Last year, I discovered and immediately got hooked on a Discovery Channel
show called I Shouldn't Be Alive. It's a one-hour documentary-type
program that features reenactments of real-life survival situations,
interspersed with interviews from the actual survivors themselves. The
thing I love the best about this show, aside from the thrilling drama
of watching people try to live through the most unbelievable situations,
is the fact the real-life survivors are a part of each episode from
the very beginning, thus eliminating the stress that might otherwise
go along with watching a program like this. Every five minutes, I exclaim
in awe, "Oh my god, that guy should NOT be ALIVE!" and then
I can revel in my amazement instead of spending the next sixty minutes
wringing my hands and worrying about how his kids are going to manage
growing up with a father who is lying dead at the bottom of a ravine in Utah where
a bunch of mutant bugs are slowly devouring him from the inside out.
Instead, I already know he will NOT die in that ravine covered by those insects. He may lose
a limb or two, but, thank our lucky stars,
his kids will have their father home again soon. Whew.
Aside from the sheer entertainment value of a show like this, the truly handy and useful thing about I Shouldn't is that
it's introduced me to a variety of locations I now know better than
to visit. In fact, about three episodes into the first season,
I started keeping a list of the places where these various horrific
events have taken place. It's titled, subtly, "Places I Will Never
Go Because, While I Love the Show, I Never Actually Want to Be the Star
of an Episode of I Shouldn't Be Alive." It's handy to have a
list like this -- I keep mine in my wallet, so that when it comes time
to book a trip for a vacation, I know exactly where NOT to go, which
helps narrow down the possibilities. My list at the moment includes
the Sea of Cortez, which is that little body of water in between Mexico and Baja
-- the setting of more than one episode of I Shouldn't Be Alive,
which makes it a no-brainer for the "DO NOT GO HERE -- NO, LIKE,
I MEAN, EVER" list. It's got lots of sharks and rocky, hot
islands with no food or water. Bad. Also on the list is a place I've
noted simply as "the middle of nowhere in Alaska." Bears,
frostbite, etc. And then there's the Moab Desert in Utah, which is a
great place to get stuck between two rocks and find yourself faced with
a very unpleasant decision -- do I die, or do I saw off my own arm with
my pen knife? Moab Desert: check!
And recently (this past weekend, in fact), I added "Rivers in Africa" and "Anywhere
with crocodiles" to the list. In order to make sure I don't
inadvertently end up in either of those places, however, I think I need to spend some
time on the Internet getting a bit more specific. It would be pretty
horrible if I booked a trip on a whim and didn't find out
until I GOT there that the destination was actually both a river in
Africa AND a place with crocodiles. That's no way to start a vacation.
As my close family and friends know, one of my greatest talents (in fact, one might argue
it's really my only talent) is my knack for irrational fear and worry.
So, shows like I Shouldn't Be Alive are really a natural fit
for me. It only makes sense, therefore, that after I started to get
into I Shouldn't, I began to pick through the Discovery Channel's other survival
show offerings, which is how I stumbled across two other terrific shows,
Survivorman starring Les Stroud, and Man vs. Wild,
starring Bear Grylls.
In some ways, these two shows are even better for me and my irrational
talents than I Shouldn't, because while I Shouldn't is
useful in educating me on places to avoid ever going, Survivorman
and Man vs. Wild educate me on what to do if I accidentally end
up in one of those places anyway. Let's say, for example, that my train from
Seattle, Washington to the extremely safe, crocodile- and (as far as I know,
anyway) African-river-free town of Salem, Oregon, is hijacked by Al Qaeda
and rerouted to "the middle of nowhere in Alaska." As we pull
into "the middle of nowhere in Alaska," I happen to take out
my wallet to check my list and find that very phrase scribbled right there between
"Inside a volcano on Hawaii's Big Island" and "The Amazonian Rainforest or
anywhere else that has ants that eat people." Holy frijoles, Batman! But I
can't stay on the train -- not while these Al Qaeda terrorists are planning
to blow us all to smithereens. So, I have no choice -- I have to escape!
Now, here I am, stranded in "the middle of nowhere in Alaska"
(crap!) with no supplies and no shelter. For an ordinary human, danger!
For a fan of Man vs. Wild and Survivorman, well, also:
danger! However, at least I know how to glissade down a mountain (in theory, anyway), catch
a salmon with my bare hands and consume it raw (my favorite part: when the
guts shoot out the gills as you bite into the side of the fish -- tasty AND fun to eat!),
keep my fire hot while I go in search of food by sticking chunks of
bear poop in it (they burn like coals, slow and hot, and then you can
use them to restart the flames when you get back), and build a shelter
out of snow.
Take that, Al Qaeda terrorists! You may take our lives, but you'll
never take. . . our FREEDOM. . . to touch grizzly poop with our bare
hands and then warm ourselves over it!
Even better is the fact I have not only learned useful skills on both
Les's and Bear's shows, but I have been able to learn those useful skills
while drooling incessantly over both these outdoorsmans' devilishly-handsome
good looks. Cute. Seriously. Seriously cute, in fact. And smart. A deadly
combination, as well you all know. Even better, they appear to be infinitely
patient as well, because these guys do NOT have to suffer through the
things they suffer through. They're doing it for us. And let me tell
you people right now, I love you all dearly, I truly do, but I would
not (NOT!) spend six hours setting rabbit snares in the freezing cold
just so I could teach YOU exactly how to do it. Especially not if, as
is so often the case on these shows, I hadn't had anything to eat for
In fact, I'd never make it to the forty-eight hour mark to begin with. I'd get about ten hours in, my stomach
would growl, and I'd think to myself, "Hmmm, I COULD set up a rabbit snare and then wait for a rabbit to
get trapped in it so I could peel its fur off over its head like it was a fluffy angora sweater (which it kind of
is, if you think about it), slowly roast it over a fire I started using bear poop, and then eat it off a dirty stick. . ."
"Orrrr, I could call the helicopter in right now and go get a pizza."
You know -- YOU SO KNOW -- that I would be on that chopper faster than you could say, "Never drink water
that has a dead squirrel floating in it" (another handy tip I learned from Bear Grylls).
Actually, copping out and going for a pizza is really only something
Bear Grylls can do (though he never, ever would, of course). Though
their two shows are similar, there is one MAJOR difference between them,
and that is that Bear has a film crew with him (who, I would presume,
at least packed a bottle of water and some fruit snacks in case of emergency).
Les Stroud, on the other hand, is out there completely alone. He's packing
a few portable cameras and a harmonica, and that's about it. When Les
climbs up or down a mountain or cliff face, he has to climb each section
of it TWICE -- once to place the cameras along the way, and then again
to actually capture himself on film.
And what I love most about Les are the times when he gets so tired
he turns to the camera and says, in effect, "I ain't climbing out of
this crazy-steep ravine twice for you people, so you'll just have to
take my word for the fact it is CRAZY-STEEP." Then he picks up his stuff
and goes stomping off out of the frame (a crew later comes in to retrieve
any cameras or gear he left behind).
Les, for that alone I would be mad about you. But you throw in the
fact you play the harmonica at night to keep yourself from feeling lonely
and scared, and well, hell, let's start procreating right now instead
of getting to know each better first. I need to have your kids ASAP!
But hey, you can't go smackin' on Bear Grylls for using a film crew
instead of going au natural like Les because there are some real benefits
to his method (of madness). Les will sometimes try something a normal
human would assess as "stupid," like the time he stranded himself in,
yep, you guessed it, "the middle of nowhere in Alaska," and decided
to pretend he'd broken his arm so we viewers could learn how to survive
with only one working hand. I said to myself at the time, "Les, that's
about eight kinds of dumb right there," but he did it anyway. And it
turned out I was right, because about thirty-six-hours-and-still-no-food
later, he was whipping the sling off his arm saying, "Okay, had enough
of THAT bull. You break your arm when you crash your plane up here,
YOU ARE ON YOUR OWN."
However, for the most part, Les doesn't do things that are too crazy.
He doesn't take a lot of unnecessary risks just to show us how taking-unnecessary-risks
is done. His advice tends to be extremely practical and focus on things
that most average humans stuck in the woods could probably do.
Because Bear has a film crew with him, though, and thus, someone to
call 911 should he fall and break his neck, he's able to go a little
bit more nuts and try things a normal human would never be crazy enough
to attempt. For example, once while in the Moab Desert of Utah (number
two on my list of places never to go) Bear was navigating through a
little river that ran through some of the rocky mountain-like things
in the area. He was surrounded on all sides by 100-foot-high, completely
smooth-faced cliffs and he came around a corner and suddenly found himself
blocked by a bunch of debris left by a flash flood.
Now, a normal person would say, "Whelp, guess I'll turn around
and go back the way I came." Bear, on the other hand, looked at
the debris and said into the camera, "Sometimes these piles of
debris only go back a few feet -- sometimes they go back for meters
and meters. If you try to swim under them, you might find yourself stuck
underneath when you get so far in that you run out of air before you
get to the other side. So, swimming underneath something like this is
never a very good idea. . . Let's go for it!" Then he holds his
nose and dives under. He gets about halfway through before frantically
motioning to the cameraman to turn around. The two of them reverse and
swim back out to the place they started from. Instead of being deterred,
though, Bear says, "I think I was REALLY close to getting out on
the other side, so I'm going to take a deeper breath and try again."
I might have been imagining it, but I'm pretty sure that at this point,
I heard the cameraman mutter, "Oh, fer crissakes!" under his
breath. In any case, under they go again and then the next thing you
know, they're up on the other side.
Victory! Except -- whoops! On the other side of the debris pile is
not more river, but instead another 100-foot-high cliff face. So, now
Bear's only option is to scale the 100 foot wall or swim BACK under
the pile of debris. Most normal humans would just swim back under the
debris, right? But not Bear -- he decides he'll climb up the smooth
cliff face instead. So he does that thing where you shimmy up a narrow
space by pressing your back against one side and your feet against the
other. When he gets about halfway up, he pauses to pop an egg from a
nest he finds there into his mouth -- raw, nummy! And then he continues
to the top.
Now, that's CRAZY, people. One false move and he would've surely fallen
to his death! Bear also likes to jump into icy water for the audience
so he can show them how NOT to die from hypothermia later. And once
he dove right into quicksand so he could demonstrate how to get out.
But my favorite daring Bear moment had to have been in last week's episode,
when he was stuck in the Sierra Nevadas and saw a wild horse grazing
in a field. He decided, "Hey, if I can tame this wild beast, I
can ride it out of the mountains back to civilization!" So, he
spent an hour weaving together some reeds to make a rope, then started
to approach the horse. He talked calmly to it for a little while, then
got closer and touched it gently on the neck. And then, my favorite
part: he gave it a sweet little kiss on the cheek! It seems -- can it
be? -- that Bear is actually the Horse Whisperer in disguise! Good lord,
this man can do ANYTHING!
But then the moment of truth arrived and he grabbed the horse, threw
his rope around its neck, and then leapt into the air. For one magical
moment, it looked like he might really make it. But then the horse bucked
and Bear went flying into the grass head-first. Also an excellent way
to die, incidentally. So much for wooing wild horses with sweet li'l
kisses. (Though, for the record, Bear, that would've totally worked
on me. Clearly, that horse suffers from major intimacy issues.)
In any case, would a normal person have tried that? Hell no! Would
Les Stroud have tried that? Hell no! But because Bear has some back-up
support in the form of his cameramen and their satellite phones, he's
able to take utterly obscene risks that would turn normal people into
broken piles of squishy flesh at the far-bottoms of tall things -- and
he almost never, ever fails.
So, yes, both shows are about a guy dropped in the middle of nowhere
who shows the viewers how to survive in the most insanely dangerous
places in the world. Both teach you how to make fires with of rocks
and sticks, catch rabbits with wire, keep yourself from freezing to
death, find water, make shelter, and essentially, live through some
of the most miserable days of your life. But they're very
different programs. Les's show, Survivorman, is the far more
practical of the two, simply because he's not going to risk his neck
showing us how to scale a rock face when he could just as easily turn
around and go back the way he came. But Bear's show is more entertaining,
in a somewhat ridiculous way, simply because the man is utterly bonkers
and seems to thoroughly, THOROUGHLY enjoy nearly getting himself killed.
Combine these two with my favorite show, I Shouldn't Be Alive,
and what you have is a delightful trifecta of education and entertainment.
I have learned so much from these three shows that, at the very least,
I think I might not panic if I ever found myself lost in the woods.
I might know just enough to keep myself alive for a few extra days.
And this is a very, very comforting thing to assume about yourself --
that you might be able to keep it together long enough to get back out.
Especially since one just never knows when Al Qaeda might turn up on
the Amtrak Cascades. They don't check ID or ANYTHING at the Amtrak station,
after all. Osama bin Laden himself would get waved right on by the conductor.
When they say "All aboard!" they really seem to mean "ALL
aboard!" But now that I know how to use a beer can and a chocolate
bar to make a fire (learn
how yourself!), I have faith that I will be able to survive whatever
Mother Nature throws my way.
As long as there are no crocodiles or man-eating ants involved. Mother Nature throws them beasties my way and I'm calling the chopper to go get a pizza STAT.
Survivorman is currently on hiatus, but you can catch all-new episodes of Man vs. Wild and I Shouldn't Be Alive on the Discovery Channel, Friday nights starting at 9pm. Don't miss 'em!
And now, as my holiday gift to you (though the official holiday write-up
will be coming out next week, with my annual "Best of the Year"
movie and book feature, so keep an eye out for it!), here is my list
of places never to travel to. Clip it out and put it in your wallet
-- it just might save your life! Damn you, Al Qaeda! DAMMMMN YOUUUUU!
MacGyver Factor Score: 96.38473%. One thing I think about
every time I see either Les or Bear on one or the other of their
programs is that these stunts they keep pulling over and over
(just throwing themselves out into the wild for a week at a time
with no food and water or other supplies) simply cannot be good
for their bodies. They're out there constantly starving themselves,
dehydrating their brains, and eating all KINDS of things rational
human beings just should not be eating. When they get home, they
must absolutely REEK (I mean, once, while in the Moab Desert,
Bear even peed on his tee-shirt before wrapping it around his
head because the extra moisture would help keep him cool -- Raise
your hand if ew!). And their TEETH! They must have absolutely
horrible dental problems, from spending weeks and weeks without
brushing OR flossing. My god, the horror!
So, points off because I suspect they will both die young and
toothless, which isn't exactly a great quality in a Boyfriend,
you know what I mean? Points back for Bear, though, because he
has the kind of hands I find irresistibly sexy (strong but small
and square-ish). And points back for Les because, as I said, there's
just nothing more attractive than a man with a harmonica. You
and me, Les -- any ol' day of the week! But especially Friday
nights in front of my television set from the safety, security,
and warmth of my living room sofa.