“Cold…wind…lack of wild edibles…it’s a tougher one. The skies and temperatures…grey skies, very little blue, can play on the psyche.” –Les Stroud
In the third season of Survivorman, Les Stroud is dropped off at Pond Inlet in Baffin Island, located in one of the furthest reaches of Canada. Up here during the summer, the sun never sets, and Stroud is faced with the challenges of surviving in an inhospitable land battered by wind and waves. The blustery weather becomes especially wearing, and during the week, the overcast skies and lack of food begins taking an emotional toll on Stroud, on top of a physical toll. However, when Stroud decides to head inland and gather wild edibles and other plants, he realises he’s forgotten something at his campsite. Returning to retrieve it, he notices a school of Arctic Char swimming by, and in the moment, immediately gets a fishing line into the water. Moments later, his demeanor is completely changed – with four large Arctic Char in tow, Stroud is energetic, animated and ecstatic his situation has suddenly changed so dramatically. The resulting fish feast becomes Stroud’s favourite Survivorman moment, and in a Director’s Commentary video, Stroud comments on how this particular food moment even surpassed the feast he had on the Cook Islands. Stroud’s excitement is tangible, and viewers smile right alongside Stroud as he cleans the fish, enjoys fresh roe and fish, and cooks up the fish to enjoy later. In the space of moments, Stroud’s fortunes have completely turned around, showing how quickly circumstances can change, and moreover, how important it is to maintain a positive mindset during difficult times, and how one should not be complacent even when things begin turning around. At one point, Stroud comments on how he can use some of the entrails from the Arctic Char to potentially catch some seagulls and add to his food reserves. While Stroud is rewarded with a delicious meal, viewers are treated to loving closeups of Stroud preparing and cooking the Arctic Char. In the aftermath of this pivotal moment, Stroud continues to explore inland and retrieves a variety of plants that provide nutrition and kindling, taking advantage of a good situation to improve things even further; as a result, when a rainstorm sweeps into the area, Stroud ends up enjoying his Arctic Char as it rains, does stretching exercises to keep the blood flowing, and even makes a qulliq oil lamp with a stone, old sock and the remainder of his whale blubber. Only when the storm worsens, does Stroud call things in and prepare to head back to the settlement. By this point in Survivorman, Les Stroud has found his rhythm, allowing his experience and knowledge to feed into his decision-making process while at the same time, acknowledging to viewers that the variability of survival means that one often has to make the most of the hand they are given.
The Arctic Tundra episode represents Survivorman at its finest – while it is undeniable that Les Stroud is an incredibly skilled outdoorsman with years of survival knowledge under his belt, being placed in the wind-swept, desolate hills of the Pond Inlet area of Baffin Island puts his skillset to the test. Out here, there is no substantial vegetation to craft shelters from, and food is scarce, being difficult to gather and hunt outside of a small window of time in the year. Weather can change at the drop of a hat, and during the episode, Stroud remarks on several occasions that the wind prevents him from travelling to a more favourable spot, keeps him from exploring his surroundings, et cetera. Stroud’s able to capitalise on his skills to make a difficult situation manageable, moving to a better spot on his canoe and whipping up a surprisingly sturdy shelter using old steel drums found on the beach, but has no luck in luring in seagulls for food. As the weather becomes increasingly gray, Stroud comments on the conditions and how they can be incredibly demoralising even when one is armed with a vast collection of skill and experience. Here in the Arctic Tundra, Stroud’s situation speaks to how there are cases where a little luck is required. However, while one might interpret this as being how luck is necessary, the opposite is true: if one has the skill, then they have the means to capitalise when luck shows up. There is no substitute for skill, and this is what makes Stroud’s experience in Baffin Island so inspiring – even when things appear to bottom out, Stroud continues to count on and share his knowledge, with the end result that he is able to net a total of four Arctic Char. In any other show, such a moment would be scripted, but what makes Survivorman especially rewarding is the fact that everything that happens occurs naturally. In some episodes, Stroud is faced with exceedingly challenging scenarios: at Kalahari, Stroud grappled with trying to fend off heat stroke, and in other episodes, he’s unable to secure food. Having seen these previous episodes, it was rewarding to see luck on Stroud’s side and show what can happen in a survival situation when the stars line up, and one possesses the skill to capitalise on the opportunity. Seeing Les Stroud cooking and enjoying the Arctic Char, in his words, “fresh sushi”, was so visceral, it felt as though I’d been the one who had caught that fish, and therein lies the main joy of watching Survivorman. In all episodes, I’m especially fond of moments where Stroud finds food, and whether it’s something like the Witchetty grub or scorpions, to a roast bird and deer remains, Stroud has a talent for making anything look good. Stroud has previously mentioned that in a survival situation, one takes what they can get, and there’s no room for dramatisation: it’s all about getting the nutrients down. This has increased my appreciation for the food, but Survivorman actually had another, even more profound impact on how I conduct myself that influences how I do things even to this day.
Screenshots and Commentary
- My story with Survivorman is an extensive one: I came upon the series while travelling. In 2010, I was in China on a tour of Beijing and Shanghai, and one evening, we’d stopped over in Hanzghou. A major thunderstorm had rolled into the region after dinner, and so, rather than explore the neighbourhood around the hotel, we decided to retire to our quarters and take it easy. I began channel surfing, and came upon a Chinese dub of Survivorman as he was preparing a turtle in the Georgian Swamps. My curiosity was piqued, and upon returning home, I began following the series as it aired on Discovery Canada.
- While Survivorman remained little more than a curiosity at that point, and I mainly watched the show to see Les Stroud’s reactions to finding water, enjoying survival food or successfully lighting a fire with unorthodox means, by the time the MCAT rolled around two summers later, Survivorman had become a sort of panacea for the stress I was facing: watching Stroud survive off the land and making do with the hand he was dealt reminded me that my own challenges weren’t quite as demanding, but moreover, a similar mentality for survival would be essential in getting through a difficult time.
- By that point in time, I’d already caught up with all of the Survivorman episodes and was familiar with Stroud’s approaches for reasoned, methodical survival. Seeing a similar set of skills being adapted for different situations was one of the biggest draws in Survivorman, and the first of these skills is determining what to do first. In the desert, Stroud’s immediate priority is determining how he might find more drinking water. Here on Baffin Island, the bitter cold and relentless wind meant shelter was essential. With old plywood, Stroud is able to construct a shelter that stops some of the wind, and as a break, he sits down to a bite of whale blubber, reminiscing about how he’d done something similar during an earlier episode.
- Survivorman episodes instruct viewers in three ways. The first is when Stroud walks a viewer through what he’s doing and explains the rationale behind why he’s doing something, and the second comes from voice-overs Stroud later adds in the editing suite, which provide a bit of reflection on his actions. The third is unique to Survivorman: Director’s Commentary, a YouTube series that released back when the pandemic was starting. In Director’s Commentary, Stroud takes viewers on a behind-the-scenes and further presents to viewers his thought process. On some occasions, he may even indicate that what he was doing in a situation was not optimal.
- Beyond the act of showing survival in a measured and methodical manner, the nature of Survivorman means that viewers are treated to stunning vistas and landscapes. Even somewhere as desolate as Baffin Island in the high Arctic, there is great beauty in the scenery. In episodes, Stroud notes that he captures some of the landscape footage himself, but larger shots and time lapses (the industry term is B-roll) are done by a team, oftentimes before Stroud himself gets out onto the land for survival. These elements then come together to make the episode.
- Fresh water is always a priority: the body lasts an average of three days without water before dehydration kicks in, and dehydration brings with it a plethora of unpleasant symptoms, including headache and dizziness. In some episodes, water is a major challenge, but at Baffin Island, fresh glacial melt and pristine meadows mean that Stroud isn’t worried about Giardiasis or Cryptosporidium. Even when water-borne parasites may be a real hazard, Stroud notes that where possible, boiling the water will lessen the risk, and in a time of extreme difficulty, it might be okay to risk an infection and then seek treatment once one is back in civilisation.
- In both the Arctic and Arctic Tundra episodes, Stroud is legally required to bring a rifle with him as a means of protection against polar bears. Luckily, in both episodes, polar bears have not approached Stroud in a way that has required use of this rifle. While a rifle might be a form of defense, it is worth noting that unlike humans, which collapse when shot as a self-preservation reflex, bears do not share this trait and may keep charging, so shooting a polar bear with a single .22 may not be effective unless one’s got extremely good shot placement.
- To simulate real-world scenarios, Stroud’s episodes often have a narrative, simulating things like getting separated from a team while diving, getting lost while canoeing, being injured in the wilderness after a plane crash or a lapse of judgement resulting in one’s vehicle running out of fuel in a remote area. In the Arctic Tundra episode, Stroud simulates being a part of a research team stuck here, and outfits himself accordingly: among the pieces of equipment he’s brought include a fishing tackle and a CB radio. Here, he attempts some fishing: one of his Inuit guides had mentioned the area would be dense with Arctic Char, and Stroud figured that a fishing tackle would be an essential survival tool.
- Stroud’s lament about the presence of trash on beaches along every coastline in the world was a sobering one, and is a reminder that whatever one carelessly discards will always end up somewhere. This is why I do my part to ensure all of my garbage is properly dealt with: when my city introduced a compost and recycling programme, I was thrilled: reusing things and repurposing waste means less effort is expended in remaking everything anew, and this mindfulness also extends to other parts of life. I’ve long been a proponent of sustainability, but I also recognise that stopgap measures are needed to reach our ideal level of environmental consciousness. This is why I do not espouse activism, and instead, commit myself to smaller scale things I can do: composting, turning the lights off and conserving water is much more environmentally friendly than organising large rallies.
- Through Director’s Commentary, I was able to learn much more about the episodes beyond just the survival elements. Arctic Tundra was Stroud’s first Director’s Commentary, and he explains that early episodes were plagued with issues because he was shooting with different camera brands, which use different recording chips and yield different image colours. Later episodes has Stroud switching to one brand, and being mindful of each camera’s capabilities: some cameras have buttons that can instantly disable autofocus, and Stroud mentions how he would use tricks like taping up the button to avoid accidentally depressing it, which would leave an entire scene out of focus.
- In Secrets of Survival, Stroud mentions that his favourite method of starting a fire is the fire bow, although things like a flint striker come in a close second. For a non-expert like myself, a flint striker would be especially appealing, representing a reliable means of getting a fire going (provided one already has access to tinder and a good supply of wood). However, I can spot why Stroud might not like the flint striker: it would require a good strike from something like a knife, and in a survival situation, having a sharp knife can make the difference between a difficult situation, and something that can be managed.
- As such, when the moment allows, Stroud will utilise unorthodox methods to get a fire going. In Baffin Island, Stroud uses the battery from his CB radio and some steel wool he’s found nearby. It turns out that touching the steel wool to the battery’s terminals will create a short circuit that ignites the steel wool, and this creates fire. Stroud refers to these as MacGyverisms, the practise of being creative and using whatever is on hand to achieve something. With this in mind, if and when I’m asked, having been a fan of Survivorman for the past decade, my top five survival items would be a hatchet or hand-axe, multitool, lengths of rope, a steel container for carrying water, and a flint striker.
- Behind the comfort of a screen, it’s easy to appreciate the beauty of the locations Stroud visits in Survivorman, and it suddenly strikes me as to just how vast and barren the northernmost reaches of Canada are. For the Arctic Tundra episode, Survivorman makes use of very distinct incidental music that isn’t heard anywhere else in the series; the soundtrack to Survivorman is composed by Peter Cliche, Dan Colomby and Les Stroud himself, being an eclectic collection that captures the tenour of the locations that Stroud visits, combining modern outdoor sounds with local flaire. There are two albums with songs from all three seasons altogether.
- Even while out in a survival situation for Survivorman, Stroud still takes the time to describe indigenous cultures and their means of survival. High in the Arctic Tundra, the indigenous peoples would create warm shelters out of whale bones and caribou hides: although people nowadays tend to congregate in population centers located in comparatively temperate environments (past a certain point, it’s too cold to reliably maintain infrastructure for sustaining larger populations), the fact that there are humans in virtually every corner of the globe, and that all of these populations have developed adaptations to not just survive, but thrive in their environments speaks to the level of ingenuity there is in people.
- Until Survivorman and Sora no Woto, I’d never really been a fan of grey, overcast days. As Weathering With You‘s Hodaka says, people do feel most alive on sunny days, and feelings of joy appear to be amplified. Overcast days create a sense of gloominess that diminishes from one’s spirits. However, moodiness represents a chance to look inwards and reflect: Sora no Woto‘s fourth episode had been set under grey skies that later turn to rain to gives Kanata a chance to see Seize on a quieter day, and do some introspection on why her bugling skills seem to have stagnated.
- During the summer a decade earlier, I recall how May and June had been predominantly overcast, but then by July and August, the days became sunny. As July began turning into August, I’d been more or less ready for the MCAT itself, having spent long days reviewing materials and doing practise exams. Tuesdays and Thursdays, I would wake up early and go to campus to lift weights, while my MCAT preparation courses were on Monday and Wednesday mornings. Throughout most of the week, then, I spent mornings on campus either doing my course, or studying, before returning home for the afternoon for more revisions.
- However, as July drew to a close, and I wrote the last of the full-length exams that was bundled with my course, I began to roll back the level of intensity; in the last two weeks leading up to the MCAT, I only studied in the mornings and took the afternoons easy. In the last few days before the exam itself, I stopped studying outright. This was so I wouldn’t suddenly come across a concept and then panic. The approach I took towards the MCAT was inspired by Survivorman, where Stroud does things in a methodical and deliberate manner. Here, his camera lens is covered with raindrops, and he remarks in Director’s Commentary that this was so viewers could really feel they were being rained on.
- About halfway through the Arctic Tundra episode, Stroud packs up his gear and moves to a different site. Here, he fashions a new shelter out of some oil drums and uses his canoe as a roof. Being able to take advantage of stuff in the environment is of a great help: earlier episodes saw Stroud building his own shelters from tree boughs and whatnot, and while this was important, it’s also extremely time consuming to find all of the materials and assemble it into a shelter that can somewhat keep out the elements. Stroud himself would comment on how even a single piece of tarp can make all the difference in a survival situation, saving him an entire afternoon’s worth of work to waterproof a shelter.
- After putting a sturdier shelter together to keep him out of the wind, Stroud proceeds to build a bird trap using the remaining bits of whale blubber he’s got. The idea behind these traps is that they work even when one isn’t, making them a nice way to potentially get food without expending too much energy besides setting the traps up. While at first glance, these details are far removed from things like studying for the MCAT (or tackling a particularly challenging development problem), but when abstracted out, Stroud’s approach corresponds to doing the low-effort-high-payoff stuff first. This approach is identical to how I would take on the MCAT itself (do the questions that I’m most comfortable doing first, especially if they’re worth more).
- In Director’s Commentary, Stroud mentions that the Arctic Tundra episode is a personal favourite of his, but his editors also enjoyed editing this episode immensely because the grey clouds of the north created a sort of gloominess that other settings couldn’t. The weather seen in Baffin Island is reminiscent of the weather in Calgary from April through June: these are our rainiest seasons of the year, and while I wasn’t fond of such days previously, Survivorman contributed to my coming around: cloudy and rainy days are perfect for feeling a little sullen, of slowing down and appreciating the warmth of one’s home.
- Stroud’s low point in this episode comes after another failed effort to fish: between the lack of food and grim weather, Stroud slowly walks away from the camera, and his senior editor, Barry Farrell, enjoyed using this moment to really convey to viewers how defeated Stroud must’ve felt here. He crouches down in front of the camera and remarks that even one day can mean the difference between life and death to accentuate the gravity of this situation. In what I found to be one of the cleverest bits of editing, Stroud does a voice-over on how timing is everything, cutting to him standing at the water’s edge with a fishing line in the water.
- Armed with a fishing tackle, Stroud’s fortunes change entirely: he catches not one, but four large Arctic Char. It speaks to the brilliance of Survivorman that the elation Stroud feels here is so tangible that viewers cannot help but feel as happy as he does, and right out of the gates, Stroud states the importance of having a fishing tackle as a part of one’s survival kit. One thing that’s always bugged me about this scene was how Stroud says that he seems to have lost his fishing line after catching a particularly large fish, but since Stroud seemed quite unconcerned with things and makes no mention of actually losing the line itself in Director’s Commentary, I’ll assume that it was briefly lost on the beach.
- In a curious coincidence, the Arctic Char that Stroud catches are caught in order of increasing size. Stroud immediately sets about preparing his prizes for consumption, removing the entrails and separating all of the different parts of the fish out. It is this specific scene in Survivorman that opened my mind to watching anime like Houkago Teibou Nisshi and Slow Loop, both of which feature fishing and preparation of freshly-caught fish prominently. However, they key difference here is that in anime, the characters have home field advantage and therefore can access the gear they need to be successful, whereas Stroud is playing the away game.
- In spite of this, I was impressed with the finesse Stroud prepares the fish with. He cuts the fish at an angle so the slices fall away from one another, allowing them to air out. Stroud notes, both in the episode itself and in Director’s Commentary, that this is a traditional method of preserving fish. The end result is that the fish ends up looking like strips of watermelon, and Stroud immediately digs in, commenting on how this is the freshest sushi he’s ever eaten. The Director’s Commentary reveals that his crew were camped out a few kilometres away from him, and while Stroud is enjoying fresh fish, the crew was eating canned soup.
- Different camera placements capture the sense that Stroud is really alone on his adventures; some of the survival shows that came out after Survivorman are actually shot with full crews, and on some occasions, the stars of the show even return back to civilisation as the day draws to a close. Conversely, by continuously reiterating that Stroud has nothing beyond himself, his camera and whatever the land has to offer, Survivorman is a true show of what survival entails. In later years, serious bushmen and outdoorspeople have risen up to the occasion and put on shows that rival Les Stroud’s in terms of quality and helpfulness, but for me, Survivorman remains iconic, a trailblazer.
- Watching Stroud enjoy freshly-caught Arctic Char raw, and then the safe consumption of raw fish in Houkago Teibou Nishi and even Yuru Camp△ would ultimately convince me to give nigiri a go: I’ve long been apprehensive about raw fish dishes of any sort, and during my vacation in Japan, when a hotel served us sashimi, I clandestinely dunked my fish in the nabe, cooking it instantly and rendering it in a state I was much more comfortable eating. As it turns out, raw fish intended for consumption is frozen, which kills any parasites in the flesh, and when properly prepared, it is reasonably safe to eat.
- Nowadays, I’m perfectly happy with eating things like raw fish in moderation: when raw, salmon and tuna are surprisingly tasty, although nothing quite beats a piece of fried cod or steamed Tilapia topped with soy sauce, ginger and spring onion. One other side effect of watching Survivorman was that I became open to eating offal: in a survival situation, Stroud utilises every part of an animal, including the liver and the heart. As a result of seeing this, I became open to eating things like turkey liver and blood tofu. Here, Stroud enjoys the fish roe, which is a delicacy and which I know best as a part of sushi and, in Cantonese cuisine, can be added to fried rice or siu mai.
- Amidst the preparations, Stroud mentions that all of the fish blood smell might attract polar bears. It suddenly strikes me that the rifle he’d been carrying earlier is nowhere to be seen, and I imagine that it’s probably stashed away at the campsite. After finishing preparation of the fish, Stroud notes that with the intestines and other entrails, he might be able to add to his bird trap and see if he can’t get a few seagulls to increase his food stockpiles. In Director’s Commentary, Stroud appends that it’s always important to keep looking forward, and just because things are good now doesn’t mean one can’t take advantage of things to better things further. This is another one of those nuances that applies to real life.
- I smiled upon hearing Stroud say that a good guide should be able to get a fire going even somewhere that’s seen nonstop rain for the past three days. A determined bushman will be able to find or make dry tinder anywhere and make things work; this is what speaks to being a good guide. I remain skeptical that a master guide could simply summon wine and chocolates as readily, but the comment adds a bit of humour to things and acts as a reminder that the situation has shifted enough for Stroud to be cracking jokes. Something similar happened in the Colorado Rockies; after a fishing trip, Stroud says he didn’t catch a single fish.
- Instead, he’s caught two; being able to apply humour in a difficult situation helps to lighten the mood up and gives the mind a chance to regroup. After the wood’s prepared, a bit of steel wool and a battery is all that’s needed to light the fire. In other episodes, Stroud has used duct tape as a fire-starter, validating the MythBusters‘ episode where they had shown that duct tape is actually a viable fire starter (on top of being useful in many other functions). In other episodes, Stroud has used corn chips and chapstick to start and hold a flame (which is unsurprising, since corn chips are basically oil and hydrocarbons, and chapstick is basically wax). Having a fire at this location proves to be a massive morale booster, giving warmth in a place of nonstop wind and cold.
- Stroud ends up cooking his Arctic Char over an open flame, and this moment had gotten me curious about what Arctic Char tastes like. Despite looking a little like salmon, Arctic Char is a bit more oily and has a more intense flavour compared to salmon – it is supposed to be more trout-like in terms of texture and taste. Despite being considered more sustainable than salmon, Arctic Char is not widely farmed, and as a menu item on restaurants, it tends to be pricier, being found at higher-end places.
- The Baffin Island episodes marks one of the few times where Stroud’s so thoroughly enjoying the moment that he addresses his editor, making a joke about how later, once he’s back home and they’re working on editing all of the cuts into an episode, his editor, Barry Farrell, will doubtlessly begin feeling a little hungry at the sight of watching Stroud enjoying fresh-cooked Arctic Char. Director’s Commentary never clarifies whether or not Stroud and his team shared a laugh at this moment, but I would imagine that Farrell probably smiled at this moment.
- Towards the end of the episode, a persistent rainfall rolls into the Pond Inlet area, preventing Stroud from doing too much beyond sitting in his shelter and enjoying his fish. The aesthetics of this moment reminds me of when I’d been in Rennes, France, after the Laval Virtual Conference had ended; I’d picked up a bug and was not feeling well, so I spent my day in Rennes at the hotel, trying to rest up. A fierce rainstorm was raging outside, and in moments where I had the strength to do so, I was reading through a novel I’d brought. I was lucky in that my stomach bug had subsided long enough for me to make the flight back home, although it was another few days before I healed up completely.
- Memories of watching rain for large drops against the hotel window linger in my memory, and even now, whenever it gets rainy, my mind wanders back to the March of several years earlier, as well as Stroud’s Baffin Island experience. June this year was especially rainy, and as I worked from my home office, I occasionally turned to face the window and enjoy the sound of rain pattering against my window. We’re now entering the August long weekend, and like the two previous years, we’ve got a heat warning in place, with the temperatures hovering above 30ºC until Tuesday.
- When the rain lessens up, Stroud heads out into the fields behind his camp to forage for wild edibles and other plants. With the energy from the Arctic Char, Stroud is able to wander around and explore for different things, including a sort of tuber that is quite nutritious. Throughout this episode, Stroud says that timing is vital, as being in a certain place at a certain time can mean the difference between having a Smörgåsbord of things to eat, and being stuck in a desolate landscape. This timing influences when Stroud chooses to go out onto the land for a survival excursion, and while Stroud is widely respected amidst the community, he does have his share of detractors.
- Stroud always has a fair and reasoned answer for his detractors, explaining that there are certain constraints and limitations he works within. Director’s Commentary really brings these topics into the open, and in fact, when Stroud began doing Director’s Commentary for his Survivorman: Bigfoot series, he explains his mindset behind how he approaches the pseudoscientific field of cryptozoology – although my own scientific background makes me a skeptic by default, Stroud makes a very valid point about how it’s so important to keep an open mind even for this sort of stuff because some of the people who recount these stories are experts in their own right.
- To dismiss them as delusional, or lying, is then unfair, and at the minimum, one should hear the story through and try to understand what happened. This mode of thinking opened my mind to the idea of Sasquatch, and since watching the Klemtu episode back in September 2020, I’ve also become more open-minded towards the History Channel’s Ancient Aliens, Secrets of Skinwalker Ranch and the like. While it’s not hard science like NOVA or Nature, there’s a fun about these shows that make their topics worth considering. If and when I’m asked, I would say that while I am skeptical of things like UFOs or Sasquatch, I do not deny that there is a possibility such things do exist, especially considering how large the universe is.
- Director’s Commentary opened me up to things that I would’ve otherwise not experienced, and this is why Survivorman is something I respect so deeply – even today, Les Stroud always finds a way to impress with his content, and ever since subscribing to his YouTube channel, I’ve broadened my horizons considerably. The global health crisis changed the way I consume media: before the pandemic, I was subscribed to no YouTube channels and only ever watched music channels. Amidst the pandemic, I ended up following a variety of channels, including MeatEater, Binging With Babbish and Rick Steves’ Europe.
- As the rain continues, Stroud decides to make a qulliq, a traditional Inuit oil lamp that provides long-lasting light during the darkest months of the year. This bushcraft was a reminder of how once the basics are taken care of, the mind is free to focus on other pursuits. Inclement weather subsequently shuts down the episode, forcing Stroud to end things earlier. With the end of this episode, Survivorman concludes one of the most memorable survival experiences, and for me, my reminiscence on the MCAT very nearly is about to draw to a close: I have one more Survivorman related discussion for covering my own recollections of exam day itself.
- I’ll save those recollections for that post proper, apologise to readers who were doubtlessly hoping for posts about anime, and note that folks will only have to suffer through one more MCAT-related post for the remainder of this blog’s existence. The reason behind why I embarked on a trip down memory lane was because there were learnings from that period of my life that still impact the way I do things now, and I find that it’s important to do a little introspection and reflection every so often. Understanding old experiences and being mindful of how we did things before allows one to keep doing what works, and avoid doing what doesn’t. In the meantime, I’ve got a surprise post for a movie and Among Trees scheduled for early August. Here, I will also note that I’m hosting Jon’s Creative Showcase, aka #TheJCS, for August. I’m not too sure if anyone was hosting it in July, but I do look forwards to seeing what submissions will be available this time around.
For me, the Arctic Tundra episode became a quick favourite for this reason – Stroud speaks to the importance of proactive survival, keeping an eye out for anything that can be helpful and always looking for ways to better one’s situation, all of which are traits that proved instrumental for the me of a decade earlier: at this point in the summer, less than two weeks had remained between myself and the MCAT. Despite having spent nearly two full months in the MCAT preparation course, and despite having done several full-length practise exams, I remained quite nervous about the actual exam itself – in my final week of the preparation course, I was swinging between wanting the exam to come as soon as possible so I could write it, and wishing I had another month of preparation time. As a part of my preparation course’s offerings, I had one full-length exam left to me at this time, and I decided to write it with two weeks left, just to gauge how I might do. I thus spent a sunny Saturday indoors doing this exam under simulated conditions. Six hours later, I finished the exam, and to my great surprise, I scored a 33 (551 in today’s terms). It suddenly dawned on me that the preparations had been fruitful after all: my practise scores had trended upwards, and I thus left for a family dinner that evening more relaxed than I’d been all summer. In the days leading up to the MCAT, I did practise sections and found that for physical and biological sciences, I was scoring 11-12 (128-129), while the verbal reasoning was giving me 9-11 (126-128). The shift in momentum was brought on by this one moment, and I immediately found myself relating to Les Stroud’s Arctic Tundra experience – entering Baffin Island, Stroud had already possessed a considerable set of survival skills, and with the right bit of luck, a difficult situation turned into a manageable one. For me, the realisation I was probably more ready than I felt provided a similarly significant psychological booster: I had all of the knowledge and skills needed to face down the exam, even if it didn’t feel like it at the time. Having this confidence proved to be the final piece of the puzzle I needed, and as the final two weeks to the MCAT approached, I spent the remainder of my days doing revisions and drills in the morning, before taking the afternoons easy by blogging, or playing Team Fortress 2 and MicroVolts. The end results speak for themselves, and my experiences with the MCAT would later impact how I faced my undergraduate thesis defense, graduate project and the transition from university into industry: falling back on existing knowledge and doing my best even when facing down a problem of unknown scope has allowed me to consistently work out solutions to problems. While Les Stroud’s Survivorman may deal with bushcraft and survival, the mental aspects of survival, such as the will to live and maintaining a positive outlook in the face of adversity.
I’ve been a big fan of Les Stroud from his first Survivorman episode, Boreal Forest. Most of the other survival shows are all hoo-haw and artificial drama with little actual survival going on. Ray Mears’ bushcraft shows are ok but you don’t get the same visceral feel as with Stroud. It is easy to tell the people on the other shows have little at stake.
I did enjoy the first few eps of Naked and Afraid. It took very little time before the show got obviously scripted and the people not genuine survival experts. I lost interest.
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Naked and Afraid didn’t do it for me in the end: as interesting as the idea was, the choice to always pair a man and woman together for the show to create friction and drama meant the show became more about this than it was about the survival. Having said this, I do enjoy the shows where the stakes are slightly lower. During the pandemic, I found Andrew Davidson’s Kent Survival – his YouTube channel is about as far removed from Les Stroud in that what he does is more similar to camping, but he does things in an earnest and genuine fashion that makes his show fun to watch in its own right.
I don’t think there’ll ever be quite a pioneer on Les Stroud’s level, but when others present their approach to survival and outdoorsmanship in a sincere manner, as long as they stay true to their technique without over-dramatising things, I would find them respectable. Granted, I live in a very comfortable manner and are far removed from the realities of survival, but I have found that the mindset behind surviving being lost in the bush and getting through a particularly challenging week at the office (or, as a student, staring down an exam unlike anything one and seen before) are more alike than different. When a show like Survivorman or similar can inspire people to this level through their authentic and genuine content, one can be confident that they’re watching a good show 🙂