Bear Grylls: Celebrity Survivalism By John Steele

Ex-British SAS soldier, Bear Grylls has produced survivalist TV programs watched by over 1.2 billion viewers in over 200 countries. The TV shows include Man vs Wild, Mission Survive and The Island. I have seen all of the Man vs Wild shows, which made great TV, very entertaining, although many things are done for spectacle, and are not sensible for survival. Thus, drinking his own urine is dangerous due to the high salt content and possible toxins, as is the toxicity of some of the dead offal meat he ate, and food may not be so urgent in a survival situation, and plant food may be safer. As well, he explored caves, and did dangerous climbs that one should not attempt, since the risk of injury would be high.

Thus, when I picked up his survival books, Born Survivor (Transworld, 2007), and How to Stay Alive (Bantam, 2017), I expected the worst, but was pleasantly surprised. None of the urine-drinking nonsense I could see, but sound material. Thus Born Survivor, has 250 coloured pages of two column print, dealing with all the basics one needs to know in bugging out into the wild, such as the psychological aspects of survival, how to start a fire without matches using sticks rubbed together, navigation, types of knots, securing wild food, getting water (various methods, including purification, usually by boiling), improvising shelters, and the various types of shelters that can be made, and special survival considerations in different types of environments from the severe cold, to tropical forests, to deserts.

How to Stay Alive consists of 62 short chapters dealing with how to survive numerous situations, some involving the outdoors, but many based upon urban environments. Thus, I found interesting how to escape burning buildings, what to do if kidnapped, and dealing with medical emergencies such as life-saving CPR, stitching a wound, and avoiding blisters, the bane of long-distance trekking by foot. I like to get out these sorts of books after dinner, here out in the scrub, where I live in my tent, and read a bit in the dying light, before perching for the night, having had a nice shot of whiskey, for medicinal purposes only.

Overall, I am a strong advocate of buying whatever survival books one can. Along the same lines, I like very much a lesser known TV survivalist, Les Stroud, who did the show Survivorman. This differed from Bear Grylls, in so far as Stroud had no camera and backup crew and went out into survival situations all on his own, filming too. It gives a rawer, more authentic feel to things, rather than just acting, from posed survival situations. Stroud has produced a book simply entitled Survive! (HarperCollins, 2008), which does not have the nice coloured photos of Bear Grylls’ book, but has a vast amount of information covering all the basic areas. I think that it is the better book.

Finally, there is a great book by Aussie Bob Cooper, who conducts Outback Safety and Wilderness Survival courses, and has published, Outback Survival (Hachette, 2012), with I think a more recent edition available, but this is what I have. This is something everyone leaving the big cities, even on a drive between capitals, should have, to read, but also to keep in the car glove box. It deals with the standard things discussed by the other authors, but applied specifically to the Australian context, where we in general do not face surviving ultra-cold conditions, but more like deserts, with the challenges of getting water if a vehicle breaks down off the beaten track. There is even a useful chapter on Australian snakes, and what to do if bitten by one. And there are plenty of snakes in Australia, not all of them without legs.



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