Friday, April 4, 2008

Everything I Needed to Know, I Learned From Reality TV

Okay, not quite.

But I thought this story from CBC Manitoba proved that not all reality TV makes you stupider (just most of it):
"Snowmobiler credits Survivorman for his own survival".

I met Les Stroud, the solo star of Survivorman, when I was working at explore magazine in Toronto and he was just setting out as a reality-TV producer. He's an interesting guy with a great sense of humour, which frees his show from the paleolithic macho chest-beating of other prime-time survivalists. Here's what I wrote about him in my book, for a background chapter on the rise of reality TV:
At least one reality-TV show tried to out-Survivor the popular series. By the time Burnett’s show went supernova, Les Stroud, a music-video producer from Toronto turned survival guru, had won several awards for his first film, Snowshoes and Solitude, an intimate video diary of his year living alone with his wife in the boreal forest of northern Ontario. He figured the hour was right for his own reality-TV concoction. Stranded first appeared on the Discovery Channel in 2001, and Stroud later appeared as Survivorman in Canada and the United States. In each series, he ventured into exotic wilderness locations to live off the land for a week and tell the story of his travails. He separated his methods from those of other reality shows by doing all the filmwork himself. Viewers no longer had to suspend their disbelief and ignore the fact that the on-screen survivors were being monitored round the clock by Big Brother-like teams of cameramen and boom-mike operators. In Survivorman, Stroud had to wrest nourishment and shelter from desert canyons, tropical jungles, or blackfly-infested bogs while simultaneously worrying about light readings, battery charges, and picture compositions. Watching a savvy outdoorsman like Les Stroud struggle to light a fire, catch a fish, or find anything remotely palatable to eat destroyed the delusion of many urban viewers that getting by in the wild was as easy as they might imagine.
I saw the rough cuts from his first season but have since only caught the occasional episode of Stroud's show while staying at motels. I've always enjoyed it—his approach is about as "real" as reality TV gets... at least within the current "ethics" of the contemporary entertainment biz.

Of course, network execs would be happy to feed their American gladiators and Big Brother contestants to real lions if they could get away with it... and get good Nielsen ratings.

No comments: