Is Survivorman Staged?

You Can’t Believe Everything You See

Executive Summary

I realize this post is long, and many people don’t have the time or patience to read something this long, so here’s the executive summary: I found the locations where Survivorman was filmed in the Utah Canyonlands episode.  One of those locations was very near a highway, but the major issue is not that he was close to the road.  Rather, the major issue is that he was deceptive about many of the things he filmed and said in the episode.  Simply put: he said many things and implied many things that simply were not true.  I understand insurance and producer requirements that may limit where he can go, but I do not understand statements made directly by him that are outright untrue.  Many people want to defend the location issue, but do so while ignoring the deceptive statements.  The information below details these findings and addresses Les Stroud’s personal response to the findings.

Summary

I have always been a fan of the survival television show Survivorman, so I set out to find where Les Stroud filmed the episode that was set in Utah. As an avid backpacker, I wanted to find the location simply because I thought it looked like a nice place to hike and I thought it would be fun to find it. What I found, however, made me question whether or not the show misleads its viewers like some of the other survival shows have been known to do. This doubt about the reality presented in the show disappointed me because I always believed that Survivorman was the “real deal” of survival shows. And while many things on television are misleading, if not straight lies, it’s nice sometimes to think that someone is different than all the rest. From what I found, I no longer trust the show. But my goal with this site is simply to present the information to the reader so the reader can decide what the facts mean.

This site is certainly a critical analysis of the Survivorman Utah episode, but I invite you to analyze the information to reach an informed decision. I don’t know if all of the Survivorman episodes are filmed in the same manner…I only know the locations of the Utah episode. And I’m not sure it matters if this is how the show is filmed, either. Maybe this is just how shows are filmed. I’m not so naive as to think that everything presented on television as fact is actually true…nor am I so pessimistic as to think that everything on television is a lie. Perhaps there are simply shades of gray on the level of “dramatization” that appear in every television show. If that’s the case, I hope these pages can help you evaluate the level of “dramatization” that you expect from this show and the level of “dramatization” that this information suggests is actually portrayed in the show. But you can make your own conclusions.

Please read the following issues, think about the information presented, digest the locations on the map, evaluate the pictures, and even watch the episode again.  I think that if you watch the episode again after reading this information you’ll likely feel deceived, also.  Because it’s not the simple fact that he was close to a road for one of the campsites, or that he had plenty of water around…it’s that many things in the episode blatantly try to hide the facts discussed here…many times by saying things that simply are not true.  In other words: it’s one thing to film it a certain way…it’s another thing altogether to deceive the viewer about the way you filmed it.

Instructions

The pictures on this site are intended to show that we did actually find the locations filmed in the episode, and they are intended to assist in the critical analysis of the show. By comparing the screenshots of the episode with our pictures you can identify the different geological features that appear in both pictures. This should help you confirm that we were in the correct spots shown on the episode. Color-coded arrows on the pictures point to the matching features in the screen shots. For example, simply look at the feature identified by the green arrow in the screen shot from the episode and compare it with the feature identified by the green arrow in our picture.

The map will be very useful in analyzing the information. When you first open the map, it will be zoomed out far enough so you can see all three of the different primary locations. You will need to zoom in very close at the two campsites to see all of the locations. You may also want to change the map view to different types of maps (Google road, Topo, etc) to help visualize things better. If you click on a marker you will see links for that marker to photographs of that area.

The findings are intended to summarize everything we saw.

Findings

1. Camp 1 is too far from the landing site to get there by bicycle in one day.

The episode implied that he rode a bicycle from the landing site to camp 1 on the first day.

The landing site for the helicopter at the beginning of the episode was below the rim of the canyon at Smith Fork.  This means that there is a cliff band between where the helicopter landed and the top of the desert floor.  The cliff next to where he landed was the actual canyon rim.  The landing site was 16 miles in a straight line from camp 1.  Between the landing site and camp 1, however, are the canyon complexes of Ticaboo Creek, Fourmile Canyon, Twomile Canyon, and Swett Creek, with their steep cliffs that empty into the Colorado River/Lake Powell.  The rocks of two mountains, Mt Ellsworth and Mt Holmes, are also standing between the landing site and camp 1.  It would likely take 2-3 days to walk or bike from Smith Fork to camp 1 via the canyons or over the mountains; the episode implies that he moved from the landing site to camp 1 on the first day.  Because of these obstacles, the only way to get a bicycle from the landing site to camp 1 in less than several days is via Hwy 276 which skirts the base of Mt Ellsworth and Mt Holmes.  The landing site is over 22 miles away from camp 1 via roads, several miles of which are dirt roads.  Additionally, there are no roads in the immediate vicinity of the landing site itself; the closest dirt road from the landing site is over a mile away on the other side of Smith Fork Canyon, of which approximately half of that distance is across untracked desert sand.

Also, as seen on the map, camp 1 is on the other side of camp 2 from the landing site, meaning he would have essentially “passed” camp 2 on his way to camp 1.

Lastly, there is no footage in the episode of any terrain between the landing site and camp 1, regardless of the route he took.

2. Camp 2 is too far from camp 1 to get there by foot in one day.

The episode implied that he walked from camp 1 to camp 2 in one day.

From camp 1 to camp 2 it is 9 miles in a straight line, with the previously described canyon complexes and the Little Rockies in the way.  It is 19 miles via road from camp 1 to camp 2, and there is a dirt road that goes directly to the top of the canyon where he filmed before descending down into the canyon.

The same obstacles that separate the landing site from camp 1 also separate camp 1 from camp 2, specifically the canyon complexes and the mountains.  Additionally, Stroud filmed from the top of the canyon above camp 2 before descending into the canyon, further suggesting that he did not travel via the bottom of the canyon to that spot; if he had traveled via canyon from camp 1 to camp 2 it would have required him to climb out of the canyon, film from the top, then descend back down into the canyon.  The trail he used to descend into the canyon is the only route down into that canyon that I am aware of without using rappelling equipment.

Walking between those camps via the canyons would likely require at least two days.  Walking between the camps above the canyons would require him to use the roads and would likely take at least two full days.

There is no footage in the episode of any terrain between camp 1 and camp 2, regardless of the route he took.

3. Camp 1 was approximately 860 feet (less than 300 yards) from Highway 276.  The road and the cars on the road could be seen (and heard) easily from the shelter.

The episode did not show how close he was to the road.

He said that the crew would have to fly in to clean up the camp.

We simply parked near the site at the pull-off and walked the 300 yards from the road to the site.  If a helicopter had come there, the closest landing site would have been the road.

Look at the map to see how close camp 1 was to the highway.  And look at the photos for the evidence that we actually found camp 1.

4. Camp 1 was less than 14 miles away from the town of Ticaboo, UT, with its gas station and lodge.  Don’t forget that camp 1 was also less than 300 yards from the highway that leads to Ticaboo.

He said he could maybe bike out in three days from camp 1.

At an average bicycle speed of just 8 MPH, he should have been able to cover the distance to the town in less than two hours.

5. Where he claimed to be “ledged up” at camp 1, there is an easy route down into the canyon approximately 100 yards away.

In the episode he said that he couldn’t get down to the bottom of the canyon because the cliffs prevented him from descending to the bottom.

As seen on the map, the distance from camp 1 to the canyon where he was “ledged up” (Milk Creek) was approximately 210 feet; it was true that he was unable to descend down into the canyon at the point where he was filming.  However, approximately 315 feet away from the “ledged up” spot on the canyon there is an easy spot to simply walk down into the canyon.

6. The second water puddle at camp 2 was only 10 feet away from the first water puddle.

After drinking water from the first water puddle he said that he would need to search for a bigger water puddle.  The episode implied he went looking for another water puddle before finally finding one.

The first small water puddle at camp 2 was approximately 175 feet from the camp itself and directly below the slickrock wall where camp 2 was located.  The second water puddle was less than 10 feet away from the first water puddle (you will need to zoom way in on the map to see that there are two flags at the water holes).

7. The big, frozen water pool near camp 2 was right beside the trail he took down into the canyon.

Again, the episode implied that he went searching for a third water pool and found this one after finding the other pools.

The big water pool was less than 530 yards from camp 2 and right at the bottom of the trail down into the canyon; you walk past it as you enter the canyon bottom from the trail he used.

One note about these water pools from our desert canyon experience: if there is any water at all, then there is water everywhere.  In other words, it’s either been very dry and you will not find any water, or it’s been wet and you can find water everywhere.  So the fact that he found some water suggests that he didn’t need to look hard for water because it would have likely been everywhere.

8. The camps were not cleaned up so Leave No Trace wasn’t followed.

We found remnants of both campsites filmed in the episode.  The material for camp 1 appeared to be almost completely still located at the site, even though Stroud said the crew would clean it up.  The shelter wasn’t still standing, but all of the materials appeared to have just been knocked over or piled up.

Camp 2 was more cleaned up, but there was still some shelter material and firewood in the cave.

We also found a couple of the deadfall sites that appeared to have been cleaned up.

9. It took us less than 30 minutes to climb out of the canyon at camp 2.

He said that it would take him all day to climb out of the canyon from camp 2.

10. The canyon he descended at camp 2 was approximately 500 feet deep.

Text added to the show after it was filmed said he descended 1500 feet down into the canyon at camp 2.  Arguably, the desert floor slopes down approximately 200 feet to the canyon rim, but that only makes a 700-foot total descent.  We only see him descending to the camera once on the descent, and as he approaches the camera he says that he can’t continue ascending and descending for the camera so he’s not going to do that anymore.  He said he would stop ascending and descending for the camera less than 1/3 of the way down the canyon.

11. There was a large water tank at the top of the canyon at camp 2.

At the top of the canyon at camp 2, he said he needed to get to the bottom of the canyon to find water.

Where he was filming those shots, he was less than 350 feet away from the large water tank.  In fact, as demonstrated by the pictures, it’s possible to briefly see the top of the water tank in his video.

Final Thoughts

This critical analysis is not intended to conclude anything negative about Survivorman.  I do hope this site generates discussion about what we think we see on these types of television shows and how that differs from how the information is presented to us.

And I’m certainly not making any comments about his ability to survive.  I’m an avid backpacker, but I’m sure Stroud could out-survive me any day of the week.  But I’m not confident that everything presented on the show is true.  But I guess that’s just how television is: you can’t trust everything you see.  Some people argue that this information doesn’t detract from Stroud’s genuine ability to survive and that it’s irrelevant that he camped near a highway.  And I don’t disagree with that claim.  However, I would suggest that people take this information and re-watch the Utah episode.  I think most people will actually feel deceived by the way the show was portrayed.  The feeling of deception goes beyond the simple fact that he camped near the road…it extends to all of the other issues presented here that call into question the show’s truthfulness…and the way the show and the narration actively worked to deceive the viewer about the facts.

We’ve explored several explanations to account for these discrepancies, but none of the explanations really make sense.  As I said before, perhaps this is just how television is done.  I had really hoped that Survivorman was different than all those other television shows, though.

Update – Facebook Post from Stroud

On September 2, 2015, Stroud wrote a post on his Facebook page in which he responded to people who suggested he should join with other survival shows by asking, “why on earth would I, who’ve spent the last 15 years surviving for real and making those films for you, risking my life in the process for REAL, bother to hook up and take part in any one of those other shows – all of which fake, contrive, set up, pretend, or otherwise lie about what they are actually doing?”

In response to that post, one person commented, “At least Cody left and is shining a light on the fakeness of those shows. Since you won’t comment on Tikaboo Creek, your credibility is sort of in question too. I want to believe in you.”

Over a year and a half after we originally asked Stroud multiple times for a comment on the information presented on this website, he finally addressed the findings.  Here is his response to the above post:

Tikaboo is easily explained – some assumptions were made that were incorrect – other parts were correct but did not detract from my actual survival – as for one simple point – i am often in the vicinity of traffic and roads – and in fact on one occasion – Georgia – i could hear the trucks downshifting IN Ticaboo i couldn’t hear anything but i could’ve walked out any time i wanted too – and on another i had to pass by cottages to continue my way into the wilderness – the point is I stay in and carry out my survival as that is what i am there for – for another point there have been two episodes in fifteen years where i wanted desperately to show the ecological differences in two areas but they were too far apart and so i allowed a truck to pick me up – drive an hour (with a strict rule to not have food or water on them) and drop me off to continue my survival – i actually hated doing that so i decided to never do that again – Ticaboo was one of those locations (the other shall remain a mystery) …and lastly – i often dont clean up after myself when i leave a place but my team is instructed to come in later and clean up for me – they have not always honoured this unfortunately – i can’t remember what else was said about Ticaboo but i think those were some of the concerns….in fact over the years my attention to detail of making sure i am as far out and as remote and dealing with life or death risk, has gotten stronger – but i have refused to fake what i do…its not always easy to find a remote spot but i always stay in and do what i do – in the beginning the networks had more sway and even tried to influence my narration scripting – after a few times of losing the odd battle to them i vowed and have achieved to this day only saying what i want to say – which is to simply tell the story as it happened while on occasion sifting out of the edit of the show the insignificant moments (like being able to hear traffic) – and often if i can walk out i will actually say – “i can walk out of here” but then again i am there to survive…..I hope that helps Kyle….L

I would like to address and assess this explanation based on the facts we gathered.  To begin, let’s list our major findings and how they were covered in Stroud’s explanation:

1. Camp 1 is too far from the landing site to get there by bicycle in one day.

Not addressed

2. Camp 2 is too far from camp 1 to get there by foot in one day.

Confirmed: “for another point there have been two episodes in fifteen years where i wanted desperately to show the ecological differences in two areas but they were too far apart and so i allowed a truck to pick me up – drive an hour (with a strict rule to not have food or water on them) and drop me off to continue my survival – i actually hated doing that so i decided to never do that again – Ticaboo was one of those locations (the other shall remain a mystery)”

3. Camp 1 was approximately 860 feet (less than 300 yards) from Highway 276.  The road and the cars on the road could be seen (and heard) easily from the shelter.

Denied: “IN Ticaboo i couldn’t hear anything but i could’ve walked out any time i wanted too (sic)”

Not addressed: Why he said the crew would need to fly in to clean up the camp.

4. Camp 1 was less than 14 miles away from the town of Ticaboo, UT, with its gas station and lodge.  Don’t forget that camp 1 was also less than 300 yards from the highway that leads to Ticaboo.

Not addressed

5. Where he claimed to be “ledged up” at camp 1, there is an easy route down into the canyon approximately 100 yards away.

Not addressed

6. The second water puddle at camp 2 was only 10 feet away from the first water puddle.

Not addressed

7. The big, frozen water pool near camp 2 was right beside the trail he took down into the canyon.

Not addressed

8. The camps were not cleaned up so Leave No Trace wasn’t followed.

Confirmed: “and lastly – i often dont (sic) clean up after myself when i leave a place but my team is instructed to come in later and clean up for me – they have not always honoured this unfortunately”

9. It took us less than 30 minutes to climb out of the canyon at camp 2.

Not addressed

10. The canyon he descended at camp 2 was approximately 500 feet deep.

Not addressed

11. There was a large water tank at the top of the canyon at camp 2.

Not addressed

If we assess his responses to the individual findings, we see that he confirmed two of the eleven findings and denied one of them.  The other eight were not addressed.

And when we look at the one finding he denied, we know this finding cannot be one of the “assumptions” that was incorrect because we are confident that we found the correct campsite, as the pictures below will support, but we also have video footage showing a car going down the highway as we stood at the campsite.

While I tried hard just to present the facts without drawing any conclusions, I am confident that he could clearly hear the cars driving on Highway 276 from his first camp.  It is true that he would not have been able to hear cars at his second camp, but not only could he see and hear the cars at camp 1, I believe he needed to use creative camera angles to ensure the road and the cars were not in the footage.

Many people read his post and think he adequately addressed the findings presented here.  Make a good critical assessment of this information and see if you agree.

Pictures

The pictures below are intended to show that we truly found the correct locations.  They simply compare our photo with a screenshot of the same location from the show.

For a side-by-side comparison of bigger photos, click here.

 

 

Map

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