“It would seem that in this survival ordeal, I’ve experienced the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows.” –Les Stroud
Although Les Stroud had wrapped up Survivorman in 2008 owing to the significant physical toll associated with filming survival in extreme environments, in 2012, Stroud would embark on two survival expeditions that were larger than anything he had previously done. This series would become known as Survivorman Ten Days, and true to its title, has Stroud surviving in two new environments for ten days. In Norway, Stroud simulates how one might go about surviving if their car broke down. In the beginning, with intense wind and a wet snowfall, Stroud stays with the vehicle until his provisions are depleted. He siphons gas from the vehicle and lights a fire, then uses the car’s upholstery to fashion snowshoes before heading out into the backcountry. After a cold night in the bush, Stroud manages to find hunters’ cabins, and deer remains. Capitalising on the shelter and food, Stroud enjoys a few days here in the cabins before preparing to head downhill towards the coast. Although Stroud is put into a perilous situation as the sun begins setting, he manages to make it down before nightfall. He later explores the coast and finds a summer cottage, where he rests before preparing a massive signal fire for his recovery team. At Tiburón Island, Stroud plays the role of a sailor on a yacht who is stranded. After reaching shore, Stroud notes that water is his biggest priority and fashions a desalination device from items he found on the beach. With the still making water, Stroud then explores a nearby estuary, where he finds an extensive clam population. While Stroud enjoys a feast of clams and calamari, he determines that in order to survive, he must head inland and find water – he leaves behind the coast and travels inland. After a few days, Stroud ultimately locates a spring that provides him with fresh water, the most critical of necessities in a place as dry as a desert. Continuing on in the same vein as its predecessors, Survivorman Ten Days features Les Stroud creating an entire survival show with no camera crew or production team assisting him. This time, however, instead of the typical seven days, Survivorman Ten Days extends the survival ordeal by three more days, and while three days initially seems minor, this can add another dimension of complexity to survival, especially in the knowledge that one must plan for three more days’ worth of survival. In Survivorman Ten Days, Stroud rises to the occasion, drawing upon his extensive knowledge and experience to survive, as well as utilising every advantage in his environment to make a difficult situation manageable.
Survivorman Ten Days comes to represent a fantastic show of how having a reliable knowledge base means that, even when one is confronted with a problem they’ve never faced before, or if the problem is of a different scale than one is familiar with, applying the same principles will help one to put things in perspective, and break things down so that it is more manageable. At Tiburón Island, surviving ten days in the desert seems daunting: previously in the Kalahari, Stroud had suffered from heat stroke and very nearly had to call off his shoot for safety reasons. Here in Tiburón Island, the absence of fresh water meant survival was already going to be a difficult task. However, with the knowledge that he could obtain water in a creative fashion, Stroud chooses to construct a distilling apparatus and is able to draw potable water from the ocean, prolonging his survival and giving him a chance to take stock before making the decision on what his next steps are. Stroud had previously utilised novel methods of acquiring water in difficult situations, and acknowledges that these methods only provide one with the minimal amount of water. However, even this small amount of water helps survival, and in helping to ward off dehydration, Stroud ultimately is able to find a more substantial supply of fresh water. Similarly, in Norway, Stroud has his most difficult experience when he attempts to make his way down into the valley. Although Stroud had known there were paths leading down, the combination of slippery and damp conditions meant that, had Stroud happened onto a cliff, he would’ve lacked the means of returning back to the cabins before nightfall, and potentially putting him in harm’s way as the wet, cold conditions elevate the risk of hypothermia. Even with all of his experience in the bush, Stroud is in a perilous situation – this situation puts all of this knowhow and decision-making to the test. In the end, Stroud decides to keep going, and to his great relief, finds himself on the edge of the fjord right as night is about to fall. Despite being in a terrifying, gripping situation, Stroud remains calm and collected, doing whatever he can to stave off disaster. However, he’s also honest about it: in a voice-over, Stroud indicates that viewers can audibly hear his heartbeat, a consequence of a genuine, tangible worry about how dangerous a seemingly-simple trek down the mountain had become. When Stroud reaches the bottom of the cliff and sets up camp, viewers breathe a sigh of relief alongside him, and similarly, cannot help but smile when Stroud comes upon summer cabins. Through it all, Stroud continues to call upon everything he’s previously done to persist, endure and ultimately, make it safely down the mountain. With a bit of luck, Stroud succeeds here, and much as how his resilience and experience come together to help him find fresh drinking water in Tiburón Island, the same mindset and skillset is applied to help Stroud reach safety in the snow-covered fjords of Norway.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Survivorman Ten Days aired during July 2012, a time when I’d been fully focused on studying for the MCAT. By that point in the summer, my physics course had ended, and I walked away with an A-. My days were thus spent attending the preparation course, doing revision in my spare time and, to unwind, I divided my time between Team Fortress 2 and MicroVolts. To learn that Survivorman was continuing proved to be a huge psychological boost; I’d already been familiar with the series by then, and always found myself inspired by the teachings Stroud conveyed in his episode.
- Survivorman Ten Days had come completely out of the blue, but I welcomed the news and watched episodes with enthusiasm. Unlike previous Survivorman episodes, which were set over a week, Survivorman Ten Days has Stroud surviving for three more days, but the additional three days meant that there were two episodes for each location, providing Stroud with extra time to really showcase everything. In Survivorman Director’s Commentary, Stroud had mentioned how one of the challenges in the editing phase was actually paring down footage to fit the episode’s 40-minute length.
- This is actually similar to the problem I have in blogging: I end up with a large number of screenshots that would result in far more content than I could realistically write, and to ensure my posts are of a manageable size, I cut down the number of screenshots to a multiple of ten for easier writing. The idea of breaking posts up into parts has been suggested to me before, and this is why for some series, I do split things into parts. For discussions on movies, however, I prefer keeping everything together in a single post. In Norway, Stroud initially remains behind with his vehicle to mimic what the average traveller might do if their ride suffered from failure. With the wind gusting outside, Stroud says it’s only natural for people to want to stick with their vehicles and wait out rescue.
- Moreover, a vehicle represents a ready-made survival shelter, and so long as one has fuel, they can take the chill out of the air readily. However, a vehicle can also become a death-trap in that, in keeping people attached to the vehicle, may create scenarios where people would rather stick with their car than walking out of a difficult situation. Because this is a Survivorman episode, Stroud mentions that it’d be possible for him to walk out of this situation, but then there’d be no episode. For this episode, Stroud’s brought some provisions with him, including a jar of peanut butter, a six pack of beer and a mandarin orange.
- Rationing food in a survival situation can be tricky because one doesn’t have a definitive idea of how long they’ll be in survival for. For Stroud, the mandarin orange depletes after a few days, and Stroud decides to take on a more proactive approach to survival. Being trapped in a dark vehicle might mean that crews clearing the road will likely ignore it, but a roaring fire burning behind a vehicle would pique some curiosity. While Stroud doesn’t have any obvious fire-starting materials on hand, he’s never out of options.
- Siphoning fuel from the tank, and then using the vehicle’s battery to ignite the mixture creates a very powerful flame that would certainly attract attention, but even if this doesn’t happen, it gives Stroud a significant source of warmth. Being active with the fire outside also reminds Stroud of how cramped the vehicle interior is, leading him to plan out how to head into the bush in search of more beneficial conditions. The situation Stroud finds himself in during Norway would, in retrospect, parallel my own experiences with the MCAT.
- Stroud’s desire to stay with the car is not so different than my initial feelings about the MCAT being an unbeatable opponent. I had managed to do well in the physics course despite coming close to throwing in the towel, but after the MCAT preparation course began, the lessons gave the impression that the exam was completely unlike anything I’d faced before. However, the further I got into the course, and the more practise exams I did, the more I realised that I needed to adopt a new strategy towards handling the stress associated with the exam.
- Stroud’s leaving the car is analogous to me embracing a new method of studying, one which entailed making use of strategically-placed breaks. Every day, after five in the afternoon, I would stop all revisions and play a few rounds of Team Fortress 2 or MicroVolts. The idea was that I would have dedicated time to study and prepare, but then I was always assured of downtime so I wouldn’t become overwhelmed on a given day. Previously, I approached exams with brute force, studying until I was confident with the materials.
- After leaving the car, Stroud spends the night under a tree and recalls he has a portable survival stove, which he uses to boil some water. It is here that Stroud mentions how he always hits the bathroom before sleeping; any liquid in the bladder forces the body to expend energy heating it, so emptying out said bladder allows one to conserve energy and sleep better. This is a habit that I learnt from my parents as a child: the reasoning they had was that it would help me sleep through the night and not run the risk of nocturnal enuresis, but Survivorman shows that there’s more than one reason to hit the bathroom before sleeping.
- While my dislike of the winter and snow is no secret, I will concede that there is a beauty in a snow-covered landscape under semi-overcast skies. This appreciation is doubled if I don’t have to travel anywhere, and during the past couple of years, I worked from home during the winter. Snowstorms stopped being an irritant, and there is a sort of coziness associated with waking up to a fresh snowfall. Knowing that my commute is a 15-second walk to my desk increases the charm. Back in Survivorman Ten Days, Stroud’s managed to find hunter’s cabins, complete with a wood stove and bed.
- The situation improves even further after Stroud spots a deer carcass left over from hunters: while all of the meat one would normally eat is gone, Stroud finds that the hunters have left behind the heart, liver, lungs, and a bunch of fat, plus a bit of meat. Although such moments appear contrived, Stroud has encountered hunter’s remains on many occasions previously, and even in Survivorman, during the Alaska episode, Stroud has found a partially-eaten fish that an eagle dropped and later enjoys a fish dinner after cooking it. On the first night, Stroud prepares a broth for himself: as he states, eating too much at once would overwhelm his digestive system and cause all sorts of problems.
- Having enjoyed deer broth and a little bit of meat the previous evening, Stroud begins preparing the remainder of the deer remains for consumption and gives viewers a close-up of the deer. Besides the entire deer liver, Stroud’s pleasantly surprised to find the entire heart is also present. The heart of an animal tastes especially rich and beefy because it is the hardest-working muscle. The day had begun with some sunshine, but soon, the clouds roll back in and create an overcast sky. Despite this, Stroud’s in fine spirits, since shelter and food are now taken care of.
- Because Stroud had been trapped in a car for two days, he ends up cooking his meal outdoors. The cabins come stocked with matches, but to conserve on limited resources, Stroud uses duct-tape as a fire-starter here, and in a few moments, his fire’s hot enough for him to begin cooking the deer. Imagery of cooking the meat over an open fire is par the course for enjoying the great outdoors, but in a survival situation, every bit counts. Stroud previously mentioned in Alaska that boiling the meat would be the best way to get all of the nutrients out, and here in Norway, he applies this approach to the deer meet, boiling things up to create a highly nourishing, if unphotogenic, meal.
- The psychological boost of being able to eat, and sleep in a warm bed, proves to be a pivotal moment. The renewed energy Stroud gains from food and sleep allows him to plan out the final leg of his journey, but it also results in intense and vivid dreams that can play on the psyche. Survivorman Ten Days uses some very unusual footage here to convey this: a time lapse of the Norwegian Winter is played while Stroud gives a voice-over, creating a very chilling and surreal feeling. I’ve never quite understood how such footage was obtained, and if Stroud were to ever do Norway for Director’s Commentary, I would likely ask how this was filmed.
- With a chance to re-evaluate his situation, Stroud determines it’s time to head down the cliffs for the coast, reasoning that now’s the time to do so: if he stayed in the cabins, he’d eventually run out of deer. However, what was supposed to be a simple hike down the mountain becomes one of the most challenging things he’d ever done. The combination of slippery rocks, snowfall and the constant threat of running into a cliff, meant that Stroud was more nervous than usual, and at one point during this trek, one can hear his heartbeat from the camera, speaking to how worried he was.
- To the viewers’ great relief, Stroud does make it down the mountain okay, and he swiftly sets up camp before lighting a fire. As miserable as being soaked during cold, wet weather is, Stroud has, at the very least, reached the bottom without being stuck: his worst fear was that he ended up at a cliff, and as exhausted as he was, he would’ve had no way of heading back up the mountain and reaching the shelter of the cabins before nightfall. Hypothermia was the biggest risk here, and here at the bottom of the cliff, it’s still a very real risk, but Stroud is afforded the reassurance that the cliffs are behind him.
- The next morning, Stroud continues on with exploring the coast: he stops to take a drink and finds some rosehips. However, the next find is a truly game-changing one – a summer home on the coast. Stroud’s fortunes completely turn around, and after a frigid night on the mountainside, he’s now able to take shelter in a cozy cabin. Stroud mentions that breaking in for shelter is something that should only be done in a survival situation – although breaking and entering remains illegal, the law states such an action would not be counted as an offense in a situation where such an action was necessary to avoid personal death or injury, and provided that one leaves no sign that an offense was committed.
- This B-roll shot of the sun rising over the fjord is one I’m especially fond of – the B-roll footage in Survivorman has always been fun to watch even though the focus in the series is on survival. Such moments are typically shot before Stroud actually begins survival, and per Stroud’s commentary, is actually the most ordinary part of a Survivorman shoot in that it’s the one part where there’s a camera crew. After looking around the summer cabin, Stroud finds a key that allows him to enter. He immediately sets about seeing what other food might be available to him, and manages to locate some seaweed, blue mussels and potatoes.
- I did a bit of looking around and found that the summer cabin Stroud comes across towards the end of the Norway trip is called Tingastad, which is located near Sogndal Airport. Looking around at satellite imagery of the area, one can even find the hunter’s cabins located higher up on the mountain, which are located a mere 1.29 kilometres from the airport. Although this shows that Stroud could’ve walked out at any time, the whole point of Survivorman is to show what happens if one were in trouble, and being somewhat close to civilisation is important in case things do go south.
- In the end, Stroud creates a large signal fire for the purpose of letting the rescue boat know of his location. An effective fire doesn’t need large flames, but rather, smoke, and to do this, one needs to burn oily substances like birch bark. The boat eventually notices him and picks up him, bringing the first of the Survivorman Ten Days episodes to a close. Although Norway represents one of the most difficult of Stroud’s expeditions yet, I was thoroughly impressed with how he continued to draw on existing knowledge and push towards bettering his situation even when things looked grim.
- This was the sort of mindset that I would carry with me into the MCAT – I found that at the heart of all difficult, seemingly-insurmountable problems, is a collection of smaller problems which, when attended to properly, can be handled individually. The important lesson learnt here is to always be mindful of the basics, and understand how the basics can be applied towards dealing with much bigger challenges. In fact, it is fair to say that failure results if one allows a large problem to overwhelm them to the point where they forget the basics.
- I’ve now transitioned over to the Tiburón Island episodes, which sees Stroud travel to a desert island in Mexico. Here, the weather is the polar opposite of what it’d been in Norway: snow-covered trees and foggy fjords are replaced with rocky beaches and blue skies as far as the eye can see. Stroud faces a completely different set of problems here, with water being the chiefest of his problems. In Norway, Stroud could ingest snow to replenish his water, so hydration was never a problem, but here at Tiburón Island, there’s no freshwater nearby. Stroud does down a mouthful of ocean water to restore electrolytes, but for this trip, he carries enough water to last a few days.
- As such, the immediate concern is making his water supply last while he works out where to get more water. One of my favourite Survivorman moments happens here – after finding a large bucket on the beach, Stroud crafts a handmade desalination still. The idea is simple enough: boiling salt water will create steam that evaporates, and this steam, when condensing back into a liquid form, will yield fresh, drinkable water. Although simple in principle, desalination at scale is an incredibly expensive process because of how much energy it takes to boil water.
- Stroud’s handmade still yields about two cups of water a day; while it’s not enough to stave off dehydration and requires that Stroud continuously tops off the fire to ensure he can boil the water, it does allow him to extend the lifespan of his existing water supply. Stroud names techniques of this as a MacGyverism, of creatively using whatever materials in his environment to fashion tools and equipment that can be helpful in survival. Once the desalination still is fashioned, Stroud turns his attention next to exploring the beach and nearby estuary.
- Although Stroud was hoping to find a flounder at the estuary, he ends up digging up a fair number of clams. In a survival situation, Stroud notes that having a food source he can easily gather is a huge advantage (in his words, there’s nothing worse than expending energy to travel a mile, only to find enough food for a half-mile walk). The clamming technique Stroud describes here is something I’ve previously commented on in Houkago Teibou Nisshi, and I was impressed the latter echoes Stroud’s sentiments about leaving the smaller clams so their population isn’t decimated.
- I am particularly fond of the Tiburón Island episodes because they’re set under sunny skies, and while survival out here is no less difficult than in Norway, having blue skies conveys a sense of calm: things don’t feel quite as urgent or deadly as they did in Norway, and these episodes would come to remind me of those days when the MCAT seemed like a manageable exam, when revision was going well and I felt more confident in being ready to handle the exam.
- The pacing of Tiburón Island meant that Stroud spends his first few days checking out what the nearby area has to offer, and by chance, he encounters a dead squid floating on the beachside. He decides to bring it back with him, and after cutting the grippers off, proceeds to cook it over an open fire. In a voice-over, Stroud admits that he’d never prepared squid before, so here, he ended up cutting away a lot more than he needed to for safety’s sake, but if he’d come in with more background, he could’ve gotten more from the squid. This is a recurring theme in Survivorman – it’s better to err on the side of caution if uncertain, but over time, experience allows one to survive more effectively
- It was immensely satisfying to see the desalination still do its magic for Stroud: beyond the effort of building the still, fetching the water and topping the firewood off, Stroud now has a reliable means of getting access to water. Watching Stroud get water always instills in me an inclination to get some water of my own. I’ve never understood why people dislike water and would eschew it, and while I prefer to take my water filtered and boiled, I have no qualms with water so long as it quenches my thirst when appropriate.
- Watching Stroud enjoy his clams and squid under the sunny weather at Tiburón Island was most cathartic: in this moment, Stroud’s necessities are taken care of, and he’s able to relax a little, spending the remainder of the day enjoying squid. While survival can be desperately tricky, when things are going well, it can feel like a camping trip, another day outdoors. The weather here brings to mind the events of this past weekend, when I stepped out to attend the local Dragon Boat races at the city reservoir. The skies were immaculately clear, and after sitting down to a delicious grilled Swiss Mushroom burger with poutine, we watched the teams race in preliminary rounds before exploring the park’s pathways – the mountains are visible from here, and it hits me that this park must be gorgeous during the autumn, too.
- Stroud’s approach of mobile, proactive survival means taking advantage of good times to make things better. With the clams in the estuary as a known, reliable food source, he’s able to explore other options. He fashions a makeshift spear here, along with shinguards, to explore the area for fish and defend against stingrays that may be trapped. Although his fishing expedition is unsuccessful, Stroud finds some oysters that he deems worth eating. This move proves to be a poor choice, since the oysters subsequently knock Stroud out of the game.
- While stomach problems at any time are difficult, stomach problems during a survival situation would be debilitating. Stroud mentions that during survival, one shouldn’t take any chances, and aim to minimise their problems one by one. This is sound advice, and while Stroud does his best to adhere, speaking to the complexity of survival, even a veteran like Les Stroud can occasionally make a mistake. Far from invalidating Stroud, moments like these serve to remind viewers that even experts aren’t infallible, and it makes Stroud more human.
- After Stroud recovers, he begins to travel inland in search of water. Tiburón Island represents an interesting conundrum in that the areas with food are close to the shore, where there’s no water, and where there’s fresh water, there’s no access to food. In previous Survivorman episodes, Stroud’s mentioned that travelling great distances during a survival situation is immensely difficult, and we recall earlier that even in Norway, when he’d been about a mile or so from the airport, the lack of food and rest means that travelling even a kilometre can be challenging.
- Before heading inland, Stroud writes a message in a bottle and hucks the bottle into the ocean. Ocean currents mean that eventually, the bottle will end up on a shore somewhere, although I’ve not heard of anyone who managed to find the specific bottle Stroud threw into the water. This bit of imagery is a stereotype that is at least as old as that of the cartoon depicting a desert island several metres across, with a single palm tree on it. This depiction originates from gag comics published to The New Yorker in the 1930s and became the mid-20th century’s equivalent of a meme, which annoyed readers and editors enough so that they implemented a ban on publication of desert islands. The ideas endured into the newspaper comics of the 1980s and 1990s – The Far Side is especially fond of these gags, although I find The Far Side vapid and uninspired.
- In general, I’ve found newspaper comics have become increasingly irrelevant and out-of-touch with reality: Blondie, The Meaning of Lila and Between Friends, for instance, present office culture in an antiquated, unrelatable fashion. Back in Survivorman Ten Days, Stroud makes use of his gear to continue boiling water, and he’s also brought clams with him, providing a food source as he treks further inland. Once in the desert itself, Stroud’s back in terrain similar to his survival trips to Arizona, Utah, the Kalahari and even the Australian outback. Each desert in the world represents a different kind of survival challenge, but all deserts share in common the same problem Stroud must address: the need for water. Bringing the desalination still inland is a good idea, allowing Stroud to to continue making water.
- The last of the Survivorman Ten Days episodes aired on July 21, 2012 – at this point in the summer a decade earlier, K-On! The Movie had just seen its home release, and I had finished writing my review of the film. In those days, my blog wasn’t well-known, and reviews were mainly more for myself rather than readers. By the time July ended and August arrived, and after I wrote the last of the full-length practise exams, I began rolling back on my revision efforts. Previously, I spent most of my days studying, but once two weeks were left to the exam, I only studied for about four hours each day.
- As I entered the final few days to the exam, I stopped studying outright – besides gaming, this blog’s archives showed that I also spent time blogging. The idea behind this was that an extra day or two wouldn’t likely make any difference and may even increase stress. On the morning of the exam, I remember re-watching Gundam Unicorn‘s fifth episode to psyche myself up for the MCAT itself. After a light lunch, I headed out into the afternoon, and steeled myself for a difficult war of attrition. However, as difficult as the MCAT had appeared, in retrospect, I had prepared adequately. Besides the preparation course, and spending hours doing drills, my friends also had determined it would be helpful to study together.
- On top of this, I managed my stress by budgeting out time to game and watch various shows – besides Survivorman, I also watched Man v. Food extensively. Seeing Adam Richman taking on food challenges allowed me to approach the MCAT with humour: I likened my own exam experience to Richman and particularly tough moments, even joking that I hoped to avoid the same situation that Richman experienced at Munchies 420 in Saratosa, Florida. There, the mystery challenge proved so diabolical, it gave him the hiccoughs within one bite. I would later learn that this was no laughing matter, as the staff at Munchies 420 had emptied an entire bottle of ghost chilli extract into his wings for kicks.
- However, watching Richman prevail over his challenges proved inspirational, and it was pleasant to see him stoically accept defeat. Besides Man v. Food, I also ended up making my way through CLANNAD and CLANNAD ~After Story~, Tari Tari, PapaKiki and Kokoro Connect during the summer. Dealing with the MCAT did leave me with a newfound way of managing stress, and I became more able to make light of my situations. This led me to continue to crack jokes about things like my undergraduate defense, conference presentations, seminars and graduate defense later down the line.
- After several days of pushing through the desert, Stroud finally finds a pond with a large amount of rainwater. He fills an entire bottle with it and revels in this fact. With water now dealt with, Stroud is now confident he can continue to survive in the area, and the episode draws to a close. For me, I prepared to step out and face down my foe, one I’d spent several months preparing for, at this point in time a decade earlier, and while I did not know it at the time, I would indeed rise to the occasion. Survivorman played a significant role in making this possible, and even now, I attribute my mindset and path to the things I learnt while watching the show.
- With this, I’ve now done a full recollection of the days leading up to the MCAT, and readers are now assured of the fact that I likely won’t mention these stories again, having written about them to the depth I’d wished to. Once the MCAT was done, I spent my weekend unwinding and watched The Dark Knight Rises – this was a fantastic movie that I do wish to do justice to, and to this end, I will be writing about the film on short order. The movie has aged very well; in fact, it’s aged as gracefully as K-On! The Movie, and even though I’ve rewatched The Dark Knight Rises with the same frequency that I have for K-On! The Movie, I find myself impressed each and every time.
While I have not experienced things to the same level that is seen in Survivorman, much less Survivorman Ten Days, the MCAT that I’d written a decade earlier is an analogous situation. On this day ten years ago, I wrote the exam itself, and although I would love to say the exam was a straightforward and smooth experience, my own exam day was anything but. After a light lunch, I arrived at the exam venue, and was surprised to find the building holding a sweltering 30°C (86°F). Moreover, one of the exam invigilators had stood at the door, saying that they were half an hour behind schedule. As it turns out, the building had suffered from an HVAC malfunction, causing both the power and air circulation to fail. I sat down and meditated until we were called into the exam room. The building’s technicians were still working on getting the fans back up, so it remained blisteringly hot as I sat down to the physical sciences section. Within a few minutes, I developed a cramp in my stomach. However, as the exam began, I had no choice but to weather on: I leafed through the questions, determined that the third problem set was something I could do, and set about writing the exam. When the time for the first section ended, I rushed out the door and immediately hit the facilities. The stomach pains subsided, and I wrote the remaining sections in relative comfort: the temperatures remained high, but at least the cramps were gone, allowing me to focus on the task at hand. All concern and doubt was dampened as I recalled the materials I reviewed, the strategies I was provided with, and days spent studying with friends at the medical campus’ small group rooms. The exam ended four hours later, and I stepped out into the evening, seeing the setting sun cast a warm, golden light on the landscape. After most exams, a part of me worries about the outcome, but with this MCAT, I felt as though I’d put in my best possible effort. I joined my family to a dinner at my favourite Chinese bistro in town, before sleeping the best sleep I’d had all summer. Like Les Stroud and Survivorman Ten Days, beating the MCAT became a matter of psychological resilience, and setting aside the “what-ifs” to deal with whatever was in front of me in that moment. Much as how Stroud focused on getting down the mountain despite the setting sun, I focused on solving each question without any thought to what happened post exam. While I saw numerous concepts on the exam that I certainly didn’t review during practise, they’d been similar enough in principal to materials I’d already seen, and I fell back on existing knowledge to reason through those questions. I didn’t learn of the end result for my MCAT until a month later, but the final score, a 35T (518), speaks volumes to the efficacy of these methods. The numerous parallels between my own experiences, and what Les Stroud presents on Survivorman, thus became a reminder to me that survival techniques had applicability in almost every walk of life: while I’m no outdoorsman like Stroud, everything that is presented in Survivorman is relevant to everyday life, too. It is therefore fair to say that watching Survivorman Ten Days was yet another part of the reason why I survived the MCAT ten summers earlier, and while I’ve never used my score for anything other than an interesting conversation topic since taking the exam, the ancillary learnings, such as prioritising problems, applying existing knowledge to take on new problems, dividing and conquering, and maintaining a mindset of resilience amidst adversity, have fundamentally changed the way I operated, positively impacting everything I do even to this day. Ten years ago to this day, it’s almost time for me to head out and write the MCAT – I had no idea what the outcome would be, but, armed with the will to survive, I set off for my exam, resolute to do my best, too.