‘Outside’ Exclusive: Les Stroud Returns to Discovery Channel as ‘Survivorman’


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Les Stroud in Norway. Photo: Discovery

After almost a four-year absence, 50-year-old survival expert Les Stroud will return as Survivorman on Sunday August 19, at 8 p.m. Eastern. Earlier this year, Stroud traveled to the mountains of Norway and the desert island of Tiburon in Mexico to record four new hour-long shows for Discovery. He left as he always does, without food and water while hauling 65 pounds of camera gear to record his every move. Everything was the same, except this time Stroud decided to up the ante by spending 10 days alone in the wilderness instead of the usual week. The trips bring his Survivorman totals to 23 locations and 170 days alone in the wild. We called him at home in Ontario, Canada, while he was picking raspberries in his garden, to find out a bit more about the new episodes. As it turns out, one of them included the most dangerous experience he’s endured in the wild.

Watch an exclusive Survivorman video clip of that moment and another below.

Why did you want to come back and put yourself through this again? It’s just you out there alone.
Well, I love these skills. I always loved it. I love what I do. It was sort of an opportunity for me. Since I did Survivorman there’s been a billion spinoff shows. Discovery’s had them, and other networks have tried to copy them. No one has been able to do what I do. No one has actually been able to film themselves survive. So it was actually me going, You know what? Let me show you how to do this again. In a fun way, not in a mean way.

It was also an opportunity for me to say, You know what? Let’s ramp it up this time. Let’s go 10 days instead of seven days. It gave me the chance to do that and get back out into the jungle and wherever it was I was going to land. I remember a long time ago, there was a thing from a Reuters interviewer who had wrongly stated that I had quit because I was getting physically beat up. That wasn’t the case at all. I just wanted to work on Beyond Survival. So now, I’m back. I’m still strong. I still love it. I called Discovery and said, Hey, let’s do some more. Let’s have fun with this. As I said, I use that term fun, really, really loosely, because it’s tough. But I do love the skills and the action of it all. I mean, that’s why I went back, for passion.

Les Stroud in Norway. Photo: Discovery

Why did you pick Norway and Tiburon?
First of all, Tiburon is a place I’ve always wanted to go. One of my survival experts, his name is David Holladay, he’s been pushing Tiburon on me for years, saying, You should go. It’s really intense. I finally took the bait. (He’s advised me on at least four Survivorman episodes so far.) I always try to find a unique place to go, to survive. I could go to five deserts, but they have to be different deserts. There have to be different things to do. This is a desert island in Mexico on the ocean coast—highly different than anything I’ve ever done.

Norway was interesting because since the last Survivorman, there’s been a lot of stories of people getting stranded in their vehicle, and perishing, actually. I’ve got a book out called Will to Live, in which I dissect all the great survival stories. And in one of them I dissect the story of a couple that got lost in their car and got stranded with their baby and nearly died. That story keeps repeating itself. In fact, it happened like a month ago and I got called for that. So I thought, How about I do that? I stranded myself in a car and to see if I can figure out, why do people stay? Why don’t they just leave? So I stuck myself in a little car on the side of a mountain in Norway, in the snow, so to speak. Because I do have to organize these to some respect so I can get out there and survive. Then I did about four or five days in that car, and realized, You know what, this isn’t working, I’m going to starve to death here. I’ve got to go out in the mountains right now. And then it’s another four or five days surviving in the mountains. Norway was chosen because it had the weather I wanted, it had the snow, it had tough geography to deal with, yet was also stunningly beautiful.

What was the toughest thing you had to deal with?
On Tiburon, interestingly enough, it became a matter of dehydration and a new reality. The food is in one place, but the water is in another, and they are many miles apart. So how do you handle that? Mexico became an exploration in how to deal with that kind of scenario, which was new for me. Often I can find both in the same area.

The thing about Norway was—I had an area where I was traveling after the car situation and I produced the show, so I roughly know where I am and where I need to go—yet, all the same, I got completely and hopelessly lost. I was completely exhausted, drenched to the bone with sweat, drenched to the bone with freezing rain, walking in slippery snow, on really steep, steep mountains going down. I got completely lost and stuck where there were cliffs in front of me. I had to go back up the other way and the sun’s going down. I’m soaked to the bone in the frickin rain. It doesn’t matter how skilled I am, that’s a recipe for hypothermia if there ever was one. And there’s no security system. Normally I have some sort of backup security system where I can call or radio. Well, not in this case. It was the mountains and no signal was getting out anywhere. When you watch the show, you’ll see the palpable emotion I was going through. That’s highly genuine. I was really quite nervous for probably the first time in my life as Survivorman, and getting really worked. It was so bad that there were a couple moments that I wouldn’t let my editor keep in the film because it was almost too embarrassing. I thought, you know what, I don’t want people seeing me that bad off.

Ironically, after all these years doing Survivorman, I go back to do it, and I’m feeling confident and cocky, and I get one of the toughest experiences I ever had.

Les Stroud in Norway. Photo: Discovery

Would you say that was the most scared you’ve been?
I never use the word scared, and I don’t won’t to sound machismo, but I don’t use scared. Let’s just say I was extremely concerned for my well-being. And was it the most I was ever extremely concerned? Absolutely. More so than the jaguar in the jungle. More so than the heatstroke in the Kalahari. That moment on the mountain in Norway was absolutely my lowest time on Survivorman.

Before you go in and shoot in a location, what’s your typical night before? Do you have a pattern?
Zero. No. I have always felt that I should go into these locations in the same physical place as any normal human being. So, if I prepare myself by gorging, or prepare myself by fasting, or something else? I mean, I try to stay fit, but that’s a normal part of my life. I just prefer to go in. If I eat breakfast that morning, great. If I don’t, I don’t. I leave it to my mood and I let it be natural. So that you, as the viewer, are watching someone in a natural state go through what you might go through. Not as a superhero survival guru. I prefer that; it’s much more realistic.

And when you finish, is there anything you do?
Well, the irony is that every time I finish we’re so far in the middle of nowhere I reconnect with the crew and there isn’t any good fun. I’m lucky if they have a case of beer there so when I get out I have a beer and a pizza. That’s about it. I come out and I get back into the action, because four weeks later I have to get out and do it again.

Have you ever come back from a place and found out you’ve picked up a bug, or a disease?
Oh yeah. More times than I care to remember actually. The worst-case scenario goes all the way back to season one. I think I got it from the turtle in the Georgia swamps. I got a parasite that, for some reason, wreaked havoc on the lining of my mouth. It would leave these long snake-like lesions on the inside of my mouth. It was a year. There were times when I had to eat through a straw because it was so painful. We got rid of it using heavy-duty medication. We never did figure out what it was, and the third world specialist in Toronto looked in my mouth and said he’d never seen anything like it before. So I was like, Okay, you’re the last person I want to hear that from. I want to hear that’s such and such, take these. But he shook his head.

So that was a nasty situation. If anything, my greatest suffering has been through parasites. I’ve had my share of being curled up in the fetal position on the bathroom floor in pain because of different parasites. I think in Sri Lanka in Beyond Survival I found myself on a bathroom floor in that position. I’ve broken lots of bones. That was the most pain I’ve ever felt though. Feeling your lower bowels in just complete agony.

What has to happen for you to come back and do a full season of Survivorman?
If you look at it from my perspective, I’ve been doing it for more than 11 years now. I’m the guy who started the genre of this television, known as survival TV. It’s been a long time for me. What would it take for me to do more? Nothing more than my passion to remain with it. So I’ll give you a little scoop. Let’s just say, we’re discussing it. I’ll leave it as a tease. And, we’re discussing it with a twist.

—Joe Spring