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Series / I Shouldn't Be Alive

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I Shouldn't Be Alive is a documentary series produced for Discovery Channel by UK-based production company Darlow Smithson Productions. As the title implies, it features accounts of individuals or groups caught in dangerous scenarios away from civilization in natural environments.

The show was compiled using footage of interviews and dramatic re-enactments of the situation. The main focus of the show was providing an explanation of how the participants survived the ordeal against typical odds and outlining the decisions they made that kept them alive.


This series provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Alliterative Family: Mary and Michael Couillard, and their children, Mark, Matthew and Marissa in "Ice Cave Survivor."
  • Bears Are Bad News:
    • In "Trapped Under the Ice", the father and son duo, after surviving their canoe capsizing in ice water, have to face a forest full of bears, and it's terrifying as it sounds, as they were practically defenseless.
    • This happens in "Trapped On the Mountain" where the elk hunter gets mauled by a grizzly.
    • "Escape from Bear Mountain" has two friends end up stuck in bear country after a plane crash leaves them horribly injured. As to be expected, they run afoul of several bears during their travels.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: A played with example happens in the episode "Lost in the Rainforest", where the woman (who has depression) suggests to her travelling partner that they slit their wrists so they won't die from the elements.
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  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Averted. The actors playing the survivors in flashbacks are realistically covered in dust, bruised, blistered, scratched up, peeling lips from dehydration and so on. Actual pictures taken of rescued survivors show that this is fairly accurate to real life.
  • Bittersweet Ending:
    • This happened in "Horror in the Grand Canyon" where the group was rescued but, for one of them (Dave Phillips), rescue came too late.
    • In "Fear in Freefall", only Will survives being stranded off the coast of Costa Rica. The other five don't.
    • Steve, Steven, Travis, Ross, and Joseph all survive, but Roger Stone sacrificed himself to save the other two.
    • Benedict Allen is alive, but he had to Eat the Dog.
    • Sea of Cortez. For everything that Joe and Jose do, Lorenzo dies.
    • Blizzard of Death - despite most of the group surviving, one of the guides and helicopter pilots died.
  • Body Horror: Nearly being eaten alive (whether by crocodiles, sharks, hyenas, or driver ants), extreme sunburn, hypothermia, frostbite, dehydration, you name it.
  • Born Lucky: Justin in "Crashed in the Rockies" has the best of luck and the worst of luck. He survives a plane crash unscathed, hikes out and manages to get help... and then the rescue helicopter crashes.... but he survives that too!
  • Cell Phones Are Useless: Zig-zagged:
    • While it seems pretty foolish that most people do not carry cell phones, some of these stories predate the use of cell phones entirely, or took place in a time in which cell phones did exist, but the remoteness of the area they were in meant they would not get adequate coverage.
    • In one episode, the fact that one person had a satellite phone is what allowed them to get help in the first place.
    • In another, whilst stranded on the Swiss Alps in a storm, a woman has enough signal to text for help on her Nokia but not enough to make any calls and this does end up saving her and her companion's life.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Gina Allen and Brandon Day got lost in the mountain wilderness of San Jacinto. They thought they found salvation when they found an old campsite, and a diary in the camp is the current date. Except then they realize that it's actually the previous year to the day. They both are in shock even in the interviews of how they managed to encounter this camp exactly one year after its occupant died.
  • Cue the Sun: At the climax of "Alaskan Avalanche", everything seems bleak. The pilot of the plane which crashed into the glacier and his wife are losing hope, Jim and Dave are on the verge of death after struggling to make it to the same glacier, and the low clouds mean rescue planes can't reach them. Then, miraculously, a break in the clouds comes just as one of the rescue planes flies over the glacier, and everyone makes it off the mountain alive!
  • Daylight Horror: A lot of the events happen in daytime, especially in "Horror in the Grand Canyon".
  • Determinator: Otherwise known as "the drive to survive." Examples include crawling for miles when unable to walk in minus fifteen degrees, scaling a cliff with a shattered pelvis, fending off wild beasts with only one working arm after being mauled by a crocodile and hiking for two days down a mountain with a broken ankle, not to mention sometimes lasting weeks without food and over twenty-four hours without water.
    • This quote by the narrator from "Climb Out of Hell," involving the man who scaled the cliff with a broken pelvis: "Jordan's four day ordeal would have finished most people but his stubborn refusal to give up saved his life."
  • Didn't Think This Through: A number of accidents have gone From Bad to Worse because someone in the group of survivors makes a critical error in judgement that happens to jeopardise not only their own life, but that of everyone else around them.
    • In Terror on the Zambezi, Alistair Gellatly decides to swim to shore to look for help after a raging hippo wrecks the boat he was travelling on with his friends. As he begins swimming, he sees a Nile crocodile, the most recent result of millions of years of evolution, and one of the most feared predators in Africa, swimming nearby, having not noticed him. Though he could attempt to sneak past it, he has the bright idea to chase it, then try to punch it, all while still in the water where the croc has an even bigger advantage than it would anyway. Needless to say, this very foolish decision doesn't end well.
    • When Michael Couillard and his son get lost skiing in the snow, they try to hike back up the way they thought they came. When they realise they've gone the wrong way, they keep walking and end up miles in the wrong direction, far out of the range of search parties. Michael himself criticizes his actions during his interview, since the golden rule when lost in the wilderness is "stay where you are."
  • Dwindling Party: Most episodes depict some survivors that started off as a group when they got lost and have very few or no remaining members left by the time they are rescued.
  • Eat the Dog: Not that the survivor in "Alone In the Amazon" had a choice.
  • Failed a Spot Check: A lot of the scenarios portrayed in the series result from this.
  • Fight to Survive: The central theme of the series, naturally.
  • Flashback: One episode is told from the POV of someone recalling their time after they were captured by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, while he's waiting to be rescued after having his leg blown off by a landmine.
  • Go Mad from the Isolation: As for some of the survivors depicted, starvation, dehydration, infection, etc, tend to do that to you.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: Of a sort. In "Date from Hell", Brandon finds John Donavan's body and then goes berserk and starts a fire which helps get them rescued.
  • Happily Married: Tom and Lynda Bosworth who break down in the desert, Charlie Hench who gets trapped on a mountain and his wife Julie, and newlyweds Brandon and Brandy Wiley who survive a plane crash in the jungle.
    • A heartwarming postscript to "First Date Nightmare." Also in "Hell in the Desert."
  • Heroic Dog: Danelle Ballengee's dog, Taz, who leads rescuers to her while she is unable to move.
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • Roger Stone in Ocean Disaster. Two of the people are stuck in the capsized boat, and Roger pushes them out. He was never seen or heard from again.
    • Mike unknowingly did this when he helped slow Jim Davidson down during the fall.
  • Heroic Second Wind: In "Nightmare on the Mountain" Bruce, growing rapidly exhausted carrying the injured Bram miles to camp, stops and prays for the strength to get him to safety.
    He goes over my shoulder again and I start walking and I didn't feel the pain anymore. And I felt stronger. And I walked and I walked and I said to myself, "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you."
  • Hope Spot: Twice in of "Walk into Hell".
    • First one where one of the counselors recalls a water creek a few miles away from their resting spot, David goes to search for it, only to find that it has completely dried up.
    • The second one occurs at the end where David collapses from severe heatstroke a few yards away from the Colorado River, forcing Mark and Jordan to rush to it to get him hydrated. When Mark came to the river, he spotted a group of off-duty paramedics kayaking and they came to their rescue. Sadly after hours of trying to revive him, David dies.
    • Several in "Crushed by Quad Bike". Ken flips his quad and gets trapped underneath it, but he's got supplies on him... but they're just out of reach. As he looks around, he realises that he's near a farm. One of the farm dogs noticed that something's amiss, and barks like mad... but the humans at the farm don't give it any mind. Now he has no choice but to face the cold, the wind, and a menacing group of Coyotes alone until he can be rescued, without anyone to help him.
    • Guttingly, there are lots of moments like this is the series: a plane passing overhead or a ship on the horizon that simply misses the lost survivors. One example is when lost hikers Brandon and Gina stumble upon a camp... only to realise it's the camp of somebody who, like them, got lost, was never found and died the previous year.
  • I'm a Humanitarian:
    • When lost and gone days without food, several of the survivors will have contemplated cannibalism but neither are willing to go through with it.
    • One pair of survivors contemplated eating their ill friend who succumbed to her wounds and died in her sleep, but refused due to the possibility that her whole body and flesh are full of the bacterial infection that killed her and instead decide to give her a proper burial.
  • Internet Stalking: In "Chasm of Death" the wife of one of the missing men manages to figure out where they are by going through her husband's internet history.
  • Irony: In "Crushed by Quad Bike", it's noted that Ken packed plenty of survival gear in the event of an emergency, but said survival gear only ends up weighing him down and preventing him from escaping after he ends up trapped under his own quad bike.
  • Improvised Clothes: Jennifer and Jim in "Lost in the Snow" know their shoes are insufficient for walking through snow so they wrap their feet in plastic first to offer some protection from the snow. It doesn't save them from having to have all their toes amputated due to frostbite.
  • I Will Only Slow You Down: In "Till Death Do Us Part" Lynda Bosworth has to convince her husband to go on without her, reasoning that he can travel much faster without her. Tom doesn't want to leave her but eventually concedes.
  • Land Down Under: Given its notoriously unforgiving climate, Australia is unsurprisingly the setting for quite a few of the incidents portrayed in the series.
  • Let's Split Up, Gang!: Depending on the situation, this can be a good idea or a bad idea. One person becoming split from the rest of the group is usually bad but other times, especially in cases where one person is unable to walk or when there are young children involved, someone (usually the father) will head on alone to get help.
    • Roger Sargeant in "Hell in the Desert" decides to strike out on his own for help, leaving his girlfriend behind with her two daughters because they're quickly running out of water and he knows he can make quicker time on his own.
    Narrator: Leaving is hard but they're miles from civilisation and he fears the kids won't be able to keep going.
  • The Load: Much more tragic examples.
    • A rare justified example - many times, people are The Load not because of laziness, but because of injuries. If they exert themselves too much, they will actually hurt themselves more, and sometimes this actually happens. Multiple people have been forced to leave behind survivors in order to find help.
    • Lorenzo in "Death in the sea of Cortez" is obese - but he clearly was trying hard. Unfortunately, he suffered two sprained ankles, and because of this, his two friends jerry-rigged a raft so they could move him around easier. He doesn't make it.
  • Missing Child: this is especially the case with stories that involve children:
    • An example of this is where, when they were lost and the son unable to walk, the father had to leave the son in a cave to find help, and this was when it was very cold, and with the snow no less.
    • "A Father's Deadly Dilemma" presents the father getting injured and, because he's injured, his daughter has to venture through the wilderness to find help.
  • No Antagonist: The stories are gripping survival stories, with no antagonist beyond "Nature".
  • Nothing Is Scarier:
    • "Perfect Storm" presents this with Arden. We and the survivors don't find out what happened to him, so he's missing and assumed dead.
    • This is usually the situation from the perspective of the survivor's family and friends, especially if they didn't inform anyone of where they were going. While the missing person or persons are trying to find their way back to civilisation, their parents/children/spouses have no idea where they are or what's happened to them.
  • Oh, Crap!: "Lost in the Snow," a couple towing their baby in a makeshift sled have a brief moment of terror after they realise he's stopped crying, fearing that he has succumbed to the cold.
  • Once per Episode: Every episode makes a point to specifically mention how one of the survivors' organs are "shutting down" as a result of their injuries.
  • Pet the Dog: "Terror on the Zambezi." After being attacked by a hippo, having his arm mauled by a crocodile and at threat from lions and hyenas drawn to the blood from his injury, a cape buffalo, one of Africa's "Big Five" megafaunanote  comes across Alistair Gellatly in the bush in the middle of the night. Alistair is rightly afraid it might attack him, as cape buffaloes are highly territorial and can be very dangerous animals, but instead it just lies down beside him for the night.
  • Promotion to Parent: When his father is injured in "Shipwrecked Family," sixteen-year-old Ben steps up as head of the family.
  • Snow Means Death: A few episodes. For example, in "Frozen at 20,000 Feet", "Blizzard of Death", "Avalanche of Terror", "Snowmobile Nightmare" has the snow presenting obvious issues with not only their survival but their rescue as well.
    • Narrowly missed in "Trapped in the Canyon." Danelle Ballengee knew she wouldn't survive another night in freezing temperatures but what she didn't know was that it would have snowed that night. If she hadn't been rescued then, she would certainly have died.
  • Stay on the Path: Quite a few episodes.
    • This is how the episode "Horror In the Grand Canyon" happens. The group takes an off-trail route and get lost.
    • In "Lost in the Jungle", Ken Wilson first steps off the path to go and take a look at some Mayan buildings on Cozumel Island, and gets lost, but happens to be on another path that linked the buildings together. He then steps off that path as well, and becomes hopelessly lost, somehow ending up wandering the jungle for over 19 days without finding civilisation. What makes this example especially egregious is that, while Cozumel's tree cover is somewhat sizeable, it isn't impenetrable, with roads crossing it at regular intervals. With Cozumel also being an island, the best option would be to pick a direction and keep going until reaching the coast. This together gives the impression that the wanderer might have been walking in circles for almost three weeks straight.
    • This also occurs with "Date From Hell", where the couple go off the trail, even though there's a waterfall nearby.
    • "A Dad's Worse Nightmare" has the father with his daughter go off the trail to go fishing.
  • Tears of Joy: Many people's reactions on being found and rescue is to burst into tears with relief and joy.
  • Too Desperate to Be Picky: When faced with starvation, people will eat anything they can get their hands on, raw or otherwise. They will also drink from any water source available - including their own urine. It's pointed out that if it's a choice between drinking dirty water or not at all, you'll have a better chance of surviving if you do.
  • Turn of the Millennium: A good portion of the stories take place around this timeframe, while some also take place in The '90s and there are a few that take place in The '80s or even The '70s. (Notable in that this is Steven Callahan)
  • Unreliable Narrator: Due to the fact that a few people had Gone Mad From The Isolation temporarily, it's hard to believe how much could be true and how much is them describing their madness. Especially on Cozumel island.