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Series / Survivorman

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The Survivorman, pictured here in his natural environment.

Survivorman is a Discovery Channel show in which famed survivalist Les Stroud runs the audience through techniques and strategies to keep yourself alive when lost and lonely in the wilderness. The series itself has gone through several series revivals over the years, with a 2015 revival currently running on the Science Channel.

Survivorman can easily be summed up as the survival show, along-side Man vs. Wild, of which the two were rather famous, and infamous, for being Dueling Shows, though with the odd distinction of being on the same network at the time of their creation; the reason being that new episodes of one can be shown during the off-season of the other, so you can get double your survival training during the year.

Unlike Bear Grylls, however, Stroud works alone, filming himself surviving in the wilderness for one week without the aid of a crew. As a result some might find Survivorman a bit more Boring, but Practical when compared to Man vs. Wild, but by most accounts it's the more accurate and realistic of the two though some have criticised this choice since it means Les usually has to do double the work when it comes to getting shots like climbing a mountain while the camera is still below him. Due to concerns for his health Les Stroud has cancelled the show a couple times, but then Un-Cancelled it. This owes a lot to the fact Stroud does not take breaks in hotels overnight- he stays put in the wilderness and heavily risks his safety. His exploits can get quite brutal at times. As of 2014 the show is back with a 5th season after a two year hiatus; in 2012 it returned after a four-year hiatus.

Not to be confused with Man vs. Wild, as just discussed (though you still might have trouble keeping the two straight). Also not to be confused with that other "survival" show.

This show contains examples of:

  • Alcohol-Induced Idiocy: In the Norway episode, Les drinks a six-pack of certainly-not-Heineken and then falls asleep, wasting valuable daylight.
  • Author Tract: As mentioned in Take That!, Les loves to take potshots at more action oriented survival shows, albeit not without some reason. Les has mentioned several times that, while flashy, a lot of what those shows teach tend to be insanely impractical (not to mention dangerous) and the way it glamourizes survival has prompted many inexperienced people to attempt what they do; frequently leading to their deaths in the process.
  • Box-and-Stick Trap: In the "Canyonlands" episode, Les builds a "figure-four deadfall", in which a flat rock is balanced on an easily-triggered arrangement of sticks. He baits it with a bit of peanut butter and successfully flattens a ground squirrel for dinner.
  • Brand X:
    • Most notably, in the Sierra Nevada episode he uses a badly blurred-out Pringles chip can.
    • Les Lampshades this in the Norway episode when he points out that his six-pack of Heineken conveniently has tape over the logos.
  • Catchphrase:
  • Darkest Hour: The Norway episode, where Les came close to dying of hypothermia on a freezing mountainside.
    • Les himself considers his bout of heatstroke in the Kalahari Desert to be the most dangerous situation he has even been in. Only a freak rainstorm the following morning kept him from aborting the episode so he could seek medical treatment.
  • Deconstruction: In one of the 2015 revival episodes, Les took a fan of his into the wild with him for an episode to specifically hammer home how hard it truly is for someone with no survival skills to survive in the wild. While the person did make some smart movesnote  he also made far more obvious mistakes.note  Les spends most of the episode pointing out how surviving isn't as macho glamorous as other survival shows make it out to be, nor is it camping. The fan ended up outright admitting that there was no way he would have survived without Les acting as a safety net.
  • Derelict Graveyard: Les wanders through one in the Argentina episode.
  • Determinator: The man hikes out into the wilderness, with all that camera gear, and no food or water (usually). He then sets up his camera, takes a shot, walks back, packs up the camera gear, then continues on his way again. He does this for every shot in the show, usually while going for long periods of time with little or no food at all.
  • Dissimile: Les' comments after he rigs an improvised hammock in the Alaska episode:
    Les: This is just like a night out in the cabin. Except I have no friends, no food, and no beer.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Some of Les', er...reactions when he gets his hands on a good food source for the first time in a few days.
  • Dueling Shows: As mentioned, with Man vs. Wild.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: In the first pilot episode (filmed in 2001 but not broadcast until 2014), Les doesn't film himself at night and his harmonica is nowhere to be seen.
    • Also, in the first three or four episodes produced Les brings a plain Swiss army knife with him instead of his usual Leatherman Wave multitool.
  • Epic Fail: Any manufactured survival gear Les tries out has a tendency to fail spectacularly when he tries to use it, such as the liferaft survival kit whose waterproof seals failed almost instantly, the survival saw that snaps in half when he gives it a practice tug, the 'survival-kit-in-a-can' whose pull-tab breaks off, and the dud pen flares that turn out to have expired in 1993.
  • Fingore: Every time Les sets up a deadfall trap, he always winds up with several smashed fingers.
    • In the Tonga episode Les smashed his middle finger so hard blood pooled under his fingernail, and he had to burn a hole through his nail with a red-hot needle to let it escape.
  • Goofy Print Underwear: Les' Scooby-Doo boxers from the Costa Rica episode.
  • Improvised Weapon User: Les, in spades.
  • MacGyvering:
    • Turning an old coffee can into a stove? Turning a gun into a lighter? Closing an improvised tent flap with a rock and some video camera tape? Making said tent out of a space blanket, part of the camera tape and a few sticks? An entire list will be sure to follow in the future.
    • Although this can get absurd at times. On the episode on Baffin Island, where he was required to carry a rifle due to safety reasons (polar bears are not, in fact, cuddly creatures who play ball with penguins and drink Coke), he was using the rifle and ammunition for starting fires, prying know, everything except what it was made for, which is rather useful when you need food.
    • He once started a fire by polishing the bottom of a coke can with chocolate. Although it worked, there were probably other tools in the same pile that would have sufficed for the same purpose, and he'd have been better off eating the chocolate. (Incidentally, the Mythbusters tried this method. They had to improvise a tinder-holder, they couldn't get the fire started just by holding the leaf near the can, but it did work.)
    • Parodied in the Cook Islands episode where, after having used his ubiquitous harmonica to make a fish spear, he claimed that he'd built an alternate instrument out of a pair of coconuts before producing a ukelele.
  • Manipulative Editing: The cold open for the Northern Ontario showed a clip from later in the episode. Les has one arm in a sling to simulate an injury. He says something to the effect of "With only one arm, the activities I can undertake are severely limited. Fortunately, there is still one thing I can do. I can play with my harmonica." Of course, the cold open cuts away right at the "with my", with him reaching towards his pants.
  • Mushroom Samba: During the Papua New Guinea episode, Les gets stoned by chewing some betel nuts provided by the local natives as part of his food ration. Wild harmonica playing ensues.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic:
    • The number of times Les stumbles on to a useful piece of trash or a freshly-dead meat source can look suspicious. He has explicitly said several times on the show that he is continually reminded that virtually anywhere you can go on Earth, you will find some evidence that somebody has been there before. Spend any time at all outdoors doing similar things as Les and you will find that this is Truth in Television. He even Lampshades this during what was probably the most egregious such moment: in "Alaska", where he stumbles across half a salmon that had been discarded by an eagle. Also during his Alaska weeknote : he was sitting on a seashore when some fishermen in a motorboat saw him and asked if he needed help. Clearly, he wasn't far enough away from civilization.
    • As mentioned in the above comparisons, most "survival action" shows are, obviously, a lot more action-oriented than Survivorman. Many viewers prefer the former because the survivalist look like a better survivor than Les because they can run around the woods, jump off a cliff, swim across a lake, eat a dozen nasty things, end up rescuing themselves, and never complain about it. But that's all because the other shows are mostly staged - Bear of Man vs. Wild fame was usually near the road, working with his crew and sharing their supplies. Les had a real lack of food and water, had a ton of mundane work to do, the former combined with the later meaning that conserving energy is extremely important, and in some places there was a real chance that an injury or illness could lead to his death. He does have a radio with him most of the time, but it won't help if he's miles away from his safety crew, under tree cover, with no nearby landmarks, and unable to walk. So while other survival shows can afford to take risks, Les had to be more careful about everything.
  • Reduced to Ratburgers: Les will eat just about anything as long as he's sure it's not poisonous or contaminated. As he frequently points out, if you're actually trapped out in the wilderness with no food, eating a rat, sea snail, or boiled seagull embryo can easily make the difference between surviving or starving to death. And also after your third or fourth day without eating at all, such things become far more appetizing.
  • Self-Imposed Challenge: During the "Plane Crash" episode, Les puts his arm in a sling to simulate a broken bone and see how challenging it is to survive in the Canadian wilderness one-armed. He gives it up less than halfway through the episode. It was really hard.
    • Les does this again in the final part of the Romania episode, putting his left leg in a splint to simulate a smashed knee.
  • Shirtless Scene: While he usually tries to stay covered up and protected, depending on circumstances, Les sometimes works with his shirt off. Or pants - thank god for censor boxes.
  • Take That!:
    • In the second half of the Norwegian Mountain Survival two-parter, Les takes a quick shot at Bear Grylls's flashy style and daring stunts, pointing out that trying that in a real survival situation will probably get you killed.
    • He does it again in the Mexican Desert Island episode at the very beginning of the second half, where he snarks about all the things he hears about 'fighting against nature' and 'man versus the wild' while talking about how nature isn't an enemy.
    • It's also a subtle Take That! every time he mentions doing all the camera work and being out there alone. considering all the help Bear Grylls has.
  • Tempting Fate: During the tropical island episode, Les complains about being out of water and about how hot the tropical sun is. Then he gets two solid days of rain, which damages his equipment and keeps him confined to the boat. Les even lampshades it.