Skip to main content

Les Stroud: A Brief History of TV's "Survivorman" and What He's Doing Today

Les Stroud
YouTube: Survivorman - Les Stroud

The popularity of Les Stroud helped kick off survival TV genre.

Les Strout is one of the better-known survival experts out there. He was one of the first to help make practicing survival skills cool with his television series "Survivorman." On each episode, Stroud would put himself in life-or-death situations with only his wits and a handful of tools to keep him alive. Along the way he faced challenges that would break most people and he would eat things that would make most people puke.

While the show itself may have ended, it did make the Ontario native a household name and ushered in a bevy of copycat programs over the years.

It has been a while since we have heard anything about Survivorman Les Stroud and we decided to look into the history of his hit TV program and check to see what the survival expert has been up to lately.

Before "Survivorman."

Prior to becoming one of the most recognizable faces in the history of television, Stroud had humble beginnings. After graduating high school, he studied music at London, Ontario's Fanshawe College. After that he worked a variety of odd jobs in the late 80s including one as a trash collector. However, he soon found himself working on rock music videos, eventually becoming a producer for Toronto-based MuchMusic, a dedicated music programming channel. It was during this time that he discovered a passion for filmmaking that would later translate to his hit TV series.

However, by 1987, Stroud had enough of the urban lifestyle. So, he made a drastic life change. He quit his job and started travelling across remote parts of Canada, taking on jobs as a wilderness instructor and whitewater rafting guide. It was through these adventures that he met Sue Jamison, who he married in 1994. This also set help start setting the stage for what would eventually become the television series Survivorman.

Les and Sue had a rather unconventional honeymoon that lasted a full year. Instead of going to some beach resort, the couple headed into the wilderness of Ontario to live off the land in hand-constructed shelters and with simple homemade tools including a handmade stone axe. The unusual honeymoon attracted news attention and Stroud decided to document the whole experience of living off the land.

The couple's experiences eventually became a 50-minute documentary called Snowshoes and Solitude. It proved to be a hit, earning awards at numerous film festivals and it was also broadcast on TV in Canada. This helped him build some new contacts in the TV industry. However, it would be a few more years before Stroud was able to successfully launch the show that made him a household name.

The Hit Show

By the year 2000, the winds of change were in the air as far as the world of reality television goes. This style of TV was really taking off and audiences were hungry for this new type of dramatic content. Stroud ended up filming the predecessor to the show in the form of two pilot specials called "Stranded." These raw specials showed Stroud surviving in two scenarios, once in the winter and again in the summer. While these early episodes were slightly cruder than later ones, they still proved to be a hit. This in turn, spawned the creation of the TV show, which subsequently gained a great following after repeated showings on Outdoor Life Network (OLN), The Science Channel, and of course, The Discovery Channel.

Audiences were enthralled with Stroud's amazing toughness, honesty, and by the essential skills he taught to his viewers in each episode. He made the show unique by setting up a completely plausible scenario for each survival situation, whether that be washing ashore in the Caribbean on a life raft, a vehicle breaking down in the Sonoran Desert or even something as serious as a plane crash in the cold and unforgiving wilderness of Ontario in winter. The adventures showcased in the show took him to some of the most inhospitable places on earth including the Kalahari Desert, the Amazon Rainforest, the jungles of Papua New Guinea and the wilds of Alaska and Australia.

The most impressive aspect of Survivorman was the fact that Stroud basically did everything himself. He is credited not just as the star and creator, but also as the director, writer, cinematographer, and executive producer too! Andy Peterson does get a credit as the editor, but Stroud also wrote and produced much of the show's soundtrack.

In 2007, Stroud took a short break after season three due to exhaustion from the mental and physical tolls of living in the wilderness AND filming all aspects of the experience himself. The show returned after hiatus in 2012 and ran until 2015, although Stroud has made a few spin-off shows including Survivorman and Son and Survivorman Bigfoot. More on Les and sasquatch in a bit.

In any case, Stroud's survival exploits during Survivorman helped make him a household name and he made numerous appearances on talk shows like Larry King Live, The View, the Ellen Degeneres Show and many others. He was also given the chance to do some other spin-off shows too. Stroud has been ahead of popular trends in many instances. In 2006, he made a 90-minute documentary with his family called "Off the Grid with Les Stroud" documenting their experiences with that type of lifestyle after moving to a remote part of Ontario.

His popularity has also led him to host other related shows like "Beyond Survival," "I Shouldn't Be Alive," "Surviving Urban Disasters" and even his own show for kids called "Survive This." He also served as a host on the ever-popular "Shark Week" for discovery one year, having had his share of encounters with the ocean's deadliest predator in the past.

Music and Writing Career

Fans of the show are familiar with Les' signature harmonica that he often bust out to break the tension during particularly difficult survival situations. Many people do not realize he is also an accomplished songwriter. Stroud produced much of the music for his own TV show, but he has also released several successful albums too. His career in music started before his TV career, but he put it on hold for many years before rediscovering a love for the art form. He still goes on tour to give live concerts. His music is mostly in a folk and acoustic style.

Stroud has also written a few best seller books including "Beyond Survivorman," which gives greater detail on many of his adventures, "Survive!" which is an actual guide to the art of survival and "Will to Live," which details some of history's greatest true stories of survival in the wilderness. Simply put, the man has plenty of irons in the fire beyond just being the guy who can go into the wilderness and survive with no tools and no food for an extended period.

Survivorman and Bigfoot

It may surprise some people to learn that Stroud is a believer in the legend of sasquatch. In fact, he has claimed to have had personal encounters a creature he cannot explain on more than one occasion. This eventually led to another broadcast series called "Survivorman Bigfoot" which featured Les using all his wilderness skills to search for evidence of the large, hairy, man-like beast's existence. Make of that what you will, but if we were to pick anyone to believe about a bigfoot story, it would probably be Les. This is a guy who has been everywhere and seen it all as far as what's out there in nature after all. Take some time to listen to some of his stories and judge for yourself.

Recent Endeavors

Stroud has kept something of a lower profile the last few years, but he is still quite busy. We already mentioned his music career and books, but he is also still producing outdoor-related content. He has teamed with chef Paul Rogalski to film and produce a new series about foraging and cooking wild edibles and other food from nature coming to PBS in October of 2020. He has also announced plans for a show called "Surviving Disasters" on the station coming soon.

He also started a YouTube channel not too long ago where he has compiled many full length episodes and classic clips from Survivorman for the world to enjoy any time they like. He released a full-length spoof of his own classic show on the channel called Survivorman: Covid 1-9 that poked fun at life during the coronavirus pandemic. Stroud also sells his books, DVDs of the show, his music, T-shirts and knives through his website. He also works as a keynote speaker and spends time working on charities benefiting conservation and emergency disaster relief. His hit show may be over, but it hasn't slowed him down any!

One thing is for sure, Stroud has already cemented his legacy as a pillar figure in the world of modern survival. His show spawned many imitators, and these days, practically every outdoor YouTube channel copies many of the survival challenges he first showcased in the show. We look forward to seeing what adventures he has in store for the future.

For more outdoor content from Travis Smola, be sure to follow him on Twitter and check out his Geocaching and Outdoors with Travis YouTube channels

NEXT: THE AXIS DEER AND HOW THEY'RE IMPACTING PARTS OF THE UNITED STATES

WATCH

oembed rumble video here

you might also like

Les Stroud: A Brief History of TV's "Survivorman" and What He's Doing Today