December 3, 2006

"Lost in the Amazon."

Regular readers know -- unless you're skimming... and forgetting... -- that one of my favorite TV shows is "I Shouldn't Be Alive." In fact, this is the only show that I find myself telling other people to watch. (I used to tell people to watch "The Comeback," which is now off the air.) Part of it is that real-life situations can remind you of something that happened on "I Shouldn't Be Alive." Things go awry and you can say, You know, if this was "I Shouldn't Be Alive'... well, you know, all sorts of unfortunate decisions and bad consequences would ensue.

Usually, the characters on "I Shouldn't Be Alive" are hardy, experienced outdoorsmen taking on a tough challenge and running into some bad luck. The new episode, "Lost in the Amazon," is not like that. You have a young couple, fulfilling their dream of seeing the Amazon rain forest, starting out from a lodge, onto what they know know to be a 3-mile hiking path. All they have to do is stay on the path. Like little children, they become charmed by the cute animals they see and totter about pointing at things -- ooh, it's a toucan! -- until they realize they're not on the path. They have a compass, but they've left the map back at the lodge, and instead of preserving their awareness of their starting spot and meticulously exploring the possible ways back to the path or just staying put and waiting for rescue, they decide they're sure which direction on the compass point is the correct one and hike straight into the forest trying to go as far as they can. They trudge on for days, into unmarked forest, completely destroying any chance that people who go out to search for them can possibly find them. They keep going as if they've got a shot at coming out on the other side of the forest, when, if they remember anything about where they are, there could be nothing but 1000 miles of forest ahead of them.

In all the other episodes of the show, the tough guys with problems display an astounding will to live. Horribly crushed leg bones, -70 degree temperatures, an elephant stampede, trapped under a boulder.... they deal with it. "Lost in the Amazon" is different. These characters don't just give up, they get tired of struggling and decide to commit suicide! And their struggle, on the physical level, consists of foot blisters, unclean drinking water, mosquitoes, sleeping outdoors, and -- despite much talk of scary animals like jaguars and snakes -- a herd of little pigs. The man does a decent job of yelling at the pigs to make them go, and the woman has the good idea of straining the water through her bra cup. But mostly, they slap mosquitoes, keep walking (as if it's a solution), and talk about ending it all. They happen to run across a man in a boat who saves them, but this is right before the deadline on their suicide pact, which was premised on the notion I'd rather die than spend one more night in the forest.

I was picturing an alternate version of the couple who realize that they are so deeply lost that they may never get out and decide they will live out their lives in the forest. Build a camp, develop your hunting and gathering skills, and find a way to make life good. Wouldn't you get to the point where you'd look at each other and say Hey, we're Adam and Eve.

14 comments:

Dave said...

After college, I did a NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) course in the southwest United States. While I didn't hike through rainforest, I hike through desert--an area likely more inhospitable to man than mere rainforest.

In any event, one of the first things we were taught: no sentiment. In other words, just because something looks interesting, or cute, or tempting, does not mean that you should pursue that thing. Why? For the very simple reason, enumerated in the story Ann relates, that nature is unforgiving and civilized man has little sense or appreciation of its caprices. Sentiment in most contexts is a dangerous thing; in the outdoors, it can be lethal.

Molon_Labe_Lamp said...

Mitch Hedberg the now deceased comedian said:

"If you find yourself lost in the woods, just build a cabin. I was lost but now I live here, I have severely improved my predicament."

It's been shown time and again that people who become lost usually have many chances to rescuse themselves. Their biggest mistake is stubborness. They frequently and routinely receive information and clues telling them that the map in their head is not correct. And yet they persist, refusing to believe what their eyes are telling them. It's the shortcut that kills you.

As Dave says, plan your hike and hike your plan.

Anonymous said...

When I've found myself quite turned around in the wilderness, the loss of rational thought and onset of panic was immediate and inexplicable. Although I've always been able to find my out with little further incident, I've always held onto the idea that if my situation were worse, I'd eventually get my wits about me and figure out how to make do until I was found. For me, the most unnerving part about this story is that they continued to make stupid decisions.

I've recently started carrying a GPS in addition to a compass, so I doubt I'll find myself in such situations much in the future.

Richard said...

My favorite episode was the guy in the wilderness who was trapped in a dry river bed by a large bolder that had fallen on his leg. His friend goes for help, but that will take the better part of 24 hours. Then the rains set in. This poor guy, whose numb toes are being eaten by river crabs, has to sit there watching the water rise to his waste, then to his shoulders, then his chin ... fascinating program. Better than any fiction.

4virginia said...

imagine they were lost in a multi deck shopping mall, led off the path by the many distractions, unwilling to ask directions, finally forced to consider suicide when their credit ran out...

knoxgirl said...

The reenactments can be effective or cheesy, depending on the acting and the editing. Bu they are still lightyears ahead of most reenactment-based reality shows. A lot also depends on the storytelling skills of the survivors. I find that overall, most episodes are really suspenseful... even though the title itself pretty much gives away the ending.

The one where the helicopter crashes into a volcano--literally--is just unreal.

Ricardo said...

If you haven't seen it, I think you'd be interested (both from a substantive viewpoint, and from that of your artist's eye) in watching "The Emerald Forest", a 1985 movie which is available on DVD.

Here's the blurb on the movie: "For ten years, engineer Bill Markham (Powers Boothe) has searched tirelessly for his son Tommy who disappeared from the edge of the Brazilian rainforest. Miraculously, he finds the boy living among the reclusive Amazon tribe who adopted him. And that's when Bill's adventure truly begins. For his son (Charley Boorman) is now a grown tribesman who moves skillfully through this beautiful-but-dangerous terrain, fearful only of those who would exploit it. And as Bill attempts to "rescue" him from the savagery of the untamed jungle, Tommy challenges Bill's idea of true civilization ... and his notions about who needs rescuing."

The photography in the movie is superb.

Anthony said...

Try catching Survivorman on The Science Channel sometime as well. He goes alone into various wilderness areas with a bunch of cameras and does all his survival stuff for 7 days. It's not hard-core survivalism (he doesn't eat worms, for instance), but there's no camera crew with him, which makes it interesting.

Simon Kenton said...

From time to time, in remote desert canyons, Ms Right and I have looked at each other and said, "Hey, we're Adam and Eve." But when you get that particular identity flash, you don't waste a lot of time getting it said.

useless ducks said...

If you're on Discovery anyhow, I would highly recommend "Man vs. Wild". It has the bonus of the Man, whose name is Bear, being endearingly watchable.

One would imagine that it would be tricky to find a man wearing a urine soaked rag on his head so aesthetically pleasing. And yet...

Something about the penchant for union-jack undershorts perhaps.

George said...

"Deep Survival: Who LIves, Who Dies, and Why" by Laurence Gonzalez" is a great book on this subject. Its main point is that a positive, calm attitude keeps people alive as much or more than anything else.

When confronted with a life-threatening situation, 90% of people freeze or panic, says Gonzales in this exploration of what makes the remaining 10% stay cool, focused and alive. Gonzales (The Hero's Apprentice; The Still Point), who has covered survival stories for National Geographic Explorer, Outside and Men's Journal, uncovers the biological and psychological reasons people risk their lives and why some are better at it than others. In the first part of the book, the author talks to dozens of thrill-seekers-mountain climbers, sailors, jet pilots-and they all say the same thing: danger is a great rush. "Fear can be fun," Gonzales writes. "It can make you feel more alive, because it is an integral part of saving your own life." Pinpointing why and how those 10% survive is another story. "They are the ones who can perceive their situation clearly; they can plan and take correct action," Gonzales explains. Survivors, whether they're jet pilots landing on the deck of an aircraft carrier or boatbuilders adrift on a raft in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, share certain traits: training, experience, stoicism and a capacity for their logical neocortex (the brain's thinking part) to override the primitive amygdala portion of their brains. Although there's no surefire way to become a survivor, Gonzales does share some rules for adventure gleaned from the survivors themselves: stay calm, be decisive and don't give up. Remembering these rules when crisis strikes may be tough, but Gonzales's vivid descriptions of life in the balance will stay with readers.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist
What impels people to risk their lives by climbing mountains or deep-sea diving? What confluence of forces leads to drastic accidents? Why do some people survive disasters while others perish? A renowned journalist intrigued with risk, Gonzales conducts an in-depth and engrossing inquiry into the dynamics of survival. Relating one hair-raising true story after another about wilderness adventures gone catastrophically wrong and other calamities, Gonzales draws on sources as diverse and compelling as the Stoic philosophers and neuroscience to elucidate the psychological, physiological, and spiritual strengths that enable certain individuals to avoid fatal panic and make that crucial "transition from victim to survivor." People who survive being lost or adrift at sea, for instance, pay close attention to their surroundings and respect the wild. Gonzales also notes that survivors think of others, either helping a fellow sufferer or rallying to outsmart death in order to spare loved ones anguish. The study of survival offers an illuminating portal into the human psyche, and Gonzales, knowledgeable and passionate, is a compelling and trustworthy guide. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition

Paco Wové said...

Hey, it's a metaphor for Iraq!

Mike said...

George said: "In the first part of the book, the author talks to dozens of thrill-seekers-mountain climbers, sailors, jet pilots-and they all say the same thing: danger is a great rush. "Fear can be fun," Gonzales writes. "It can make you feel more alive, because it is an integral part of saving your own life.""

In my younger days a buddy and I went backpacking in the Canadian Rockies every summer. After the trail stuff got a little mundane, we began making cross country trips into the backcountry, fording rivers, walking up one valley (on the trail) and then figuring out how to bushwack over to the next valley to return. We never got lost (that's hard to do when these great big signposts (i.e. mountains) are sticking up all over the skyline) but a couple of times we got in situations I wasn't sure we were going to get out of without falling off a mountain. I have never been so high as I was when we extricated ourselves from the situation.

I love SurvivorMan. It's the best of this genre. If you're the type who likes to go out into the wild, you can really learn things from this guy.

Harkonnendog said...

I never gave this show a chance. Thanks for the post I look forward to trying it!