Long before the reality survival show craze, even before Les Stroud and Bear Grylls, there was Dick Proenneke who filmed his day-to-day routines at the cabin he built himself in the wilds of Alaska.
So for all the survival shows that have sucked you in on cable television, you can thank this original mountain man star. Today, survival shows have become a whole new genre of reality television. Here are 10 of the best survival shows on cable.
We’ll start with the all-time best survival show on television in our opinion. This show is everything you would imagine from truly a survival competition. On History channel’s Alone, hand-selected survivalists compete for $500,000 over who can live the longest on the shores of Vancouver Island with roving grizzly bears and wolves. With limited supplies and resources, these men (and a few women) demonstrate some amazing skills. In the first season Alan Kay won after 56 days. And in the second season David McIntyre took the prize after 66 days.
Naked and Afraid
Another in the extreme camp of survival shows is Naked and Afraid on Discovery channel. In this challenge contestants must strip naked and are paired up with someone of the opposite sex who they’ve never met to live the next week together in a hostile environments. Competitors have faced brutal conditions including extreme sunburns, digestive issues and animal attacks.
The show that most resembles Man vs. Wild with Bear Gryls is Dual Survival on Discovery channel. This series features two men from disparate backgrounds, usually one who is more natural and another more militant, and puts them in various situations all over the world. The series suffered some controversy with the expulsion of its two original hosts but continues to offer pretty solid survival demos.
Ultimate Survival Alaska
With a name like Ultimate Survival Alaska we couldn’t possibly leave this Nat Geo channel off the list. In this show, cast members work together in teams to traverse great distances across Alaska. Featured on this series are famed mountaineer Marty Rany and Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey.
Life Below Zero
The Nat Geo series Life Below Zero features people living off the grid above the Arctic circle. One of the most entertaining characters, Sue Aikens lives on the tundra at a fuel depot for aircraft carrying hunters and supplies. Also featured is Glen who lives alone in a cabin in the Brooks Range and Andy who lives on the Yukon river.
The History Channel’s answer to the survival show genre has over four seasons featured a group of rucked men who make their living off the land. Featured characters on Mountain Men include Marty, who flies into remote areas and sets up trapping camps, and Tom, a trapper in Montana. Most recent episodes also feature Morgan who made his way on foot to the remote Alaskan bush to make a homestead by himself.
Discovery Channel’s version of basically the same show is Yukon Men. What makes this series somewhat unique, however, are the family connections that are represented. Fathers and sons, daughters and fathers, work together to hunt and maintain their homesteads in this series filmed exclusively outside Tanana on the Yukon river.
Live, Free or Die
Nat Geo rounds out its survival shows with Live Free or Die, a look at homesteaders in the Lower 48. This series features Tony and Amelia who built a beautiful homestead on a terraced slope in North Carolina and Thorn, a counter-culture re-wilder who lives with his girlfriend in an old school bus in the woods. Also featured is Colbert, who lives in the Georgia swamps.
Another Nat Geo survival show featuring off-the-grid lifestyles is The Boonies. This show is organized by how the various characters live, whether above the grid in a tree house, below the grid in a cave, outside the grid on a remote island or beyond the grid on a mountaintop.
The Legend of Mick Dodge
In The Legend of Mick Dodge, a film crew for Nat Geo follows a barefooted rainforest dweller on the Olympic Peninsula. There is some doubt whether Mick lives entirely in the woods, but nonetheless this is an entertaining show that illustrates how this unique man makes his way among this forest community.
Photo credit: NatGeo