TORONTO — Wilderness guru Les Stroud is known for putting himself in extreme survival situations — he’s swum through shark-infested waters, been stranded in the Arctic with little more than a seal hook and marooned in the rainforests of Costa Rica.
Kid stuff, right?
Stroud thinks so. In his new YTV series, Survive This, he’s putting eight teenagers through a tough wilderness challenge that has them taking on outdoor feats much like his own harrowing adventures.
“It was full-on survival,” says Survivorman’s Stroud, noting that his young proteges completed tasks many adults would have found insurmountable.
“They have to worry about getting food, making shelter, getting water, traipsing across through treacherous territories, being together, being in smaller groups, being alone, personal dynamics, group dynamics. They had to go through it all when it comes to wilderness survival.”
Toronto-area teens between the ages of 14 and 17 left behind their friends, parents, cellphones and iPods for the woods of central Ontario, near Huntsville.
Participants ranged in experience from 16-year-old Jenn Daub, dubbed “The Hunter” for her prowess in tracking deer with her dad, to 16-year-old dancer Becca Mehaffey, called “The Princess” for her sheltered life.
“I’m always told at home, ‘Oh you could never do that Becca, you’re such a princess, you could never do that,’ and I wanted to prove that I could do it,” Mehaffey, now 17, says of why she chose to go on the show.
Proving one’s mettle is a big part of the series. Throughout, the teens are given the choice of going home or sticking it out for another test of character. It all culminates in a one-hour finale, where all, some or none may make it to the end.
But unlike most other reality shows, there is no cash prize, no glamorous trip to be won.
Dismissing sensational precursors like Survivor, or The Amazing Race, Stroud describes Survive This as more in line with documentary programming.
“What do they get at the end? They get the experience, that’s all there needs to be,” says Stroud, whose own show, Survivorman takes on an instructional tone as he copes with nature’s perils.
“Nobody’s going to vote somebody else out, we don’t have to spend all kinds of time dealing with the backstabbing social networking, whose working who to make sure they get immunity or something like that. No way. This was pure wilderness survival and these kids had to go through pure wilderness survival and document it at the same time.”
And it wasn’t easy for the group. There were no tents, sleeping bags or s’mores.
At times, thirst drove them to squeeze drinking water from moss, while hunger had them chasing down frogs, says Mehaffey.
“Whatever’s on nature’s floor is what you’ve got to eat,” says the talkative teen, who’d never been camping before and suffers a humiliating injury within hours of arriving in the woods.
“We’d have to catch them and cut them all up and roast them on fire… it was hard. You don’t really want to do it — it’s a cute little frog and then you have to, you know, just (go) boom! Slap down a knife. It’s brutal.”
For the Facebook-crazed Holden Adams, 17, it was the monotony that wore him down.
“The monotony of no food, horrible sleeping conditions and as that just kept dragging on and on, it got worse and worse,” says Adams, who admits he’d “just zone out” when faced with some challenges, leaving the task to others.
“I think the hardest part was missing out on just hanging out with my friends and stuff and Facebook is definitely a big part of hanging out with my friends.”
Survive This! debuts today on YTV.