Survivorman Fan Challenge 2015

Today I’ll be writing about my experience appearing in the Fan Episode of Survivorman with Les Stroud. Where to begin?…..I guess a little background on my outdoors experience is in order. For the past 10 years I’ve backpacked extensively around Europe but at the end of the night I’d always end up at a hostel, cabin or campground, so my survival camping skills were quite low. I didn’t have a fear of sleeping under the stars going into the Survivorman show and I knew that most likely….I’D ACTUALLY BE SLEEPING UNDER THE STARS because I didn’t have the necessary skills to create a functional shelter. I’d watched the show for years, so some of the survival concepts were in my base of knowledge, but I’d never had the practical experience. And apart from my irrational fear of bear attacks, which has now subsided, I was comfortable with a trial by fire situation. Though….I wasn’t remotely aware of how uncomfortable I’d actually get.

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First off, for those of you Survivorman fans and/or haters who have been wondering all these years…Yes, Les Stroud is the real deal. The show is NOT faked. Working in the film/tv business I’m always a bit skeptical of reality shows because sometimes shows are bogus (though I was never skeptical of Survivorman for obvious reasons). There were times when I would’ve loved if the show was a farce and some production assistant would’ve come out from behind a tree and given me a piece of fried chicken…but no. Not a chance. It was real. And being on Survivorman was one of the most amazing and most awful experiences I’ve ever gone through. Hanging out with Les Stroud in the woods was amazing….but still, it’s survival and come dawn on the last day….I was so exhausted, defeated, cold and starving that I just wanted to get out of there, eat a hot meal and sleep in a warm bed. Entering into it I knew there’d be some hardships, but I never knew that hunger would’ve had such a detrimental effect on me (as I’m sure you’ll see on the show). I’d gone without food before for about 36 hours, while sedentary, so being deprived of food while physically exerting myself and depleting calories was no easy feat. I got to the point where my brain just said, ‘Hey. You’re starving and tired. But you’re on this tv show. Do a good job. Use what skills you have. Put your eye in the viewfinder and just keep filming’. Hunger was by far… the worst part. Being alone, having anxiety from lack of sleep, being freezing cold at night, struggling to make fire, hurting my knee while hiking, getting soaking wet in the cold, getting sick….those were bad…yeah. But the lack of food just made those other problems even worse because I couldn’t think straight.

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There were good times and opportunities for growth, for sure. And I’m going to focus on those good moments as opposed to giving a linear rundown of the journey. Because that’s why you’re going to watch the show, right? To see the journey. One of my favorite off-camera moments which still makes me crack up, is on the last morning, probably around 4-5am, I woke up to see Les staring at me. He said, ‘Did you get some sleep?’ to which I replied, ‘Yeah. Maybe about 15 minutes’ and he goes, ‘Come on! You slept for like an hour. And you weren’t kidding. Your snoring is world class. Do me a favor. If you ever get married, please get that surgery’. My backpacking buddies have told me for years that I sound like a dying caribou when I snore…and having Les Stroud agree with that sentiment is pretty funny to me. This is part of the reason I feel so bad staying in dorm room hostels (see snoring blog here). At least I don’t have to worry about wild animals sneaking up on me at night because….they’ll think I’m one of them.

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Another great off-camera moment was after one of our long hikes. Les and I got into really thick bush and it seemed we were on an endless trek. I felt like we were Frodo and Sam in Lord of the Rings traversing unholy terrain. The trees were thick and spaced inches apart. The footing was horrible. There were huge swamps blocking our path, followed by boulders and small cliffs. We just kept hitting obstacle after obstacle and we were getting turned around and lost in the woods. This is when I started complaining and Les looked at me and said, ‘Hey, you signed up for this’ and I said, ‘I know. It’s ok. I’m just bitching’. After getting soaked crossing this huge beaver dam, Les and I climbed up on this rock and sat down. We didn’t say anything to each other. Just sat there looking at the beauty of that lake that the beavers helped create. It was a beautiful, crisp sunny day. I had the thought to take out my camera and snap a photo but no….it was too perfect to photograph. A remote spot in the Canadian wilderness that only a handful of avid hunters might see. It was unbelievable. And then after 15 minutes of admiring the scenery, Les and I stood up and continued the unending journey in the thick bush. Moments. That’s what we live for. Moments like that.

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Would I do it again? Yes, in a heartbeat. I made mistakes. I faltered in areas where I didn’t think I would. I was overwhelmed at times and let fear make decisions for me rather than strength. I felt ashamed for letting such little things get to me…but that’s what it’s all about. Survival. Testing yourself. I don’t regret any of it because I learned so much on that journey that I can add into my already large wealth of backpacking knowledge and I had a remarkable experience. And now….I’ve got so many more skills to bring with me in any hiking/backpacking situation. Why did I apply to the contest and accept the invitation? Well, it’s Survivorman….duh! But also, what’s the point of life if you’re not willing to take chances and greet opportunities with open arms, however crazy they may seem? Maybe I did this to prove to myself that I was stronger than I thought. Maybe I did it because I missed my dad and just wanted him to magically come down from the skies and give me a handshake and say, ‘Good job. I’m proud of you’. Maybe I was just bored and wanted to do something wild. Maybe I was thrilled to hang out with Les Stroud and go on an adventure with him! Or all of the above! Either way, I’m just a regular dude who made a good video and was lucky enough to get chosen by Team Survivorman to be on the show. And that’s AWESOME! And I am and will be eternally grateful to Les, Laura, Ian, John, Max, Wendy, Lauren, Web Girl & the rest of the crew for inviting me into their world and giving me an experience of a lifetime.

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We shot a lot of footage so I’m just as excited as you are to see the final product. I honestly have no idea what the episode looks like….and I’m pretty stoked for it. I think this season of Survivorman is going to be one of the best. And maybe after the episode I’ll put up another blog of more of my experiences and anecdotes. As always, be good to yourself. Be good to others. People, animals & plants alike. Do your best. And follow The Golden Rule. Thanks for reading. Have a great day!

And don’t forget to tune in. Saturday November 7th 2015 @ 10pm/eastern on the Science Channel.