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February 26, 2016

The Most Fantastic Thing In the History of Things: "Dual Survival" on National Geographic Discovery Channel

I watched this all Tuesday night. I never even heard of it before. And I don't know how the channel wound up on.

The premise of the show -- which by the way, is in its seventh season; again, how did I not hear of this? -- is that they take two guys and drop them off in some wilderness situation. They have seventy two hours (give or take) to find water, shelter, and sometimes food and either find their way back to civilization or (if there is no civilization around, like if they're in the middle of the Sahara) construct a signal fire big enough to attract a passing plane or the like.

There are two guys (at least in the later season). Grady is a former Green Beret who's good at several things, including just being tough, abseiling, finding and making shelter, and "terrain association," which is looking at a map and figuring out if you're even on the map, by taking those two-dimensional contour lines and visualizing them as three-dimensional peaks and figuring if anywhere on the map would give you the vantage you're actually looking at. (This actually sounds very difficult to me.)

The other guy, Bill, is a "primitive survivalist," a survivalist geek, a guy who's spent almost his whole life figuring out how the first Indians lived on the land. Among his skills are... everything. The difference between Grady and Bill is the difference between a professional and a passionate geek: Grady learned things at his job. Bill learns things at his job (he teaches courses on this) and then all his other waking hours, because he gets almost sexually aroused when he discovers, say, a bit of shelf-fungus that can be used to tinder a fire.

It's the difference between the guy who does a good job 8-10 hours a day, and the guy who does a good job 8-10 hours a day, then goes back home and goes wandering in the woods for the rest of the night because it's how he gets his rocks off.

The sheer number of things this guy knows and can do is incredible. I did not know you could make your own fishing line with nothing resembling rope. You can. This guy sees a bunch of dogvein rushes (or reeds) and immediately says, "JACKPOT! The Indians have been using these reeds to make a primitive rope for 10,000 years."

Then he bends and folds the reeds until strips of them become rope-ish, then he ties them together, then he gets a bird's bones and makes a primitive hook, then... he just starts catching fish.

It's an interesting dynamic between the two guys, because Grady is all business and mission-oriented -- he just wants to satisfy the show's victory conditions and get out of the wilderness -- and meanwhile Bill is this shamanistic Indian-worshipping nature freak who takes the attitude that he doesn't have to rush out of the wilds, because he's at home there, and who knows, he might be able to discover some yama nuts that he really wants to taste.

One guy wants to get out of the woods, the other guy wants to take the scenic route and enjoy being lost in the woods.

The locations are incredible, from desert, to snowy 10,000 foot mountains in Idaho, to snowy mountains in Oregon (yeah, there are only so many environments), to a snow-capped peak in Chile which is actually a live volcano (!) which borders on the edge of a lush rainforest, a couple of thousand feet down the slopes.

I'm sure this show gets repetitive after a while -- heck, after five shows, I can see the repetition beginning to grow -- but it's pretty much the best reality tv show i've ever seen. It's just great to look at, it's loaded with cool moments and gee-whiz Survival Geek facts from Bill, and the dynamic between the two guys is straight out of a buddy action movie, the no-nonsense military guy and the emotional, somewhat-unfocused expert who knows everything.

Anyway, if you're at all interested in this sort of thing, check it out.

By the way: People are going to say "Oh this is just contrived survival scenarios; in a real survival scenario, you don't walk for miles, you just get shelter and water and a signaling method and you hunker down waiting for rescue."

I get that, and the show sometimes mentions that.

But this is a show, and they announce up front that they're throwing different scenarios at the guys. Some of these scenarios may be a little contrived. They don't mention that, but it's pretty implicit.

You can't make a show about a guy just making a shelter and waiting for three days to hear the sound of an airplane or car. You need them walking around. No, it's not real survival advice -- no one actually hunts for meat in a true survival situation, whereas Bill always treats these shows an an opportunity to hunt beaver or feral pig -- but the needs of making a show where people move around and do things trump perfect realism.

Update: People are saying the idea of staying with your broken down car or crashed airplane (to stay alive as long as possible with the least water or calories expended) and just waiting for help is not necessarily what you'd do in most situation, but only some.


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posted by Ace at 02:47 PM

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