This post is #2 in the series in which I will be asking the question concerning survival… how much if any education is in the entertainment?
Don’t read the Amazon reviews as they give the story end away!
I watched this on Netflix, which does a very good job of not revealing any spoilers.
Man Vs. begins under the premise of that the star is a reality survival show guy. He is a somewhat charming happy-go-lucky upper-crust type with a sense of humor that reminds me of weak hot sauce.
That he is a family man who is slightly annoyed by the responsibilities of being a status-quo modern conventional father and husband may seem unimportant at first, but I give credit to the storytellers in that this little detail, his ability to so easily shift from happy-go-lucky to angry at the slightest of annoyances… whew… is actually a very important survival trait to have.
This flexible personality is seen throughout the movie, and this is a part of the survival attitude and will to live, the ability to manage and utilize both of opposite emotions when they occur, to be a whole being, not just a one-sided subconscious conformist to what teachers and preachers have molded us during our childhoods to “uniquely” be. Most people are ingrained by society to be either or… whether shy or outgoing, introverted or extroverted, happy or angry, etc. We are taught to think this way as children and to act throughout our lives according to what standardized personality tests in our education show us about our “selves”. But this character struck me right away and remains consistently throughout the movie as flexible enough emotionally that he has a huge survival advantage. Al Siebert, Ph D. writes extensively about this in his book, The Survivor Personality.
The title, Man Vs., takes from Bear Grylls’ Man vs. Wild series, and the movie begins with our hero and his production crew setting out for the remote wilderness of northern Ontario. We soon find out that the survivor will be unaccompanied by his crew and so the character’s solo style show is reminiscent of Les Stroud’s Survivorman series.
His team drop him off and will pick him up 5 days later. He has a PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) just in the event of an emergency requiring immediate evacuation; this is something anyone on a remote excursion should have. The guide who takes them across the lake to their drop off point says it is nice to be able to afford such things, which is very true. My uncle used a PLB on his US to Hawaii and back solo sailing trip… more on that in a later article.
Setting out on his own, the first thing he does is explain his scenario. He is equipped by his producers as having only what an amateur nature photographer lost in the woods would have. To wit:
- can of energy drink
- SAK (Swiss Army Knife)
- stick of gum
While looking through his stuff, he activates the flash. This may seems consequential only to the story but it is an important step. Testing your equipment for manufacturer flaws and dead batteries before your need for them arises is smart. I have a review of a fire making product that should I had included it in my survival kit and was in need of it for the amount of fires it is promised to be good for… under extreme circumstances I might have frozen to death. It is an excellent product by the way, its only flaw being one of packing, not design or manufacturing. Here is that review.
After inventory, our hero makes for the tree line, presumably to get out of the potential wind and rain, and we next see him building a lean-to type shelter, utilizing an already fallen tree as the main support. This saves energy and time. He painfully gets a piece of wood stuck under his thumbnail. It is bleeding but not life threatening, and this little incident sets the tone that the wilderness can be a dangerous place for the unprepared. He should have been wearing gloves (I own a pair of these multicam Mechanix gloves, they fit great and are awesome!), but these were not provided by his producers in his “amateur nature photographer’s backpack” and so he must put up with painful dings and nicks that are in the very least uncomfortable and could become infected.
Making a fire by polishing the curved bottom end of a soda can with dirt for half an hour… is it possible? Well, according to our hero it is.
And afterward, in typical seasoned Hollywood outdoorsman fashion, our hero has the blade of his SAK (Swiss Army Knife) stuck in the ground while angling the soda can in the V of a stick. Do that if you want a dull and possibly chipped or dinged blade… in other words… don’t do that! Take care of your blades. I have had a Swiss Army Knife in my pocket since I was 12. I had recently misplaced it and believing it lost, I purchased another… here is the story on that.
Anyway, he angles the polished can end, pointing it toward a pile of kindling… not tinder!
He wanders off and returns after an undisclosed period of time… and wallah!… to smoldering embers. His ensuing Tom Hanks’ Castaway impression, well… you’ll just have to watch it and be judgemental for yourself.
Using a polished soda can end is entirely possible, on a clear summer day perhaps, although in any case, I would use a viable form of tinder such as:
- various shelf fungi
- punkwood (the dry rotten inner wood)
- dry grasses
- cattail fuzz
Probably impossible with kindling or most unprocessed tinders. Processed tinder is such that the fibers are worked vigorously to break the tinder down into a very light fine state so as to easily catch and hold a spark. Charcloth has the extra advantage of being an already heat prepared surface, and is black which absorbs heat from sunlight easiest. I will discuss preparing tinders and making charcloth in future articles.
Regarding materials used for polishing the can, maybe something more fine and pasty than dirt will be easier and more effective, something like clay, toothpaste, chocolate, etc. But clay is not as commonplace as dirt, and you obviously won’t have chocolate or toothpaste unless you bring them. Better to bring a more reliable firestarter for the weight than toothpaste; a Bic lighter is dependable and is used one-handed, so is usable even if one of your hands is injured.
But if there is no manufactured firestarter such as a lighter or ferrocerium rod (here is my review of some magnesium bars with attached ferro rods), and there is no wood to make fire by friction, and dirt is all one has to polish an available aluminum can, one way to turn regular dirt into a fine rouge powder, is to sift it through a shirt.
Then he wanders off in search of more wood. Why wasn’t he doing that before he scampered back from his soda can magic? At least his prioritization of survival needs is right. According the Rule of Threes you can survive:
- 3 hours without warmth
- 3 days without water
- 3 weeks without food
Although the movie shows that he did have a shelter, it would never have kept the rain off, but it might serve as a heat reflector. I’m not sure if the director had intended to make the survival instructor look dumb in this regard, or if it was assumed he checked the weather forecast or was told it wouldn’t rain, or what.
The important thing is to stay calm.
he says when he sees a wolf near the lake shore while he investigates a huge swathe of broken trees and many dead fish at the edge of the lake. Staying calm… no panicking is paramount to any survival situation; always remember this if anything.
He does as the wolf and passes on an easy fish dinner, not knowing how they died. The animals often know better than you do.
Having passed on the fish, he decides to have a go at trapping small game. And with the blade of his SAK once again stuck in the ground… he presents a figure-4 deadfall trap. He uses some of his apple as bait because,
Rabbits love apples.
I didn’t know that.
The next morning, we learn he set 3 traps… not many… but
Haha! Two out of three!
But 2 out of 24 is probably a more realistic expectation. He then explains the importance of preparing dead animals away from the sleeping area to avoid attracting predators. Wise. Then we actually learn 1 of the 101 (are there really that many?) ways to skin and gut a bunny.
Wow, I wasn’t expecting that. Notice that his SAK is one of the new locking varieties.
Next, while Bugs is cooking… we learn the value of someone to look forward to being with again. Nice (*)(*)! I rewound it and watched it again.
Notice his bloody thumbnail. It’s a reminder. Safety first! Use gloves!
When suddenly… SNAP!
So whatever it is, it’s back. It’s probably that wolf.
as he grips his SAK in a way that might prevent his fingers from being cut if the blade closed, even though it is one of the new locking varieties.
Well, back to dinner and with nighttime approaching, he instructs us to save the other bunny away from camp and up in a tree via a string (actually his camera strap cut into thin strips to make a, uh, rabbit rope), again… to avoid attracting predators. Good advice.
Now an important and often overlooked aspect of survival is keeping your mind active. The isolation and loneliness can drive many to lose hope. As you know, I like to play chess against myself.
I agree with keeping the mind active. He is then carefully deliberating his next chess move, next to a nice campfire… when… SNAP! I do not agree with his reliance on his SAK as a weapon. I would have fire-hardened the sharpened end of a strong spear shaft by now, but he just basically ignores the sound and goes back to not losing hope by playing more chess against himself.
Time for bed, but wait…
Fuck was that!? Going night vision here!
He now picks up a random piece of wood and goes searching for the noise.
It is behind him… and as suddenly, is gone. It’s a full moon, and there’s nothing to do but wait until morning.
He think it’s wolves. Insomnia, pain, cold, wet, anger… is it all about the fame and money? PLB not working!
Fucking lousy piece of shit!
He realizes it isn’t a wolf when he goes to get his rabbit roped breakfast… and it is gone.
What the hell?
He finds a strange black substance on his tripped yet otherwise empty figure-4 deadfall trap.
Never seen anything like that before. Yeah… me neither.
Seems he’s going multiple personalities on us. Probably normal for that profession.
Back at camp… talking to himself, he can’t find the phone he knows he put certainly.
I’m losing my fucking mind! I put the fucking phone on the bag. I put it on the bag!
He then notices his chess pieces not how he left them.
… unless I’m losing my mind.
We’re 40 minutes to go of this movie… and our hero rationalizes the only sane conclusion,
So someone is clearly messing with me.
He tugs on a rolly cigarette chuckling,
You know any wolves that can play chess?
He tries to jokingly bemusedly assure himself it is his production team… but he realizes there is no real assurance of that, in fact, it can’t be.
So far, I’m entertained enough to say this movie is worth a watch on that merit and does contain some solid survival knowledge, although his next shelter is only practical as a shade screen, which would only be useful to avoid sunstroke or to help prevent dehydration… or to avoid being seen by others.
Well, he goes off for a stroll, expounding upon food gathering… when suddenly things get crazy.
Ha ha! I’ll suffice it to say that they did a pretty good job of blending survival education with entertainment. It is certainly worth a watch. I wouldn’t exactly call it “Down the Rabbit Hole”, Or would I? I’ll leave the remaining 35 minutes up to you to enjoy.
What one item would you have had with you in your “amateur photographer” bag?
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About me, the author… Troy Boylan
Ecoculture Village Founder & President, Anthropology BA, Interdisciplinary Studies: Ethnobotany BS. Two things I think are worth anything at all… all things wilderness and ecoculture… and well, RPGs… and skateboarding!
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