Art of survival

Last Updated 27 November 2010, 10:41 IST

Global terrorism and frequent natural disasters have done something for television which no good public relations firm could have managed — they have gathered TRPs for survival shows.  Television shows are now teaching us how to survive a plane hijack, a terrorist strike,  a jungle, a fire in a building and — believe it or not — even an attack by aliens.

There are some real adventurers out there giving us these lessons. In Survivorman, Canadian filmmaker and survival expert Les Stroud teaches us how to survive for up to a week in remote locales of the world.

He lives alone during these adventures and operates his own cameras. In Surviving Disaster, former Navy Seal Cade Courtley demonstrates the best way to survive a series of natural and man-made ordeals including — an earthquake, shark attack, plane crash, hostage crisis and deadly tsunami. In the last episode, he taught us how to stun hijackers by hitting them with laptops, break open the cockpit door using a food trolley as a battering ram and land a plane safely after the pilot had been shot. Honestly!

In Man vs Wild as well as Worst Case Scenario, a new series on Discovery, Special Forces guy Bear Grylls takes on even bigger challenges as he throws himself into the harshest of situations and comes out of them using his vast knowledge of life-saving techniques.

Easy to believe that if the world were struck by nuclear disaster, big bang number two or even an attack from Mars, the last men left standing would be these gods of adventure. According to Bear Grylls, the reason he goes on adventurous trips in Man vs Wild and now, in his new series Worst Case Scenario is because that’s what he always did. “My dad and I used to do a lot of camping and survival stuff together.”

He says his first two memories are of getting stuck in quicksand in a harbour at low tide in Isle of Wight (where he was brought up) and of shooting a little bird with a bow and arrow and then feeling guilty, burying it and giving it a proper funeral. “That was the world I grew up in,” he says “and then my job through the Special Forces was teaching a lot of the combat survival, climbing and parachuting.  So it’s what I’ve always done.”

Bear, whose show has faced criticism that it is fake, though it is the most highly watched show across the world on Discovery, insists that he risks his life for real. “I take real risks. The risks are the central part of my job. In one of the episodes, I wrestled and killed a big alligator in the swamps of Louisiana. In another, I dealt with big six-foot pit viper. I was also attacked by a load of bees and my face blew up like a balloon and I couldn’t see,” he says.  

 Bear also broke his spine in three places in a parachuting accident over southern Africa. After this, he went on to climb Mount Everest and became the youngest climber (23 years) to do a summit. So what is his survival mantra? “Adventure is what I love. It’s where I come alive and I think just because in life you have a bit of a knock and a setback, it doesn’t mean we should give up. I try to be really careful. I think things through and plan them well. I have developed a good instinct over the years of where danger comes from and what I need to watch out for,” he says.

Television has made people like him and Les Stroud international heroes. The Man vs Wild show goes out to over 1 billion people worldwide through Discovery Channel, so how does he feel about that? “I never think of that. I just literally  think of filming with the cameraman and telling him what to do and then getting home. But, it is an amazing privilege really. And I always meet people who are better skydivers, and better climbers, and better survivors and I think I feel very lucky to do all of this.”

During the videotaping of Survivorman, Stroud just carries his clothes, camera equipment, his harmonica, a multi-tool, and an emergency satellite phone for emergencies. He has said that often it does not work and he is left alone to face  the odds.

As for us survival show fans, the odds are that we will all die in our beds in a suburb of some modern city. Do we seriously think we might someday have to survive with nothing but a knife in the jungles of Indonesia? Or that we would have to bite into a live snake for protein? Of course,  we don’t.

But when someone like

Bear Grylls takes a back leap into a river from a 40-foot cliff, we hold our breath and watch. Because, we are suckers for heroes like that.

(Published 27 November 2010, 10:41 IST)

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