Into The Wild

By Chandra Orr

February 1, 2008 6 min read


'Man vs. Wild' and 'Survivorman' offer good advice

By Chandra Orr

Copley News Service

Stranded out in the wild, how would you fare?

Each week, Discovery Channel viewers tune in to see Bear Grylls and Les Stroud take on Mother Nature and offer survival advice on everything from staying cool in the Kalahari Desert to staying dry and warm in icy Labrador.

Both men strand themselves in rugged, inhospitable regions, put their skills and experience to the test and film the adventure that unfolds. The results air as "Man vs. Wild" and "Survivorman."

But what sets them apart? A side-by-side comparison on the two storied outdoorsmen and their hit shows:


In "Man vs. Wild," British-born Bear Grylls relays the wisdom he acquired during a three-year stint with the special-forces unit of the British army and his subsequent record-breaking endeavors. After becoming the youngest British climber to summit and descend Mount Everest, he went on to circumnavigate the United Kingdom on jet skis, cross the frozen North Atlantic Ocean in an inflatable boat, host a dinner party at a table suspended below a hot air balloon at 24,500 feet and fly over Mount Everest in a powered paraglider.

In "Survivorman," Canadian Les Stroud shows off the skills he honed while living in the remote boreal forests of northern Ontario. For one year, the former canoe guide and wilderness instructor lived off the land with only a stone ax and traditional bush survival skills - no tent, no matches, no metal tools - just a camera. The experience resulted in a one-hour documentary called "Snowshoes and Solitude."


Grylls takes only a few basic tools and a camera crew, who on occasion assist with time-consuming efforts like constructing shelters or braiding rope from native plants. He relies on tools only when necessary, instead offering tips and techniques for using what nature provides. While stranded on an uninhabited island in the Pacific Ocean, for example, he proves that, yes, you really can make a sea-worthy raft using natural elements.

Stroud films his own episode, which means no camera crew. He takes only a multitool, his beloved harmonica and items one might have on hand in a similar real-life survival situation. In Utah's desolate canyon lands, for example, he had a broken mountain bike and an old energy bar, which he ultimately chose to use as rat bait rather than eat.


(Advice that just might save your life.)

While stranded in the Everglades, Grylls demonstrated how to determine the direction of the current in a seemingly still body of water. Simply tie a water bottle to a tree, let it float in the water and check back in half and hour. The direction the canteen points to is downstream. Follow the current long enough and you're bound to find a way out.

During a week spent trudging through the African desert, Stroud showed how to transform an empty coffee can into a scorpion trap. Simply bury the can into the sand so that the opening is flush with ground level and wait. By morning some hapless invertebrate will likely have fallen in. Viola! Breakfast is served.


(More advice that just might save your life.)

When it comes to turning stomachs, there is no shortage of material between these two.

Whether snacking on long horn beetles in the Panamanian jungle - yes, they are edible - or eagerly devouring live, flailing fish, some of Bear's best moments come during meal time. Despite starvation-level hunger pangs, he can't quite convince us that those wild edibles are anything less than repulsive. Grimacing with every horrible bite, we quickly learn why it's called "survival" - and why he makes the big bucks.

While Les makes no bones about the unsavory snacking options, his colorful step-by-step accounts of blistered feet and infected toes are plenty vivid. On more than one occasion, viewers have been treated to close-ups of his grimy, cracked feet and advice on warding off fungal infections (bask your feet in the smoke of burning, punky wood). Boredom may play a part in his decision to share every grueling moment with the viewers. After all he is alone with his camera for a full week at a time.


(Advice that may or may not save your life.)

Despite being happily married with two young boys, Bear has garnered quite a following with the female viewers. It's no secret why - Bear is known for baring his lanky physique. Neither he nor his female fans need an excuse for the shirt to come off. Whether the lack of clothing will help in a survival situation is still up for debate, but he delivers plenty of cautionary tales and helpful hints while sans shirt.

Les, too, has no problem getting comfortable in front of the camera, and we frequently find him topless in the most unlikely situations. Whether he's mushing a dog sled or climbing glaciers, it seems cold weather is perfect occasion for stripping down. According to Les, sweating under multiple layers of clothing in too-cold conditions is the perfect recipe for hypothermia.

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