An average Joe likes to watch survival shows. There’s something appealing in sitting in a comfy chair and watching other people eating bugs and walking barefoot through bushes and marshes. It would be cool to have these skills and knowledge. But, getting out of the chair and actually learning those skills, that’s too much for many. It’s a ‘sport’ for weirdos only, right? Well, if you think so, think again.

Some people understand survivalists’ and preppers’ point of view, while others often ridicule their “unreasonable” fears, precautions, and primitive skills. But things are changing. The laughter has stopped and all of a sudden, survivalists and preppers are people to go to for a piece of advice. Covid-19 has changed the world. While ordinary people were frantically assailing supermarkets and fighting over toilet paper, preppers were – prepared

These guys could be gloating, but they are not. All this prepper/survivalist “thing” is basically about self-reliance instead of complete dependence on society, and common sense instead of the senseless “go with the flow”.

But, what about TV shows about surviving in the wilderness and living off the grid? Are they for real and can we learn some valuable lessons?

Why You Should Watch Survival Shows

For starters, let’s make one thing clear: TV survival shows aren’t survival courses. They are TV shows and their main purpose is to entertain. Some of them are genuine and challenging, while others are heavily staged. I’d always prefer going out there practicing rather than watching a survival movie or TV show. But, you have to start somewhere. And if you already spend too much time in front of the TV or other devices, it might be a good idea to watch some of these survival shows. Here’s why:

  • It’s fun. It is as simple as that. You can watch real people dealing with real problems. While I find artificial drama repulsive, many of these shows really put their participants in extreme situations that require skills and effort.
  • You can get some great tips and advice. While practice is everything, many survival shows feature renowned experts with skills and experience. You may never experience similar situations and circumstances, but some strategies and wisdom are universal. So, get your notebook ready and write down the best tips and tricks.
  • You can learn new skills and find inspiration. Be careful, though. Seeing something doesn’t mean that you’ve learned your lesson. You can watch dozens of surgeries on TV, but it won’t make you a surgeon. It’s the same here. You can discover new skills by watching, but you need to go out there and hone these skills. 
  • It will make you think. Imagining emergency situations is one thing. Watching other people deal with it will make it more real for you. You’ll see mental challenges and small hindrances difficult to anticipate

So, enough chit-chat and let’s watch some shows! Here’s our list in no particular order.

Best Survival Shows

1. Alone

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It is one of the most popular and most successful survival shows for a good reason. There’s wonderful and remote nature, drama, competition, and a huge price for a winner. The winner is the one that endures the longest. 10 contestants are on their own, isolated from each other and from the rest of the world in the wilderness. All they got is a camera and sort of minimalist bug out bag containing 10 items of their choice. Well, it’s 10 out of the list of 40 approved items, to be precise.

They are really in the middle of nowhere and it really takes some skills as well as mental strength to survive. It’s genuine, and it’s tough! Enjoy it.

2. Survivorman

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Survivorman is not the first-ever survival show, but it is the one that has set the course and allowed so many to follow. It was hosted by survival expert Les Stroud. Through 7 seasons he challenged himself to survive alone for 7 days (10 days from season 4) in the remote wilderness with little or no food, water, and gear. He was self-documenting his effort and struggles. 

It is an excellent survival show, and it’s pretty extreme. Yes, locations were scouted in advance and his support crew has always been within a rescue range. Nevertheless, it is an authentic show and there’s a lot you can learn from it.

3. Man vs Wild

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Bear Grylls is probably the celebrity ‘number one’ among survival experts. While survival purists often criticize the show for being staged, I wouldn’t judge it too harsh. After all, it is just a TV show. Whatever you think of Bear Grylls’ style, he has influenced more people than any other survival expert. He has the skills and knowledge to share. It is overdramatized occasionally, and Bear’s inclination to eat cockroaches or more gross natural products is sometimes ridiculous. But, you can’t deny that the show is entertaining and informative.

Man vs Wild is the most popular one, but Bear Grylls has hosted no less than 13 TV shows. So, he must have been doing something right. After all, these TV survival shows aren’t survival guides. As long as you get some good advice and no misleading tips, it’s fine by me.

4. Dual Survival

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Dual Survival is yet another survival show being accused of being staged too often. It was easy to spot some inconsistencies and added drama, but I still liked the show. The show features two survival experts with different backgrounds and almost opposite approaches to survival. They have to work together to overcome challenges and survive for a number of days with minimum gear. 

I like it because it emphasizes a very important aspect of survival – decision making. In a potential real-life emergency, it is very likely that you won’t be alone and there will be different opinions. Decision-making conflicts can easily cancel out the leverage of being prepared and skillful. Maybe not in the TV show, though. Anyway, you can learn a thing or two from this TV show, and it should make you think about mental aspects and leadership in SHTF scenarios.

5. Naked and Afraid

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This is one of the most popular survival series. Two complete strangers (a man and a woman) are dropped in the remote wilderness with literally nothing except for one helpful item. And all they have to do is stay alive for 21 days. It is simple and genuine. That turned out to be a winning formula.

While production might choose the footage to enhance the drama, these people really suffer in order to survive. Their skills are sometimes doubtful, but you will get a great insight into the state of mind of people struggling to survive.

6. Life Below Zero

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If you prefer completely unstaged and documentary-style TV survival shows, this is the one for you. It follows several colorful characters living off the grid in remote areas of Alaska. There are no missions, no timeframes, no competition. It’s just an ordinary life of these people. However, their ordinary lives are absolutely extraordinary. They have different motivations and reasons to embrace the lifestyle of constant struggle and challenges. Occasionally, some of them even thrive! Don’t miss it.

7. The Wild West by Ray Mears

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Ray Mears is a survival veteran that shouldn’t be missed. I have picked The Wild West but you can really watch any of his amazing TV shows. Much like Les Stroud, it’s more about survival than it is about entertainment. That’s why he didn’t film too many episodes per year. True surviving takes a serious effort that no one can reproduce too often. So, this guy is a true bushcraft and survival master, ready to share his knowledge.

Conclusion

Survival reality shows are pretty popular. Some of them are better than others, and it’s really difficult to measure the level of entertainment. But, here lies the key point – TV shows are entertainment. So, don’t forget about the difference between survival and survival entertainment.

Having said that, all decent survival TV shows will offer some knowledge and useful tips and tricks. However, if you really want to get something out of it, you need to go out there, testing and practicing those techniques. In the meantime – have some fun