Monday, November 11, 2013

The Disappointment of "Man vs. Wild"

[Nyerges is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere” and 9 other books. He has taught practical survival skills and wild food identification to ordinary folks since 1974. He can be reached at]

For the first time, I watched an episode of “Man vs. Wild” with Bear Grylls.  Yes, I have heard about it for years, and yes I have seen young teenagers drooling over their Bear Grylls knives, and yes I even saw Mr. Grylls doing some silly act on the Jay Leno Show. But I had never watched the “Man vs. Wild” show.

I expected some great lessons on  survival, and relevant topics on how to protect myself and my family from the many threats within and without. I expected entertainment also; I mean, it’s television after all. But I naturally assumed that with all the popularity of this show, it would  have something useful, interesting, relevant, and imminently valuable to share.  Boy was I wrong!

During the one episode I watched, I don’t think I saw any useful survival skill that I would ever be in a position to employ. In fact, most of it would be categorized as what NOT  to do!  Furthermore, there was no sense of purpose or reason to what the man was doing. OK, he was dressed a bit too neat and clean and he was on this quest for water in the desert.

He jumps into a deep rocky hole looking for water.  Really?  A “survival expert” would never have jumped into such a chasm in his dangerous manner since a real expert could have seen there was no water in there merely by looking. But you do get to see him scramble out of the hole. OK, so he has athletic abilities, but not the wisdom to demonstrate what not to do.

He then dug a little hole in a dry stream, which is indeed a spot where you’d find water. I have done just that many time and dug deep enough to where water would seep in, clarify on its own, and then I could drink it. But Mr. Grylls instead proceeded to pack wet sand into the sock he just took off his foot and squeeze the sock to get out a few drips of water.  Really?  Again, a real expert would not do that, and  the bad thing about the show is that someone will leave thinking that is a bonafide survival skill.  He’s appealing to the lowest common denominator of thrills and grossness but he didn’t show real useful skills, and he could have, and he should have.

Folks, it only got worse.

Next, he is purportedly wandering along and found some debris in the desert.  Looks like some hang-glider crashed here, he tells us. Really? All the gear was relatively new – not worn out and weather worn like you’d expect to find in the desert. And lo and behold, he found just the right amount of debris to rig together a little three wheel cart and then the old parachute was used so the wind could pull him along. Very ingenious yes, but the debris was most certainly planted there, and the likelihood anyone ever actually fashioning such a vehicle from found objects is so remote as to be laughable. In fact, I began to ask my friend if the show was intended to be comedy.

There were numerous dangerous maneuvers when one could have take a safe route. He chooses to whirl around edges of a mountain on his supposedly-found parachute cord, rather than just hike the safe and sure way around. He squeezes through holes in rock when he could have safely gone around. And he quickly makes a bundle bow to shoot a rock tied to a string to a distant hill so he could hang on the rope to get to the distant mountain.  Really?  He would have done far better simply by tossing the rock.  But most of the purported skills seem faked.  I could not help but wonder how many naieve teenage boys will die when they try to duplicate what the “survival expert” on TV did.  And part of my point is, there was no point!  Grylls chooses danger when there are obviously many safe ways. You survive not by taking ridiculous and unnecessary risks, but by thinking your way through a situation and choosing the wisest route. This was bad TV, bad advice, and there was no real drama and no point to Mr. Grylls wanderings. Is the show really popular?  If Mr.Grylls is really the expert he is made out to be, why does he allow himself to be paid to demonstrate the antithesis of “survival”?

Before we turned off the pointless show, my viewing companion and I watched as Mr. Grylls took two aluminum tubes and purported to make a fire piston.  He stuck a little bit of some sort of tinder in one end, and hit one tube of aluminum into another and magically produced a glowing ember.  Folks, that was as phony as they come. If any of you have tried to get an  ember with a fire piston, you know that everything has to be “just-so,” and even then it will be very difficult. This was just one more staged aspect of a phony show that is not even good entertainment. 

We turned off the TV and found it far more enlightening and enriching to discuss Paul Campbell’s latest book on the Universal Tool Kit. 

And what of the hour or so I spent watching Bear Grylls? Well, as Alan Halcon likes to say, that’s an hour of my life I’ll never get back.