Over the past few years, the number of survival-related TV Shows has grown by leaps and bounds. On the one hand, you have the survivalist shows like Alone, Dual Survival, and Doomsday Preppers. And on the other hand, you have doomsday shows like The Strain, Falling Skies, and of course, The Walking Dead.
Perhaps it’s because of a growing interest in survivalism, or perhaps the shows themselves are what’s driving interest in the subject. Either way, a lot of crazy things happen in survival shows, many of which would never really happen.
We have to realize that these shows were created by Hollywood, and as such, they’re going to be sensationalized. For example, hosts like Bear Grylls look for the worst situations possible and make things intentionally hard. But while that makes for a good show, in a real survival situation where there isn’t a support crew standing by, some of those things could easily get people killed.
Let me warn you right now: if the only survival training you get is from watching these shows, you’re in trouble. While they do use real survival skills on them, those skills aren’t necessarily the ones you want to use.
It might be possible to start a fire with friction and it’s even a good idea to learn how; but picking a friction method for starting your fire when there are easier methods available is a waste of energy. Pick something that will work without wearing you out.
The list of errors in these shows is endless; even shows which feature experienced survival instructors. But that’s Hollywood for you. Technical accuracy is eschewed for the sake of entertainment value. So what are some of the most common mistakes they make?
1. Not Being Prepared
Going into the wilderness without at least a basic survival kit is foolish. I haven’t been in the woods without one for at least 40 years. You never know when you might be thrust into a survival situation, so you need to have the right equipment and supplies with you at all times.
A good EDC/survival kit will make it much easier to survive, yet you never see these guys go out in the wilderness properly prepared. I don’t care if you’re going hunting, fishing, or just going for a Sunday afternoon drive, you should have some basic gear with you.
One thing that pretty much all survival instructors like to do is show off their fire-starting methods. I think most of them collect those methods just so they can impress people. But just because you can start a fire by rubbing two sticks together doesn’t mean it’s good idea.
Why not do it by flicking your Bic lighter? You can probably get 1,000 fires out of that Bic if you’re careful with it.
2. Not Conserving Their Energy
In most survival and doomsday shows, people do a lot of walking. There’s nothing wrong with a good walk, but it burns up energy. If you can avoid burning that energy, then your body can use it to produce heat and keep you alive. Since hypothermia is the biggest killer in the wild, saving energy that your body can use to create heat is an important part of your survival strategy.
Granted, a certain amount of walking is a necessary part of survival. But that doesn’t mean you should just walk all day in hopes of stumbling upon extra supplies. Nor does it mean finding the hard way of doing something when there’s an easier way available. But then, if you didn’t bring along that survival kit, you might have no choice.
3. Drinking Unpurified Water
Many of the most dangerous critters in nature require a microscope to see. They are swimming around in our water supplies, just waiting for a chance to get into our bodies. These microscopic pathogens can be found anywhere, even in the cleanest and clearest mountain streams.
Yet you see people drinking water from those mountain streams, and other untested sources, all the time. This drives me crazy because all they have to do is boil the water to make it safe to drink. But way too many of them drink unpurified water anyway, playing Russian Roulette with their health.
4. Eating Untested Foods
Not everything you can catch or find is edible. Some types of plants, animals, fish, and shellfish are poisonous. Yet I’ve seen people eat all sorts of things on survival shows, sometimes raw. While a good survival instructor should know what’s edible and what’s not, the people on shows like “Survivor” aren’t survival instructors. They have no idea what is safe to eat and what isn’t.
There is a process to go through when trying new foods. It’s called the universal edibility test. This allows a stepped exposure to the food source, giving your body a chance to let you know if something is poisonous, before it gets to the point where it will kill you. Yet I have never seen anyone talk about that test on one of those shows. Even people who love these shows usually haven’t heard of it.
By the way, the average person can go quite a while without eating. Yet the average survival show makes it look like you have to find food the first day or you’re not going to make it. If you dumped me off in the woods for a week and told me to survive, I wouldn’t even bother worrying about food.
A week is much less than the reserves my body has stored up. Instead, I’d first focus on fire and shelter (see #7).
5. Not Being in Shape
Good physical conditioning plays an important part in any survival scenario. Not only does survival require a lot of strength and stamina, but a body that is in good shape is much more resilient to the hardships of survival.
The average American, however, is far from being in shape. In fact, the average American is overweight. We see this all the time in survival shows where people who put themselves in situations they aren’t physically ready for. When you compare them to their survival instructors, the contrast is obvious.
If you don’t go walking on a regular basis, then suddenly you have to spend hours trekking through the wilderness, the next day your legs will be so sore you’ll barely be able to walk. At a minimum, you should go for a half hour walk every day if you want to be ready for a disaster.
6. Not Understanding Teamwork
Working as a team is essential to survival, yet you rarely see any real teamwork in survival shows. Part of that is caused by the format of the show, but another part is the people themselves. They never sit down and organize themselves, but instead, start forming cliques.
Leaders usually emerge simply because they are the bossiest or most talkative in the group.
7. Forgetting Their Priorities
Survival has a very specific set of priorities. You have to take care of the most important things first or you’re not going to make it. Yet many people focus on things that really aren’t that important, rather than those that are. The most glaring example of this is when people put food before fire and shelter.
Fire and shelter together are what help us maintain our body heat. That’s the number one survival priority. But our stomachs tend to complain pretty loudly when they aren’t filled. So people listen to that complaining and look for food before they build shelter and start a fire. That’s setting themselves up for a lot of trouble, even putting themselves in a dangerous situation.
If you’re going to survive in any wilderness situation, you have to keep your priorities straight. You have to develop a plan and you have to complete that plan. Anything less puts you in danger.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t watch survival and doomsday shows. I myself really like several of them. But you should take everything you see with a grain of salt. These shows aren’t meant to educate; they’re meant to entertain. The only show you could probably learn a lot from is Survivorman, but other than that they’re all just for fun.
If you really want to learn survival skills, then read books and articles, but most importantly, get out there and practice!
If you love these kinds of shows, check out our list of the 20 best survivalist shows on Netflix.