How Real Are Survival TV Shows?

Survival Shows - real or fake?

Not many of us could lay claim to wanting to be stuck in a real life survival situation, but that doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy the thought of it.

Survival TV shows have managed to give us a glimpse into the thrill of what might happen in a survival scenario, while we watch comfortably and safely from our sofas.

How real are survival TV shows?

Not all reality TV shows based around survival are real, and most of them feature some element of producer and editor involvement. As the serious nature of a true survival situation isn’t something that can be captured on TV, recreations and planned scenarios are the next best thing.

To get to the bottom of the realness of survival TV, we’re here to look at what happens behind the scenes of your favorite show and what it is that makes this genre such captivating viewing. By the end, you’ll be a little more skeptical the next time you watch any survival program on TV and know how to spot the real from the fake.

The Rise of Survival TV Shows

why are survivor shows popular

The world is currently obsessed with survival TV, whether it’s a reality series where a solo individual tries to make it out in nature, or a cast of actors play out what might happen after a zombie apocalypse. One of the first glimpses we saw of this type of TV was when Survivor: Borneo aired in 2000, and now 20+ years later, there are many more joining the ranks.

Survival TV has become one of our favorite genres as it meets our need for excitement and adventure but allows us to watch safely from home while someone else does it. However, constant criticism of this genre is that it’s not as real as they make it out to be, and while that might turn some potential viewers off, there are still millions of loyal followers.

Today, there’s no shortage of shows centered around survivalists or making it in the middle of nowhere. With the rise of streaming TV services, we can now also revisit our old favorites, and for some people, it marks their first time experiencing the greatness that is the earlier Survivor series or classic Bear Grylls: Man vs Wild episodes.

The trend towards more realistic survival situations is growing though, with people starting to prefer shows that don’t have a huge camera crew behind them. This gives viewers a chance to learn real world survival skills and techniques that they might be able to use someday to save their lives, although maybe not with the same level of drama that the produced alternatives offer.

Behind the Scenes

Cast Pepares For A Reward Challenge On 'Survivor: Marquesas'

Many popular survival-themed shows are marketed to us as realistic, and it’s easy enough to get caught up in the thrill of the ride and forget that there are likely camera crews and producers all around them at any given time. Other shows, like Survivor, don’t try as hard to seem realistic, with events like voting, interviews, and challenges for the entertainment of viewers.

One of the more famous survival TV shows, Naked and Afraid, sees a man and a woman dropped somewhere in a remote location with no clothes and minimal tools, trying to survive for three weeks. Although deemed one of the more realistic shows, the stars of each season are followed by cameras, producers, and regularly checked out by medical staff, so it’s not as realistic as you might think.

The other popular format of survival show, where the sole star has their own camera to record their adventures, is as close as you’ll get to reality these days. However, even though they’re going it alone and production hasn’t set up any obvious plot twists for them to encounter, there’s usually still a camera crew following them close behind.

These reality shows should be taken as entertainment first and foremost, even if there are some lessons you can use yourself, and never relied on as a guide to making it in a survival situation. To do that, you’ll need to learn the basic survival skills and continually practice them, using your favorite TV shows only for inspiration.

The Point of Fake Survival Shows

The Point of Fake Survival Shows

When it comes to survival scenarios, some viewers will only watch those that are truly genuine where the main star does all of the filming, stunts, and commentary themselves. For others, it doesn’t matter if there has been some involvement from production or if they’re edited to follow a certain narrative, as long as the drama and outdoor spirit are there.

The thrill of watching a survival-themed show is that we can imagine ourselves in these types of settings, and it gives our adrenaline a huge boost. While we hope never to find ourselves stranded in the wild in real life, the joy of watching these shows is akin to watching a horror movie so you can experience the thrill, while knowing you’re safe at home while you do.

After over 20 years on our TV screens, there’s been a lot of research into the psychology behind shows like Survivor and what makes it so popular with viewers, beyond just the survival theme. As this show has a heavy focus on society, morals, and ethics, there’s another element of interest in it rather than just watching a lone man trying to survive in the wilderness. 

The Best Examples of Fake Survival TV Shows

Zach Fowler

Fans of survival TV shows have been spoilt in recent years with the never-ending release of thrilling series being produced. These are some of the latest and greatest in the survival genre that has a major input from production and editing:


Arguably the most famous survival-themed show of all time, there’s no denying that Survivor can be pretty fake at times. Whether it’s the voting people off or interviews with cameras, you don’t feel as though these people are truly alone on an island, but that doesn’t turn off its millions of loyal viewers each week.

Naked and Afraid

naked and afraid

The show that takes two naked individuals and plops them somewhere in a remote outback is about as real as it gets for a fake show, and although you don’t see a lot of input from outsiders, previous stars of the show have said otherwise. That being said, there’s most of what happens on the show is real and it’s thrilling TV to get into.


The very premise of Alone indicates that the participants of the show might be alone, and thus a little more realistic, but it’s not that simple. There’s a fair amount of input from production and the fact that everyone is competing for a huge cash prize takes some of the realism out of it, but it’s managed to remain one of the most famous survivalist shows on TV at the moment.

Bear Grylls: Man vs Wild

man vs wild

When Man vs Wild first premiered people were amazed at the realistic look of one man trying to survive against all odds. However, as more seasons were produced and some of the secrets were spilled, it was revealed that many of the scenes were staged to make good TV. That aside, it still holds the title as one of the better survival-themed shows in recent years and a darn entertaining watch.

The Best Real Survival Shows

If you’re into reality TV that’s a little more realistic, there are a few survival-themed shows that have made a name for themselves in this regard. Check out these shows if you want something as close to the truth as possible when it comes to survivalists:



Although Survivorman no longer airs anymore, it will always go down in history as one of the most realistic survival shows. Hosted by outdoorsman Les Stroud, the series followed him in some real-life situations that taught viewers skills and techniques that might be able to use someday. It wasn’t always the most dramatic but he had a natural charm and real talent that made it a fan favorite.

Life Below Zero

This series follows real individuals who live their lives in constant survival mode, working as hunters in Alaska, and it’s terrifying and thrilling viewing. Set in this sub-zero-degree danger zone, this reality series has little input from producers and simply watches the everyday lives of people who spend their days doing their best to survive.

Fat Guys in the Woods

cast of fgitw

The classic series Fat Guys in the Woods followed real-life survivalist instructors and experts showing us everyday folk how not to die in the wilderness. There was nothing overproduced about it and it was less Hollywood and more real life, which viewers appreciated for its ability to be different than the other survival shows that were out there at the time.

Survival of the Realist

There’s no shame in enjoying heavily produced survival TV reality shows, as it still provides some element of realness when compared with other dramas out there. But, if you’re someone who wants their survival shows to be as real as possible, there’s a few options out there that can meet your needs.

The survivalist TV genre continues to grow in popularity, and with the world feeling as though a doomsday situation could be a lot closer than they thought, it’s only going to get bigger. If you want to learn more about this prevalent genre and see what else is out there, read on for some FAQs about survival TV.

Is Survivor Scripted?

As a reality TV show, all of the contestants on Survivor are real, and according to the show’s staff, the things that they say are unscripted. However, there is a large amount of involvement from production that may push them to speak about certain topics or make decisions, as well as a lot of editing that occurs before it airs.

Does Bear Grylls Have a New Show?

Bear Grylls’ latest show is Running Wild With Bear Grylls which premiered in March 2021 on National Geographic Channel. The series follows Grylls as he is joined by a new celebrity each episode, and he runs through a number of challenges and adventures with them to test their physical abilities in the outdoors.


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