I Shouldn’t Be Alive

Have you ever been in the middle of the ocean in a rubber dinghy, circled by sharks? Lost in the Amazon for weeks with no food or water? Stuck in a freezing crevasse with a broken leg in a Utah canyon? If not, and you’d like to experience the feeling, check out I Shouldn’t Be Alive.

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I stumbled across this show a couple of years ago while channel surfing, and was immediately sucked in. The episode I saw, titled “Shark Survivor,” is described thusly on the official Discovery Channel website:

A hastily assembled crew sets sail from Maine in a luxury yacht, which they are delivering to its new owner in Florida. There is immediately conflict and tension amongst the strangers. Then, a storm engulfs them, and rips the boat apart. The life raft blows away, and the five crew members are forced to take refuge in a 12-foot inflatable dinghy. With no food and no water they soon deteriorate. Can they keep the tiny boat afloat as sharks try to flip them into the sea? Can they resist the all-consuming urge to drink seawater?

This somewhat dry description doesn’t begin to convey the insanely intense ups and downs of the show. In “Shark Survivor,” (spoiler alert!), limbs are injured and infected, dehydration and sunburn bake the hapless crew’s skin, and people lose their sanity after drinking saltwater and jump off the dinghy to be eaten by sharks (“I’m going out for a cigarette,” says one guy before leaping to certain death).

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In the wrong hands, this could make for schlocky and/or uncomfortably voyeuristic viewing. Fortunately, it doesn’t, for two reasons: the production values are high and the actual survivors take active part in the retelling. The stories are told through a combination of in-studio survivor interviews and acted-out recreations, the latter of which are incredibly realistic, so much so that I’ve found myself wondering (a) if the camera crews went to the actual spots where the events happened, to recreate them exactly, and (b) whether the actors are emotionally affected, as if they’d survived a near-death experience themselves.

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The shows also include educational asides, to tell us what’s happening biologically to the hapless adventurers. For example: “Drew’s metabolism has slowed dangerously due to the freezing temperatures, as his body attempts to preserve what little energy it has left. If he can’t bring his core temperature up soon, his brain will begin to shut down and he will DIE.”

Somehow, in every episode, the survivors are right on the brink of death – hallucinating in the African bush, bleeding profusely from a crocodile bite, freezing in a snow cave or some such – when they’re finally rescued. Sometimes, they’ve all but given up hope, but decide to make one last-ditch effort at saving themselves, which leads to a rescue. It’s ridiculously compelling, though often squirm-inducing, viewing.

Why do I love this show so much? There’s something about sitting on my couch, watching these people endure the nearly unendurable, then live to tell about it, that I find deeply satisfying. It doesn’t make me want to go on crazy adventures, nor does it make me feel smart or superior for not being so stupid as to get myself into trouble like that. I think it’s just the same kind of satisfaction others get from watching HGTV – look, here’s a really messy house, and now it’s clean and organized! Perhaps this is the adventure equivalent. All I know is, I can’t stop watching it.

5 responses to “I Shouldn’t Be Alive”

  1. Dave says:

    ZOMG I would love this show. It’s the kind of thing that makes me glad I don’t have cable, because I’d spend whole days and nights watching this show.

    One thing I loved about hiking in Acadia National Park with Stella was that, even though the mountains were rugged and steep, you were never more than a few miles from lobster rolls and stores that sold ceramic figurines to the moderately well-to-do. The fantasy of wilderness was fine as long as the reality was comfortable.

  2. Tim says:

    I’m a little traumatized just reading about the guy who “went out for a cigarette” off the dinghy. Yikes.

    I think there also should be a show for everyday trials and tribulations, such as “I survived 3 hours of traffic on the 405,” or “My subway car got stuck in the tunnel for an hour, and the guy next to me smelled really, really bad. I mean *bad*!” There could be a job-related spinoff: “My crazy boss is really crazy!” or “I had to fill in for a colleague at the last minute and make a big client presentation that I didn’t know anything about, and the president of the company asked me a confusing, difficult question.”

  3. Susan and I have had a couple of close calls. In the worst we got caught in a flash flood in The Narrows down in southern Utah. The flood water came up so quick it knocked Susan off her feet and pulled her under a log. She got trapped under the rush of water when her clothing got caught on a branch, and I was lucky to be strong enough to pull her out. We hiked the rest of that day but got caught without food or shelter in the middle of the high water when it got dark. We spent the night on a big rock in the river, shivering and all but certain that we were going to be knocking at death’s door by morning. It was seriously rough.

  4. Marleyfan says:

    SSW is here with me this week, and told me about your most recent “life events” which really sound interesting, exciting, and at the same time saddening.

  5. swells says:

    Wow! I never even put myself in situations (well, maybe except for flying?) that could come close to these kinds of adventures! I’m totally never getting picked for this show.

    On the other hand, I guess I *should* be alive, if only by default!