I’ve always been fascinated with survival skills. From an early age I’ve loved the outdoors and the thought of having to survive on my wits and whatever natural resources are available. I’ve got a copy of the SAS Survival Handbook, I’ve spent many a night camping in the wilds of Scotland, can light a fire in a variety of different ways and reckon I’d do pretty well if I found myself in stuck in the middle of nowhere and had to survive (it’s not really optional to be fair). But if I could choose someone to be stuck with to increase our collective chance of survival and not turn it into an ordeal, then who would I want with me?
Both of these gentlemen have popular TV series that show you how to survive in the wilds of far flung corners of the world. They show you how to navigate without a compass, how to find food where none seems available, how to light a fire, where to get fresh water, how to build a shelter and survive the night and pretty much all you need to know. The difference between them however is in the delivery style. These guys are polar opposites.
Ray Mears is a mellow, laid back sort of a guy. He’s from the south of England and grew up exploring the countryside where he learned an appreciation of his surroundings and wildlife. He’s a worldwide expert in bush-craft having spent most of his life learning his craft, has travelled the globe and even runs his own school where you too can learn from his vast experience. His programmes are always interesting and filled with the stories of the people whose skills he demonstrates and are always set to a relaxed and easy tone.
Bear Grylls on the other hand is a former soldier who spent 3 years serving with the SAS. He’s an expert climber and sky diver and has partaken in a string of extreme sports. Following a free fall accident when in the army he broke his back in 3 places and spent a long time recovering fearing he may never walk or climb again. However at the tender age of only 23 he became the youngest person to successfully climb Mount Everest. He’s been on numerous expeditions pushing the limits of human endurance and has starred in several TV shows pitting him against survival situations. I’m assured by my good lady that he’s a rather good looking guy too!
The TV Programmes
One of Ray Mears shows is quite relaxing to watch. The music in the background will tend to be of the chilled out acoustic guitar variety. He’ll find himself out in the woods somewhere, or the outback or some similar absolutely-miles-from-anywhere situation. He’ll take a bit of time to show you some of the local plant life, what you can eat and what you can put in soup. He’ll spend a while making a shelter – but it’ll be so well put together that it would look like a home from home. He’ll show you a neat way to start a fire then he’ll head out and get dinner.
To give an example from a recent show he caught a salmon. He then showed you how to fillet it, got some wood and made a smoking stand, spread the salmon meat out over it then rested it above the fire – slow fade out with acoustic guitar music. Fade back in to show Ray taking the cooked fish out from the fire – music fades out. He took a bite out of the salmon and clearly it was delicious. So delicious that he passed some to the camera man to eat. He then relaxed in his shelter, put his feet up and the camera panned around to show the beautiful scenery while he told a story of some survivors who’d been stuck there in years gone by. You’d give anything to swap places with him.
Bear Grylls takes a different approach in his shows. Firstly, he’ll be on a helicopter or a plane explaining that he was about to show you what it’s like to be a tourist stuck in some remote part of Mexico (for example). He’ll jump out out of the helicopter / plane and sky dive his way to the ground. From then on he’ll be going flat out in an adrenaline packed hour that’ll leave you exhausted just watching! It’s all about getting out as soon as possible and doing anything to survive. If he’s high up he’ll try to find the most direct way down (usually a cliff) and scramble his way down. There’s a huge waterfall? No problem – he’ll just leap off the top! Feeling hungry and need some energy? He’ll eat anything! From camel testicles to live scorpions (quite crunchy and taste like rotten cheese apparently) to various grubs he’ll describe as “like a small packet of puss”. You never see him enjoying a meal – he’s usually trying not to vomit.
In one memorable episode Bear actually caught himself a trout (that’s a very tasty freshwater fish). Now trout are delicious but rather than do the Ray Mears thing of cooking it he simply gutted it, washed it in the river and started eating it raw there and then. There ain’t no time to cook! Stuck on the wrong side of a Siberian river? Easy, just strip off, throw your kit over and dive in! Bear’s shows are great and you know that if you were in a tight situation with him, even including hostile people around trying to kill you, it’d be a safe bet he’d get you out alive. But after watching an episode my brother said he’d “hate to be the camera crew” because it would be completely knackering trying to keep up – he’s a machine!
Who To Choose?
So in a choice of which one of these guys you’d be stuck with, I guess it comes down to what sort of experience you want. With Ray you know there wouldn’t be any rush. You’d be chilled, calm and relaxed. You’d have plenty of time to watch sunsets, think about life and learn a thing or two about the world around you and how to survive in it. Even though there wouldn’t be any music, you’d swear that someone in the background was twanging an acoustic guitar…
But find yourself in a survival situation with Bear and prepare to be tested to the limits! The only time you get to lie down and rest is if you’re dead! You wouldn’t have time to think as you’d be battling to keep up with Bear as he bounds up a cliff face or a tree or over a river. At least you won’t have time to miss home or wonder how you found yourself in this mess – you’ll be completely single minded about getting out of there. While one version of yourself in style on gourmet cooked food with Ray Mears, the other is scraping the bark off a tree looking for grubs to eat or wrestling a stag to the ground to make it’s fur into a hang-glider. (Note: when it comes to wrestling stags, you’re probably best leaving Mr Grylls to that one).
So I think it comes down to a relaxing holiday or a flat out race-against-the-clock-once-in-a-lifetime endurance event. I’m still not sure so I’m thinking…
The TV Series Pitch (to be read in a husky voice)
Two men. Both expert survivors. Both at home in any environment, friendly or hostile. Both with the same equipment. Both with the same goal – stay alive and get home. Each will have a camera crew to track their progress. Watch the split-screen action and press your red button to go interactive and choose different camera angles, see action-replays of life-or-death situations and vote for your winner. Who will get out first? Who will lose the most weight? Whose clothes will be the most tattered and mud stained?
So how about it BBC? Does the show get commissioned? Come on – if you don’t do it, Discovery or somebody else will! Since I came up with the idea I’ll want Executive Producer credits…