The survivalist genre of TV shows has become one of our most beloved, with something out there to pique the interest of any viewer.
Whether you’re a dedicated survivalist yourself or just like to watch the action from the comfort of your sofa, there’s no shortage of quality programming to choose from.
What are some of the best survival shows?
The survival genre of TV covers situations that are both realistic and edited for entertainment, to suit whatever your taste is. Among some of the most popular survival shows is Bear Grylls, Naked and Afraid, Alone, Life Below Zero, and Survivorman, but there are many more to see.
If you enjoy the thrill of survival TV, this guide is for you, with our recommendations for shows that cover all of the bases. We explore the difference between reality and entertainment when it comes to surviving on the screen, and help you find your next binge-worthy series.
The Survival Shows on the TV Today
The survival genre of TV shows isn’t a new one by any means, but it has gotten a lot more popular in recent years. Since the world began dealing with Covid-19 and people’s interest in prepping and developing their own survival skills came to the forefront, there’s been an influx of reality programming that centers on these experiences.
Today, you’ll find that most survival shows either fall into the reality or entertainment category, and sometimes a bit of both. Most people are happy to watch either type and probably even have their favorite show, and others will only be committed to watching survivalists who are the real deal.
The entertainment style survival shows still display some helpful skills and situations that you can learn from, but they also feature a lot of editing and involvement from the production team. The realistic survival shows leave the host and participants to fend for themselves, and it might not always be the most thrilling experience, but everything presented is as real as it gets.
Whatever your favorite style, there’s no shortage to choose from, and thanks to the many streaming services at our fingertips today, it’s never been easier to watch them. Whether you prefer the traditional reality series like Survivor or want to keep it real with Survivorman, we’ve got top picks in every category to enjoy.
The 5 Best Survival Shows
These shows combine the ruggedness of survivalists with the excitement of an action-packed blockbuster, making them a hit with viewers everywhere. If you don’t mind a little bit of entertainment with your survival skills, check out these top rated shows.
#1: Bear Grylls
Bear Grylls has made a name for himself as the most famous survivalist in the world on Man vs. Wild, even if many would argue with that title. During his years of success, Grylls has starred in many series based on the wilderness, with his specialty being dropped into a situation and using just his bare hands and survivalist skills to make it.
There are some critics of the Brit who believe his series are too overproduced these days, and with his involvement in more reality-style shows, he may have lost some credibility. However, there’s no denying that Bear Grylls makes captivating TV and is one of the most entertaining survivalists out there. That’s why we ranked Bear Grylls as our number one in the list of best survival shows.
#2: Naked and Afraid
Naked and Afraid is one of the top rated reality series on TV right now, and you can watch its thirteenth season on the Discovery Channel right now. As the name suggests, this show partners one man and one woman who are complete strangers, and introduces them to each other completely naked and without only one tool that they’ve chosen before arriving.
What’s made this such a popular hit is the relationship that forms between the two, be it good or bad, and what they’re capable of with limited resources. As the program shows no sign of slowing down or losing popularity, you can expect Naked and Afraid to be entertaining audiences for years to come.
Alone is another currently running reality series with a survival twist, and it airs on the History channel with the latest season airing in August 2021. The 10 contestants of Alone work as individuals, except for one season where they were separated into teams, and must survive alone as long as they can in a remote location in the wild. Contestants are able to tap out if they wish and must undergo medical checks to ensure they’re healthy, but otherwise, they’re totally isolated from civilization.
The biggest draw of Alone is that the individuals film themselves and are left to their own devices, even if there is an element of ‘reality TV’ to it all. The grand prize of $500,000 is awarded to the survivalist who lasts the longest, although it means there is some interference from production, that doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s thrilling TV.
#4: The Walking Dead
Although The Walking Dead might not be the first show that pops into your mind when thinking of survivalists, there’s a lot you can learn from it. The famous series that follows the survivors or a zombie apocalypse is completely fictional, but according to those in the know, many of the skills and methods they use are on the money for what would work in an emergency.
The Walking Dead might deal predominantly with zombies, but you can still learn a lot while being highly entertained. Airing on AMC and still coming out with new seasons and off-shoots all the time, you can get the best of both worlds with entertainment and survivalist skills while watching the award-winning series.
#5: Live Free or Die
This American reality series can be found on The National Geographic Channel, and it follows a group of individuals or couples who are attempting to live life in the wilderness without help. During each season, select people are chosen who already have some skills in survival like hunting, foraging, and trapping, and placed into a remote location where they must try and survive using these talents.
Although Live Free or Die features real people showcasing their skills, there’s a certain element of production involvement and it exists predominantly for entertainment. Still, it’s one of the most popular survival shows on TV today, and allows individuals to share their knowledge and experience, which can be beneficial for viewers to
The 4 Best Realistic Survival Shows
These shows are less about keeping you on the edge of your seat, and more about sharing wisdom, so they’re a little harder to come by than those in the entertainment category.
They’re still enjoyable to watch but don’t have a lot of the editing and producer involvement that the entertainment genre of shows has, so check them out for a true dose of survival reality.
#1: Life Below Zero
Arguably one of the most popular shows on TV at the moment, Life Below Zero has a reputation for being realistic as well. Produced by BBC Worldwide, the show recently premiered its fourteenth season and airs on National Geographic to millions of devoted fans each week.
On a regular episode of Life Below Zero, you’ll follow the daily life of hunters that work in remote and freezing areas of Alaska, trying to survive in these extreme conditions. These everyday folk live off the land in every sense of the term, kill their own food, and earn a living with various tasks that they perform outdoors. If you want a glimpse into the real lives of below zero survivalists, this show will give can deliver.
Survivorman managed to keep audiences entertained for many years until 2015, and long before the survivalist trend began. Hosted by the world-renowned survival expert Les Stroud, the show sees him being placed into just about any extreme backdrop you can imagine, including the Australian outback and the Boreal Forest.
What sets this show apart and gives it more of a realistic vibe, is that Les originally did all of the camerawork himself, including filming himself in situations. Although a camera crew would be behind him in most of the shots, there was no interaction from anyone else and no meddling production team, so Survivorman was about as real as it gets.
#3: Fat Guys in the Woods
Fat Guys In the Woods doesn’t often get the respect it should as a survival show, but what makes it one of our favorites is the sheer amount of knowledge that the guys were able to share. The purpose of the show was to teach the average Joe skills that they’d be able to use if they ever found themselves in a survival situation, and it was extremely successful at doing that.
This made this list as one of our more realistic survival shows because it wasn’t heavily edited and the situations that the Fat Guys taught were able to be replicated by anyone, no matter their background. Although it no longer runs anymore, you can still catch the 17 episodes they did make online and stream the action for yourself.
#4: Ray Mears
Ray Mears is one of the UK’s most beloved survivalists, even if he does refer to himself as a woodsman instead. Ray has had a whole host of shows over the years, some better than others, but is always committed to making it as real as possible for his viewers.
Some of the more popular Ray Mears series worth checking out are Extreme Survival, Bushcraft, and Wild Britain, although it’s been many years since he’s made anything new. Whatever series you watch, Ray will captivate you and offers a much less produced way to check out some amazing survival and woodsman skills.
Survival on the Sofa
A good survival show can provide you with the thrill of the outdoors without ever putting yourself in danger, and they might even teach you a thing or two. There’s a good reason why these programs have seen a surge in popularity recently and if you’re looking for a new show to binge on, they’re worth checking out.
With more and more people wanting to learn skills for survival and thinking about how they can prepare themselves for any situation, it makes sense that shows centering on these experiences are seeing a boom. If you want to learn more about what it takes to be a survivalist, we’ve answered some FAQs that might be able to help.
How Does One Become a Survivalist?
To learn the skills needed to be a survivalist takes many years, regular practice, and inspiration from a range of sources. There are lots of helpful resources available today to help you improve your skills, including TV shows, video tutorials, and discussion boards where you can share knowledge with others.
Is Survivalist a Career?
An outdoor survivalist is not a career or a profession, and could not be performed to earn any monetary value. Being a survivalist means having the skills to survive in the wilderness without any assistance or contact with society, and it is more of a way of life than a career path.
Who is the Best Survival Expert?
The most well-known survival expert of modern times is Bear Grylls, thanks to his many TV shows and published survival guides. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean he is the best, as there are likely thousands of survivalist experts who don’t have any fame, so it’s a hard title to bestow on someone.