Chris Noble of Master Woodsman recently did an exclusive interview with Cody Lundin, the ultimate survivalist from Discovery’s Dual Survival. Lundin has worked as a survival instructor for over 25 years, sharing his knowledge and expertise in the TV industry since the early 90s.
Lundin agreed to share his thoughts on the Survival TV hype, and the risk of “Survival Entertainment.”
NOBLE: May 28th, 2014, USA Today published an article, Survival TV strips down, takes off. In that article, Discovery Network president Eileen O’Neill talked about their survival programming after the 2007 Bear Grylls (Man vs. Wild) hotel scandal, “The importance of authenticity is key for Discovery Channel,” since then, “the shows we’ve delivered are grounded in that.”
As a very recent host of Dual Survivor, would you agree with these statements from Discovery?
LUNDIN: Whether something is authentic or not can only be known by someone who has experience in that something. Ms. O’Neill is a corporate executive, not an outdoor survival instructor. Therefore, she has zero credibility in defining this profession or anyone else’s profession as being portrayed as authentic or not. Using the word authentic for a network that is pursuing more and more scripted reality shows is a bold statement.
NOBLE: You were the first one chosen to host Dual Survivor is that right?
LUNDIN: Yes, that’s right. Keep in mind that the show is called Dual Survival. For some reason, Discovery is not aware of their shows correct name.
NOBLE: Wow, ok…
LUNDIN: But anyway, yes, they chose me first and then went on to find my partner for the show. This resulted in three chemistry tests overall before my first co-host was chosen. After the network eliminated Dave, I did two more chemistry tests to find my new co-host who was a Navy SEAL. He blew the deal with the network and so the production company did one more chemistry test to find Joe. All in all, I tested with more than twenty military guys, twenty-four or twenty-five I think.
NOBLE: You mean Joe wasn’t the first choice to be your new co-host?
LUNDIN: No he wasn’t.
NOBLE: I want to talk more about Dual Survival, but I know the focus of this interview, and why you agreed to do it at all was to address what you see as a growing problem with survival skills in the media, in how they’re being presented. I notice you use the term “Survival Entertainment.” What does this mean to you?
LUNDIN: It’s my hope that through this interview people gain a greater understanding of the mythical power of media, how to crack its code of illusion, and to recognize the true qualities of a professional survival skills instructor. I use the term survival entertainment because unfortunately, that is how the profession of survival skills is being treated by the media, like a big game. Survival deals with whether people live or die, as the word implies. This dumbing down is happening not only on TV, but in movies, books, magazines, blogs, etc. I’m concerned that the public is being dangerously misled to believe that survival entertainment actors are qualified to teach survival skills. Misunderstanding entertainment for training and celebrity for credentials can and has gotten people killed.
NOBLE: Are you saying that the majority of TV survival shows don’t showcase professional survival instructors?
LUNDIN: Of course I am, haven’t you noticed? (laughs) It is painfully obvious to me and my peers. A professional mechanic can always spot a beginner mechanic or hobbyist or someone who is faking something for the camera. Any professional from any field can spot this. Experience, or the lack of it, can’t be faked. Unfortunately, in my industry, most people have no idea what a survival instructor really does, or should do, and there are several branches of survival training, just like there are several branches of the medical profession.
NOBLE: What do you mean by that?
LUNDIN: Remember when someone told you they were a doctor and that was enough? Now, it’s “what kind of doctor are you?” There are oodles of physicians in the yellow pages for my little town. There are foot doctors, eye doctors, skin doctors, heart doctors, lung doctors, bone doctors, allergy doctors, doctors for kids, doctors for older people, doctors for female issues, doctors for male issues, blah, blah, blah! While not as diversified, the survival profession is the same way. Modern survival is different from primitive living skills, which is different from urban preparedness, which is different from homesteading, which is different from wilderness living or “bushcrafting.” They all revolve around various aspects of self-reliance, just like all of the different doctors revolve around dealing with the human body. But one does not go to a foot doctor to remove a cataract. Even many survival instructors are unaware of the differences, and the media, not knowing the difference either, puts out whatever they think is valid. One of the biggest problems I see, even among the majority of survival instructors, is context. It is one thing to know a survival skill, it is quite another to recognize the correct context into how that skill should be implemented in an emergency scenario. This is critical if people want to live. The best way to have greater control of the context, into how to use hard and soft skills to defeat a survival situation, is through years of field experience and training. Many people have survived situations despite themselves, despite the mistakes they made, and fate, luck, karma, whatever you want to call it does play its role in whether people live or die. But training with skills in the proper context of the supposed emergency is always the best training option. Training intentions are very important when dealing with a professional in which people live or die based upon that training. How could it be any other way, right? A paramedic is trained in both how to maintain a patent airway and treat a lower extremity wound. Both are valid skills to know in emergency medicine. However, if the medic treats the nasty looking leg wound first, at the expense of gaining or maintaining a patent airway, their patient will die. The first-aid skills, although both valid in their own right, were done in the wrong order. The context was screwed up for the scenario and the patient dies. This lack of context is a huge problem not just on TV, but in all media regarding survival skills, including so called survival magazines. The author, producer, TV host or whoever, simply does not have the field experience to be able to put into context the survival skills they think they are teaching. This is true of many survival instructors too. And if survival instructors are unaware of the proper context in skills training and methodology, how in the hell do you expect a corporate executive to get it, or even care?
NOBLE: You stress that wrong context is a major issue in survival training, even with other survival skills professionals. Did you see context problems with Dual Survival, and if so, did you try to do anything to change it? Also, do you see a context problem with other survival programming?
LUNDIN: Dual Survival is a TV show based upon a modern outdoor survival scenario. It has the statistical three day or seventy two hour time line and has the hosts either self-rescuing, which is very rare, or being rescued by a third party. Sometimes this rescue comes in the form of trained Search and Rescue, such as the Florida episode in season two, or sometimes it was someone else, a rancher, or whatever. I helped develop the shows modern survival format, and worked with the original executive producers to help wrap their heads around this basic concept. You must remember that everyone I’m working with had no experience in outdoor survival, even from a TV production standpoint, much less from a personal or professional standpoint. The time line of three days was more of a budget thing than anything else, but it was valid nonetheless. I had one hand on the steering wheel and one foot on the brake the entire time I hosted and helped produce Dual Survival. I did this as I was the only one who had decades of back country experience actually doing these skills in the proper context with students, and who was aware of the difference between modern survival, primitive living, and urban preparedness, etc. Most other parties had their foot on the gas. Producers would come to me to run by their story lines for each episode and I would shoot down what had no context, or what was questionable for the scenario given. They learned early on not to ask me to do dumb stuff, things that were blatantly dangerous to the viewer as I would simply refuse. Whether my co-hosts decided to do these things was up to them. I was a professional survival instructor first, who had trained hundreds of people over the years on real field courses. I was a TV host a distant second. My first and main concern on Dual Survival was the viewer’s safety, not attempting to look like a bad ass. What not many people realize is Dual Survival was created in part to help make things right after the Man vs. Wild fiasco. In the early days of Dual Survival, the executives wanted as much realism as possible, with of course the entertainment value that must come from a TV show of this type. Most of the time, they would listen to me and I would help them shape the context of the show with real world experience. I have no idea what they did with my advice as I have never watched the show, but I did my part, and I did it with an iron fist of very little compromise. Why? Because people’s lives were on the line, my professional reputation was on the line. Not surprisingly, in season two, Dual Survival reruns were beating new Man vs. Wild shows in the ratings. When given the chance, the viewing public chose learning and caution over reckless drama.
NOBLE: OK, I have to ask, why have you not watched your own show?
LUNDIN: At first I didn’t watch because I didn’t want to get pissed off. I’m very picky about the skills. I take my job very seriously and I knew that no matter how hard the production company tried, they would screw things up with editing. Later on, it was much more fascinating to hear what other people thought about the show without my bias. I mean, I was there when the filming happened, but we shoot fifty to sixty hours for each forty odd minute show. Hundreds of hours get thrown on the edit room floor in a season. I have no idea how they arrange the content. Now, I simply have a negative taste in my mouth about the lack of leadership that caused the show to suffer. It’s always more fun to eat the meal the first time though, you know, rather than vomit and consume sloppy seconds.
NOBLE: You were featured as the primitive skills guy on the show, but you say that Dual Survival is a modern survival skills show?
LUNDIN: I was and it is. I don’t think to this day that the people I worked with realized there is a difference in intention, in context between modern survival, primitive living skills, urban preparedness, bushcrafting, and homesteading. In a modern survival scenario you are trying to get out alive, its short term. Obtaining rescue is the main intention. In a primitive living scenario, you are already home, living off the land. There is no rescue. They pigeon holed me as the primitive guy as they wanted greater contrast between me and my co-host. Discovery went so far as to brand me a naturalist without my permission or knowledge. John Muir is a naturalist; I am a professional survival skills instructor. They had no clue, and still don’t about the context we’re talking about here. Little did the network know, I am well versed in many forms of self-reliance training. I have retaught Native Americans how to make deadfall traps with natural materials, lectured to modern Search and Rescue teams about hypo and hyperthermia and keynoted a National disaster preparedness conference for local, state, and federal government employees in a ballroom at the Mirage in Las Vegas as examples. I did all of these things and much more before Dual Survival was a TV show. My first book, 98.6 Degrees: The Art of Keeping Your Ass Alive is a modern survival skills book. When All Hell Breaks Loose: Stuff You Need to Survive When Disaster Strikes is a book on urban preparedness. And yet I’m the primitive guy on TV. And yet that’s ok as I have been teaching primitive living skills since the late 1980’s. It’s the first skill set I learned. The difference is that I know the difference between these skills sets. Since I know the difference, I am well aware of the context in how these skills, if they should be blended, should play out in a scenario on camera or off. This is a very rare skill set to have, and it went unrecognized by nearly everyone I worked with.
NOBLE: Can you give us an example of how this played out on camera or off?
LUNDIN: I could give dozens of examples going back years on various TV shows. One of the context issues on Dual was hunting and food in a short term survival scenario. Lack of food is not the concern in a modern short term survival situation. Dual Survival is a modern survival skills show as we have said. No one, I repeat, no one has starved to death in three days. It’s a physical impossibility. Yet why the emphasis on hunting? Part of this was network ignorance of how things really happen in the field, and what the priorities are for short term survival. Part of this was the need for drama for the show as it would be hard to eke out multiple seasons while staying completely pure to modern survival skills. Part of the drama was primitive hunting weapons. I talked them out of me using a bow and arrow, atlatl, and other complex compound hunting weapons as the context was ridiculous. It wasn’t believable in the show as it was too time consuming to make, the context was wrong. I agreed to be a part of certain things as I do feel it’s important for people to learn how to procure calories in the field. Not for a modern survival situation, but in the context of hunting and gathering, or primitive skills. We needed to blend the context to a point in order to have a show. Where I drew the line was on the larger animals. I literally lobbied the network to cut down on the larger animals for the show as it was ridiculous and had no context in what this show was about. This was not a hunting show. It was not sound training methodology and the context was wrong. It set a bad example. What was applicable were simple gatherings techniques, subtle calorie opportunities to help a survivor keep their glucose levels stable, the random opportunities that sometimes come up in the field. The long story short is I appeared like the guy that couldn’t hunt on the show. I was willing to take this ego hit for the greater good of setting the proper training example, but man, it was tough to see these dumb asses posting this and that about how I never brought any meat to the table. I mean, I had been teaching primitive trapping since the early 90’s! The plus side is that someone who is this gullible about how TV works becomes the meat in a nasty long term grid down situation! (laughs). In the end the message is always more important than the messenger. I have dedicated my life to teaching self-reliant skills, it’s how I live my life, quite truly a part of my spiritual path. Getting crap from uninformed people is simply par for the course, and TV can really bring out the trolls.
NOBLE: Did Discovery vet your survival credentials before they hired you for Dual Survival?
LUNDIN: At no time, ever, was I asked to prove the experience I had to get on that show. Think about that for a minute. I was to be launched to international fame as a professional survival instructor from a profession that directly deals with whether people live or die, and they didn’t even ask me for a (expletive) job resume. I have friends that need to show a professional resume with multiple references to even be considered to rent a house! It is always the job of the employer to vet the employee for credibility and experience. Especially if the employee is setting a global example of safety for millions of people for God’s sake…but it never happened.
NOBLE: You’re kidding me…
LUNDIN: I wish I were.
NOBLE: Did anyone have any survival skills experience?
LUNDIN: I worked for a network that had no survival skills experience, and a production company that had no survival skills experience who were both responsible for creating a survival show. Scary. The chemistry tests, as I mentioned earlier, were just that, chemistry tests. They were designed to see how two people reacted to each other, whether they had chemistry or not, not to prove the skill set they had or didn’t have. No one on Dual Survival was hired because they knew a ton about survival skills, including me. Credibility was not the concern for the network or the production company, chemistry was. And while I am well aware that this is a television show, it was once again, a show that dealt with people’s lives and personal safety. Due to other people’s lack of experience, they leaned on me heavy and virtually all story ideas went by me. As I said, I quite literally helped develop Dual Survival in the early days and worked to help produce and consult for the show until I was fired into the fourth season. Keep in mind that I had much TV experience before Dual Survival, both on and off camera. I would routinely work with producers to help them know what to shoot, how to shoot it, and why. I also did two pilot shows for Discovery called Lost in the Wild in 2003, before Man vs. Wild, Survivorman, or any of their other regular survival programming.
NOBLE: So knowing what you did about TV in general, and what they might do to your profession, why accept the job for Dual Survival at all?
LUNDIN: Because the greatest way to create change is to be a part of the change. Instead of telling a few hundred Aboriginal Living Skills School students a year to not drink their piss, I could now tell hundreds of thousands of people in one night! I knew I could correct a lot of the dangerous crap that was being featured on survival shows by people who were not real survival instructors. Second, I could teach self-reliant skills and methodology that works based upon many years of experience with hundreds of students in remote back country terrain. I wanted the viewer to be given necessary facts so that informed choices could be made in regards to survival training. I mean, I am a professional survival skills instructor. Why not be on a show about survival skills? And yet I knew going in that there would be compromises as all TV shows are produced, hence the television producer.
NOBLE: Are you saying that Dual Survival is a scripted show?
LUNDIN: Discovery and Original Media have already done that with their behind the scenes “let’s try to defame Cody” episode. Did they need to show nearly a dozen people standing in the snow in Norway, one of whom was holding a dead rabbit in a bag, the same rabbit that hadn’t yet appeared on the show?
This poorly conceived episode was so poorly received by fans not buying their bullshit about me that Discovery had to disable the public comments section on the Dual Survival Facebook page. Fans were calling them out left and right, as they should have. Discovery also scrubbed the page of all positive comments about me. According to some, people are using pseudonym facebook accounts to actively slander and defame me. No one likes to be lied to…it was insulting to fans and they hammered Discovery. A TV shows fan base is how the network makes money via ads. They literally bit the hands that fed them, apparently thinking that Dual Survival fans were too stupid to realize the truth. Second shot to their foot, right? But they shot themselves in the foot a third time by jeopardizing their options with other people who may have worked for them on other survival programs. The survival skills community is very tight, and very small, we know each other, or at least of one another. Other instructors who have known me for 25 years are not impressed by what Discovery tried to do to me. They also now realized what could happen to them, and they are gun shy. What this means is that credible people, people who actually make their living through survival skills are avoiding networks to protect their livelihoods. What this also means is that people who have nothing to lose, who are not qualified and have little experience with survival skills will appear on TV as the next expert even more so than they are now. And who loses? The viewer, learning piss poor survival methodology and skills that could end up killing them or their loved ones. Not a smart business move, and for what, to attempt to explain my absence from the show when I refused to lie to my fans?
NOBLE: Lie to your fans?
LUNDIN: Yes, Discovery offered to pay me to lie to my fan base. They suggested several times that I tell fans on the original behind the scenes episode that I quit the show to pursue my survival school. Of course I refused. I don’t want to lie to one person let alone millions, especially on a show about safety. This is a serious point that people are failing to realize. Survival skills deal with people’s safety, with their very lives. Having an entertainment show that features a life or death profession is a grave responsibility. As I have mentioned, having the word survival next to the word entertainment is quite sick. There is nothing entertaining about watching a loved one die of hypothermia. How about surgery entertainment? We could create a show called Dual Doctors, have people as hosts who aren’t really doctors, have them cutting on a patient, naked of course, and watch the fun. While George Clooney played the part of a physician on TV, common sense dictates that he should not perform life threatening surgery on a loved one, or God forbid start a school to teach others how to be a doctor, ala Bear Grylls. Had Mr. Clooney endorsed medical gear mass produced in Asia to sell in big box stores based upon his TV show, many people would be dead and he would be in jail. While medical doctors are governed and held to rigorous standards and a code of ethics that protect the general public, the survival skills industry offers no such protections. It remains a buyer beware industry, and unscrupulous individuals and entertainment companies are all too willing to take advantage of this fact. If there were reality shows on the medical profession, there would be outrage as it’s a profession that deals with people’s lives. So why the acceptance of reality shows on the survival profession, which also deal with people’s lives?
NOBLE: What do you think will happen if survival shows keep trending toward scripted sensationalism with unqualified people?
LUNDIN: More dead people. Several people have already died trying to replicate some of the dumb stunts passed off as survival training on survival TV shows. I put them in a folder as part of my job is to collect information such as these unfortunate mishaps. The last one I’m aware of was a guy who died in Scotland, in a stone building no less, who died of hypothermia. He had written an itinerary before leaving saying he was going to try to live-off-the land for a month as he had seen Bear Grylls do on a TV episode based in Scotland. Let me repeat. He died of hypothermia, in a building. This person didn’t even know how to properly dress for being outside, yet felt confident enough to try to live off-the-land based on what he had seen on a scripted TV show. Some would argue that this is the gene pool at work, and I can’t argue with that as anyone who would trust their life to what they see on reality television shouldn’t breed. But the larger problem with this is the dangerous training methodology given on this show that gave this person the false confidence to feel like they knew what they were doing. This is only a microcosm of what is happening globally at a very accelerated rate. Shoddy survival programming is building incorrect training methodologies into inexperienced people whether they realize it’s happening to them or not. These incorrect and dangerous methodologies, can, have, and will directly and indirectly cause more people to die. Not only are many of the survival skills on shows faked, they are faked incorrectly, and as I mentioned earlier the context of how these skills are used in the overall story line are not correct either. Think about this, there are millions of people all over the planet that are being exposed to dangerous fiction couched in the sheep’s clothing of preparedness non-fiction. It is better to have no survival training at all than to have poorly scripted, inaccurate, out of context, highly dramatized information screaming into someone’s head from a television set. Not only does this information cause people to have a false sense of reality about what they think can be accomplished in the woods, it infects their physical preparations in how they pack, what they pack and the preparedness plans they leave, if any, for their next outdoor adventure. But it gets worse, these false teachings, this imagery, can then be remembered and activated under the stress of a real time survival scenario. Imagery is a very powerful and impressionable teacher and imagery is what TV is all about.
NOBLE: Gene Fear, in his book, Surviving the Unexpected Wilderness Emergency!, states that, “talk about survival must be hypothetical because each situation will be different, and every person will react differently.” What is being taught for survival on TV, and other outlets, comes across very linear. As the host says, “If you find yourself in this situation, you NEED to (blank).” Survival and survival knowledge is not linear in nature, is it?
LUNDIN: Variables kill people. There are two things that have the greatest number of variables on the planet. Human nature, meaning human physiology and psychology under stress, and Mother Nature. Both of these wild cards are front and center in every survival scenario on Earth. These limitless variables are what makes teaching survival skills so complex, so delicate, and why it’s so (expletive) important to have a competent instructor. People do not understand this. Think about it, the human body is extremely complex, and the physician that tries to quote practice medicine on the body has a staggering amount of variables to contend with. But this same physician is typically in a comfy indoor sterile environment, with climate controlled whatever, nice equipment, people to help, a medial degree of experience, running water, power and whatever they need. Imagine if they were scared, cold, hungry, being rained on, lost, windblown, navigating treacherous terrain as lightning bolts light up the sky, while being hypothermic with a broken wrist? The survivor has all of the complexities of psychological fear while dealing with the physical body in a wilderness environment filled with limitless variables. And there are people who feel that because they have taught a few Boy Scouts, have a Facebook page and a survival blog, that they are competent to be a survival instructor…and worse, the blog and Facebook pages are how these talent scouts find the next TV expert.
NOBLE: We’ve talked at length about how survival based programming can literally help kill people, or at the very least create a false sense of security with poor planning strategies. Is there anything good that you see about survival programming on TV?
LUNDIN: Absolutely! The survival skills aren’t the problem, it’s the people putting the shows together. Like I’ve said, big city corporate executives and producers that have no outdoor skills, and yet have complete control over what they think this profession is about are the ones doing the damage. The blood is ultimately on their hands, just like it would be if they did a hatchet job reality show about the medical profession. When your programming deals with people’s health and safety, the bar should be set very high. That is not the case. On the positive, I have received hundreds of letters, mostly from little kids who have found a new love in nature from watching me on TV. I have received many letters where little boys and little girls tell me how many frogs they have saved from the swimming pool, that they love to go barefoot, that their parents take them out camping now, and on and on. What blows me away is that many of these kids are conscious of safety, of taking things slow, of respecting the planet. They literally latch onto my persona and because I am trying to be respectful, so are they. It’s a beautiful thing. I have also received emails from people who have used something I did on the show and it has saved their life in a real survival scenario. This is the biggest reward a survival instructor can have! And not surprisingly, it’s typically not a hard skill per se, but the psychology of what I do on the show, careful, methodical, calm, planning and what have you. They have not died, in their words, because they remembered to stay calm in a terrifying situation because they saw me be calm on TV. While this is no surprise to me, it should be a wakeup call to all these TV networks desiring reckless bullshit on a survival show.
NOBLE: With all of the nonsense out there, what should people look for when trying to find a reputable survival instructor?
LUNDIN: The core focus of any professional survival instructor is to mitigate risk. Survival programing that repeatedly creates risk for the viewer is your red flag that you are watching an actor, not a real instructor or someone who has sold out their profession and integrity for money and fame. Do not think for a minute that just because someone appears on a TV show that they know what they are doing. It is quite the opposite. Remember that I was never asked for any proof of the experience I had, they didn’t care. Beyond the television BS, I have a link on my web site called choosing a credible survival instructor that details several qualities and traits to look for when shopping around for possible instructors in the non-fiction world.
NOBLE: I appreciate the time you took for this interview. With all that has been said, would you consider doing another survival show on TV?
LUNDIN: As far as more TV, in the right context, with people who aren’t (expletive), of course I’m interested. I want to get away from the phony dick measuring contest and I have a new survival show concept and would like to talk to other networks about it. I even have co-hosts lined up.
NOBLE: Are the co-hosts people we know in the field, other survival instructors perhaps?
LUNDIN: Who said they were human?
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