The word “survivalist” used to be associated with groups of mostly American, mostly Christian millenarians who spent their weekends eagerly anticipating the End of Days. Since this was mostly imagined to be a thermonuclear war that would completely disrupt the local, regional, national and international social and political order and ravage the planet’s food supplies, young right-wing Christians were taught self-defence and self-sufficiency. With the advent of reality TV the survivalist really took off – there are now a host of programmes devoted to undergoing the extremes of nature. Tonight sees the start of a new show hosted by former Green Beret Myke Hawke and his English wife Ruth England that promises to be the most extreme example yet of the genre. Here are some of our favourite TV survivalists. Tell us some of yours.
Areas of expertise: Bushcraft. Ray takes particular interest in living off the land, using whatever comes to hand to build shelters, defend himself and eat. He is a keen student of the world’s indigenous people.
Appearance: Youthful – large but oddly podgy given that he seems to live exclusively on a diet of grasshoppers, earthworms and pine needles. But then no one has ever been able to convincingly explain how cows get so big by eating only salad, and Ray isn’t nearly as a big as a cow, although he is probably able to butcher one in less than an hour using only a sharpened twig.
Background: Thanks in part to his quiet but effortlessly firm and authoritative manner many of Ray’s fans suspected, in fact hoped, Ray must have had some pretty extensive and bloody experience working black ops for the shadier wings of the Foreign Office, perhaps as the commanding officer of an SAS platoon specialising in sabotage and turning camels into sleeping bags. Not so. Ray grew up modestly in Surrey where he learned to track foxes and build shelters from bits of bark and stuff. He gradually turned his hobby into a profession. Of course this could be a cover story. Certainly his interest in the French resistance, Italian and Yugoslavian partisans and the Norwegian heavy water saboteurs has many of us still hoping he’s a trained killer.
Gimmick: Ray doesn’t have any gimmicks. He doesn’t need any.
Amazing survivalist fact: In 2005 while filming in Wyoming, Ray’s helicopter crashed and the fuel tank ruptured. Ray, battered, bruised and covered in kerosene, managed to escape the wreckage and proceeded to rescue his colleagues. Rock hard!
Best advice: “Never leave your vehicle.” Although this only applies when you’re actually lost in the wilderness and not sitting in the car park at Waitrose. The reasons are simple, those who leave their vehicle (“NEVER LEAVE YOUR VEHICLE!”) often end up dying of thirst or being gang-raped by macaque monkeys.
Where can I see him? Everywhere. Ray has made series for the BBC and ITV and his programmes are constantly repeated on cable and satellite.
Area of expertise: Adventure. Bear is a broad-shouldered guy with broad interests – mountain climbing, circumnavigation, sky diving, martial arts, paramotoring. Nothing much is beyond Bear, providing it involves wide-open spaces and the ever-present risk of death. Once to avoid his body temperature falling to dangerously low levels Bear killed a deer, gutted it and slept inside its still warm carcass. It doesn’t get any more butch or adventurous than that. Bear and his worldwide army of fans regard life as one huge, hopefully near-fatal adventure.
Appearance: Rugged, weatherbeaten, tough, tall, dark and handsome. Bear’s actual name is Edward but you wouldn’t catch anyone calling him Ed or Teddy, not even his mum. He’s Bear to the bone. All in all he’d make a pretty good Mills & Boon love interest.
Background: Posh and alarmingly macho. Bear was climbing Mount Everest when many of his contemporaries were still learning how to roll a joint and unfasten a bra. He joined the army in his mid 20s and was one of only four out of a group of 180 to make it through special forces training. SAS? I should bloody coco.
Gimmick: Probably the whole swashbuckling British aristo thing. Bear was educated at Eton and is the son of Lady Grylls and the late Conservative politician Sir Michael Grylls, although to be fair he doesn’t overplay this. He’s just naturally dashing.
Amazing survivalist fact: In 1996 while training with his regiment in Zambia, Bear’s parachute ripped at 16,000 feet and he crashed to the ground, crushing three vertebrae. His doctor said he was lucky to walk again. Lucky to walk? He fell 16,000 feet for crying-out loud. It’s amazing he didn’t wind up looking like a 96 inch thin-crust pepperoni pizza. That’s breeding for you.
Best advice: “I should have cut the main parachute and gone to the reserve.” Well yes, Bear, you should have, but mercifully you’re so hard it didn’t matter.
Where can I see him? The mighty Bear’s gone global. He does adverts, he does documentaries, he writes books, you can pretty much see him anywhere. His latest TV blockbuster is called Worst Case Scenario, but you can be sure it’s going to be the best case scenario – once again he’ll be risking life and limb in some misbegotten hell hole as we lie on our sofas inhaling Cheetos.
Area of expertise: Living like paleolithic man. Show Lee a bit of uninhabited land and before you know it he’ll be buildings teepees, harvesting wild rice and skinning beavers.
Appearance: Looks a little like Matt Berninger from American art /gloom / indie rockers The National. Handsome but not intimidating.
Background: Music. I kid you not. Les completed the Music Industry Arts Program at Fanshawe College, in Ontario, Canada. Les still writes his own songs and plays in a David Bowie tribute band called Diamond Dogs. This may explain why his interest in survivalism is distinctly ecological as compared with many of his more militaristically inclined peers.
Gimmick: Like Ray Mears he doesn’t really have one. To his fans though he is the real deal, a true survivor who spends his time looking for water and scavenging for food. He is also mostly on his own as he does nearly all his own filming, while everyone else mentioned here is accompanied by a large well-equipped camera crew. This makes him objectively the biggest risk taker. Fan sites describe him as the polar opposite of Grylls who, they complain, spends his whole time “posing and showing off”. Well wouldn’t you if you were that dashing?
Amazing surivivalist fact: Long before Les went stratospheric with his Survivorman show he was a survivalist instructor. On one occasion, while scouting for locations in Northern Ontario, he admits he did everything wrong, the main thing being that he went off into the bush on his own (NEVER LEAVE YOUR VEHICLE!) and got lost. He also made other fairly elementary errors, omitting to tell anyone where he was going (silly given that the Canadian wilderness is so big) and not telling anyone when he was coming back – in other words, making absolutely sure that even if he were missed he could never ever be found. Things went surprisingly well until Les spotted a large female moose. Les decided to do a moose cow call, the female moose failed to react but a bull moose, who’d been hiding behind a tree and weighed roughly 1,500 pounds suddenly came charging at him. Oh, did I mention it was September, or as the Canadians prefer to call it, moose rutting season. Les spent hours being stalked by the insanely horny bull moose, who he said “had huge bulging red eyes and a vast…” Yes thank you Les, that’s quite enough of that.
Best advice: Avoid David Bowie’s albums after Let’s Dance and don’t pretend to be a lady moose when there are a load of spectacularly randy bull moose hanging out. Oh and take a camera crew – you’re a lot less likely to be killed.
Where can I see him? The award-winning Survivorman is easy to find on cable and satellite. You can also rent his documentary Snowshoes and Solitude, which includes him and his wife contracting Giardiasis, a particularly vicious and unforgiving form of diarrhoea also known as Beaver Fever. Great telly.
Area of expertise: Mykel is actually amazingly good at everything, but his real talent lies in killing things and eating the seemingly inedible. Myke (as he prefers to be known) and his wife Ruth England once appeared on Bravo’s Top Chef Masters tasting and judging food made solely from insects and arachnids (that’s spiders to you, wimp). Yummy.
Appearance: When not wearing his trademark bandana, Myke looks quite a bit like Viggo Mortensen in Eastern Promises, minus the Mafia tats obviously (although they wouldn’t look out of place). But it’s not so much what he looks like as what he sounds like. For Myke something’s not worth saying if it can’t be growled menacingly through clenched teeth.
Background: Totally bloody terrifying. A former officer in America’s elite Green Berets, he has fought rebels in Africa, gone up against Colombian drug cartels and blown stuff up in Azerbaijan. Furthermore he’s well-schooled in telecommunications, intelligence operations, remote medical management, combat search and rescue, guerrilla warfare, counter-terrorism, security tactics. Oh and he’s got a black belt in Judo. Nice.
Gimmick: Mykel takes his wife with him and growls menacingly at her every time she gets things wrong. Which she does. A lot. Cos she’s a girl.
Amazing survivalist fact: While filming with Dirty Sanchez he spent four days in the Mexican desert without food and drink. He should have died. But he didn’t. That’s because he’s Myke.
Best bit of advice: You can drink Myke’s urine. Actually I’d like to see you try, stick to your own.
Where can I see him? If Myke doesn’t want to be seen he won’t be. His special forces training has taught him to be invisible. He’ll just creep up behind you and slit your sorry throat. But you can see him tonight on the Discovery Channel, in Man Woman Wild taking the piss out of his wife.
First published online on Tuesday 26 July 2011 by Ben Marshall.