
something that is instinctually hardwired into every human being, but many of the
skills associated with surviving a life-and-death situation are not intuitive
and must be learned. Consequently, some survivalists possessing these skills have
created television shows that endeavor to pass on these basic survival skills
to the average person living in the modern age, where such skills are rarely
needed and mostly unknown. One of these shows is called Man vs. Wild, hosted by a survivalist named Bear Grylls. Mr. Grylls
has long history of experiencing situations requiring the use of survival
skills, and his knowledge of these skills are invaluable to anyone facing
perils that could take their lives. He has been esteemed by many to be one of
the most skilled survivors of all time. Jokes have formed that he is the only
one who can simply walk into Mordor, which Boromir from The Lord of the Rings states is impossible. (image from many of the stunts
he performs on his show seemingly go against logical, survivalist methodology.
The risks associated with many of the activities in which Mr. Grylls engages
are unnecessary to achieve survival in an actual life-or-death situation.
Although Mr. Grylls has an extensive background that has enabled him to master
many of these survival skills, the methods that he presents on his show seem
more about entertaining an audience than actually imparting the necessary
knowledge that would enable the uninitiated to survive an extreme situation.  In fact, some of the techniques he
demonstrates could lead to perilous results that are inimical to survival. This
destroys the authenticity of the show and hurts Mr. Grylls’ credibility as a

Grylls unquestionably possesses vast experience in survival situations that has
led him to develop the survival skills he displays on the concocted adventures
through the wilderness that are depicted on his show. He served for three years
in the Special Air Services (SAS), a detachment of the British Army that
requires its recruits to undergo training as demanding as that required by the
SEAL teams of the United States Navy. But during his enlistment in the SAS, Mr.
Grylls suffered a parachute accident that broke his back in three places.  This led to his departure from the military
and left him with eighteen months of recuperation and rehabilitation. Despite
these injuries, however, he completed his recovery and in 1998, at only 23
years of age, he became the youngest person to ever climb Mount
Everest. If that were not enough, he later raced around the United Kingdom on a jet ski and crossed the
north Atlantic on an inflatable raft. To add
to his list of world records, he jumped from a plane and sat at the highest
altitude (24,500 feet) formal dinner party ever held before pulling his
parachute (Discovery Channel). Mr. Grylls has appeared on several television shows
in Great Britain
that were created for him to test his ability to survive under demanding
conditions. He has also written books describing different survival techniques
used in the wild. Finally, Mr. Grylls was recently named as the Chief Scout of
the United Kingdom Scout Association, the equivalent to the Boy Scouts in the United States
(Bear This history gives Mr. Grylls much credibility as a
survivalist because of the experience he has. Knowing this history, most would
not hesitate to listen to all the advice he has to gives. But his actions on
the show begin to eat away at this credibility. 

Much of what Mr.
Grylls does on his show certainly appeals to a sense of adventure, and he
continually tests his survival methods during these performances. But the
presentation of the survival techniques in his show does not quite fit with the
logical way he might teach these methods to a boy scout. Too much of his
extremely adventurous—and in many instances dangerous—activities invariably invades
the storyline of every episode of Man vs.
. While he may know how to survive difficult situations, Mr. Grylls is
prone to follow the extreme pattern he has set for himself in his quest to
challenge the most difficult survival situations found on this planet.  But these extreme situations are not ones
that even the most foolhardy among us would ever find ourselves in.

It seems that Mr.
Grylls concocts these extreme situations more for their entertainment value
rather than their practicality. Each of his shows begins with him entering the
environment that is the subject of that week’s show. He faces the camera with a
stern countenance and tells all about the environment he is about to enter.
Then he sets out on his journey with his backpack and survival knife in hand. But
he enters it in such a dramatic way—parachuting or repelling from a helicopter,
jumping off a speeding boat or moving vehicle—that defies reason or common
sense. (video from Youtube posted by Discovery Networks)While this might make for an exciting opening sequence, the realism of
the experience begins to fade as Mr. Grylls then takes off into the wilderness
with his trusty camera crew close on his heels. (courtesy of the photo gallery of Bear As the episode progresses, Mr.
Grylls will educate the viewer by demonstrating practical survival tips and the
employment of the different skills required to overcome obstacles one might
find in that particular type of wilderness. For example, in one early episode
of the series, Mr. Grylls strands himself in the middle of the Moab Desert
in 110-degree heat. Sweat pours down his face as he concocts an ingenious, though
disgusting, method of keeping himself from overheating by urinating on his

(clip via yahoo video, originally airing on Discovery channel) Very often he gives these helpful tips for surviving hazardous
conditions, but this is only a small part of the time. Much of the other
behavior he engages in during an episode of his show invariably becomes much
more extreme than merely soiling his wardrobe. In the first episode of the
series, Mr. Grylls strands himself in the middle of the Rocky
Mountains. During the course of the episode, he not only jumps 30
feet off a cliff into a river, but he also repels down another cliff with a
makeshift rope (Wikipedia). One can almost feel an adrenaline rush as the
action of the episode unfolds, but reality soon begins to set in. While in
extreme circumstances drastic measures may be necessary, only a person with the
advanced military training possessed by Mr. Grylls should ever attempt to do such
things to survive in the wild.  In fact,
many of the stunts Mr. Grylls performs would be considered too risky to attempt
in an actually survival situation.  Such
activities would risk catastrophic injury and make survival much less likely
than a more tempered, reasonable approach. Mr. Grylls does not always present
useful information that might help a “normal” person survive being stranded in
the wilderness.  In fact, mimicry of what
is sometimes demonstrated would cause more harm than good.  But what these activities lack in
practicality they make up for in pure entertainment value.

To be sure, it can
be exciting to see people facing life-and-death situations.  The producers of Mr. Grylls show, as well as
its advertisers, obviously believe that this attracts viewers. The common
element in each episode of Mr. Grylls’s show is danger. Yet putting oneself
into unnecessarily dangerous situations in an actual survival situation is
illogical.  Mr. Grylls is thus providing
entertainment to attract viewers as opposed to demonstrating actual survival
techniques that the average person could employ in a life-or-death situation.  

There are other programs
that are geared toward demonstrating more practical survival methods. Les
Stroud, who hosts the show Survivorman,
offers practical tips that the average person can use to overcome the adversity
of nature. In fact, many of his episodes mirror real-life survival situations. Just
like Mr. Grylls, Mr. Stroud ventured into a desert during one of his shows. But
instead of parachuting from a plane or helicopter, Mr. Stroud rents a truck and
drives as far as he can into the Kalahari Desert
before he runs out of gas—a method mimicking how most average people would
encounter a survival situation. Throughout the course of the episode, Mr.
Stroud uses everything he can scavenge from his truck, as well as anything else
he can find nearby. He also employs a survival technique that the Kalahari
Bushmen use to beat the heat: He finds shade and limits his movement—a method
that would never enter into Bear Grylls’s thinking, at least while filming an
episode of his show. Unlike Mr. Grylls, Mr. Stroud is also completely alone as
he attempts to survive in the wild. He is required to carry 50 pounds of camera
gear by himself, which undeniably makes his job of survival that much more
difficult (Science Channel). (courtesy of Without assistance from a camera crew, Mr. Stroud
does not have the luxury of taking unnecessary risks to make his trek more
exciting. His survival methods are consequently more reasonable and practical, an
obviously more desirable methodology in a real-life survival situation. What
Mr. Stroud’s show lacks in entertainment value, it provides in realism sorely
lacking on the episodes of Man vs. Wild,
with its star Mr. Grylls.

Adding to the
debate of whether Man vs. Wild is
more entertainment than a demonstration of an actual survival situation, allegations
have surfaced that some of what has been depicted in Man vs. Wild is fake.  A
former member of the crew, a survival consultant named Mark Weinert, alleged
that Mr. Grylls receives more help from his crew than what the show would
otherwise admit. Mr. Weinert said that many of the nights that Mr. Grylls
supposedly “spent in the wild” were actually spent in a motel. He also said
that some of the places where they filmed were not as remote and desolate as
the show suggested. In one instance, a supposed deserted island was actually in
Hawaii. Another
allegation is that the crew helped Mr. Grylls construct a raft that he then used
to escape one of his scenarios (BBC). Perhaps in response to this claim, at the
beginning of Mr. Grylls’s show there is now a disclaimer saying that “on
occasion” Mr. Grylls will receive aid in certain situations. The precence of his crew also helped him when he cut his finger in Vietnam. (screen capture from Bear The authenticity
of his show is questioned further through a video that revealed that one of his
“remote area” that he was surviving in was only a couple hundred yards from a
road. (clip from, originally posted on Invariably, the availability of assistance from his crew invites Mr.
Grylls to engage in more extreme stunts than he otherwise would if he were stranded
alone (Discovery Channel). The question as to how much of the show is real
makes it impossible to take some of what Mr. Grylls does seriously. While help
from his crew might make Mr. Grylls’s show more interesting to watch, it destroys
much of the show’s authenticity and also damages the credibility of the survival
techniques he demonstrates.

Authenticity is
essential to build credibility. This rule can apply to both entertainment
personalities and even companies. Pizza Hut, for example, ran hidden camera
commercials to help promote their Tuscani Pastas. The authenticity of these
commercials was challenged, and Pizza Hut proved that these commercials were
genuine. Because all the people in the commercial were sincere about their
fondness for the pastas, Pizza Hut gained credibility (USA Today). However,
when he does things that don’t go with normal survival methods and accusations
of faking Mr. Grylls loses credibility. This is because he loses the
authenticity that Pizza Hut was able to solidify. When Mr. Grylls jumps off
cliffs or air drops into an environment, the adventure seems to stray far away
from real. Accusations of faking the show also, understandably hurt
authenticity, as well. When reality begins to fade, Mr. Grylls begins to seem
less like a person to go to for survival advice. But the action on screen keeps
you hooked. This hook is the essence of entertainment that keeps people
watching the show. While Mr. Grylls loses some of his credibility as a
survivalist during the show, the entertainment value keeps people watching.

Bear Grylls has a
history that has prepared him for surviving in the most inhospitable situations
found on Earth. While he has a wealth of survival knowledge that he tries to
impart to his viewers, the practical knowledge of surviving an actual real-life
situation is hard to find among all of Mr. Grylls’s outrageous stunts. Every
episode depicts Mr. Grylls engaging in evermore extreme and dangerous
activities that makes his show seem less about survival and more about
entertainment. Mr. Stroud, on the other hand, uses his show to depict survival
techniques in a more realistic and practical manner. Although Bear Grylls may
deserve his reputation as the ultimate survivor and daredevil, the “survival” methods
he demonstrates on his show should probably not be mimicked if one intends to
survive an actual life-or-death situation.










Works Cited

the Ad Team." USA
27 July 2009. Academic Search Complete. Web. 26 Mar. 2009.

"Bear Grylls." Discovery
. N.p., 2010. Web. 2 Mar. 2010.


"Biography." Bear
. N.p., 2010. Web. 2 Mar. 2010. <http:///>.

"List of Man vs. Wild
episodes." Wikipedia. N.p., 2010. Web. 7 Mar. 2010.


"Survival show faces 'fake'
claim." BBC. N.p., 23 July 2007. Web. 7 Mar. 2010.


"Survivorman Episode
Guide." Science Channel. Discovery Communications, LLC.,

     2010. Web. 7 Mar. 2010.


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