Ed Stafford talks willy waving, grass skirts and his new survival show Marooned

This week on Discovery Channel, the first man to walk the Amazon attempts to survive in various terrains, with no clothes, no water and no cameramen

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Ed Stafford talks willy waving, grass skirts and his new survival show Marooned
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Action man Ed Stafford is back in the wild. His new show sees him jet off to Venezuela, Botswana, Romania, Borneo and the Australian coast – but he’s not there to holiday, quite the opposite. He’s there to survive 10 days in each place, with no clothes, no food, no water and no one else to chat to except his camera. He manages to make it out alive, just…

This is not your first naked survival show, why the nakedness?

It’s funny actually; I’m not a willy waver at all. I do play rugby, but I’m not one of those people who goes into the garden and takes of all their clothes. It was my idea bizarrely; I was just trying to come up with an experience. I didn’t want to go and do another two-year expedition. I was trying to come up with an experience that was as intense and as challenging as possible. It was massively outside my comfort zone. Being naked was meant to underline: he has absolutely nothing to help him and he’s taking nothing in apart from his camera equipment.

So it adds a dimension of vulnerability to the standard survival format...

It made me feel a whole lot more vulnerable. I wasn’t landing on an island with a pair of boots and a pair of trousers wearing a combat jacket doing a lot of productive things, I was just feeling ridiculous and naked and vulnerable. In the current series [the nakedness] stayed but it wasn’t something that I wanted to continue. It’s a very weird thing and I’m not naturally an extrovert like that at all. Editorially [TV bosses] really like the fact that I’m making clothes from the things around me. It’s a funny thing that your first survival priority, rather than finding water is to find the materials to make a grass skirt, but it works. In a normal situation that might be well down the priority list and you might end up doing that after three or four days or something. However, when I’m doing a fire lighting scene I'd like to be clothed. But it’s real.

I’ve heard one of the hardest things about surviving in the wild with no clothes is what’s under your feet?

The thorns in Botswana were horrendous; the grass was pretty spiky as well. There were areas that were off limits until I made myself some basic shoes. Psychologically, I hate being naked and there are some people who can probably think of nothing better, but I don’t like it. In some locations there has been the risk of heat stroke, or, in some locations, and sunburn, but usually there’s some sort of clay or mud that you can cake over yourself to alleviate that to some extent.


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You were trained in the Army and have done some mega expeditions, did you have all the skills you needed?

I haven’t got all the skills at all, I come from an expedition leader background and some ex-military, captain in the Army, but up until my Naked and Marooned project [which aired last March on Discovery] I’d light a fire with a lighter and sleep in a hammock or a tent. It was a conventional expedition lifestyle. In Marooned, every location I go to I get to deal with indigenous guys beforehand. I think it would be really arrogant to go to these locations and say – ok well this is how we did it in the Army and I’ll do it in every environment around the world. Invariably, they’ll light fires in a different way, they’ll use a plant that’s good for antiseptic. I was learning the whole time, and there’s new content for new programmes as well. That’s more interesting.

Where did you come unstuck?

On night one in Venezuela, it started raining almost as soon as I got there, I hadn’t got a shelter up by the time it got dark. It was quite high altitude and there was a real risk of going down with hypothermia. I was sitting under a tree, absolutely gibbering, thinking, “I don’t think I’ve ever been caught out quite as much as this.” I thought “right, this is a TV programme Ed, there’s no point in going down with hypothermia.” I had to break out the emergency survival blanket. I actually thought that they’d end up covering over that, when they edited it, but they included it in the programme and, having watched it back, I’m quite pleased actually. It does emphasise that these things are actually going on and that this is real and I'm not pretending. It's not brilliant but it helps ram home the point that I'm on my own filming myself. There’s loads of stuff that didn’t make it into the programme like making traps that don’t work, or fishing attempts where I don’t catch any fish. You just need to acknowledge that if you are in these environments, you have to try lots of things and some of them may pay off. You have to be careful that you don’t pin your hopes highly on any one thing.


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I like the fact you are honest about survival, there are after all certain survival experts who have been accused of staying in five star hotel in between takes…

I know we are talking about Bear [Grylls]. I get on really well with him, he’s a really nice guy, and he’s massively supportive of me. He wrote a quote for the front of my book in the States. I think we both acknowledge that we're doing different things. His television is very successful even after that ‘outcry’. Essentially, the fact that even made the news is ridiculous, because that is how television has always been made. The crew always stays in hotels and they are making an entertainment programme. Having said that, because there was this negative backlash there was space for somebody to come in and go “you know what, we could evolve this and do it for real.” If he can’t light a fire, he will be eating raw fish, and if he can’t build shelter then he will be out in the rain. That left a space for something really real and authentic. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way of doing it. Bear is doing it the way television has always been made. The Naked and Afraid [another naked Discovery Channel show] guys are half way in between, they have a camera crew there and there are certain things they are meant to do on certain days. The crux of [my show] is that there isn’t a crew telling me what to do, this is me going through these authentic experiences and when things happen, they get filmed. That’s why you should give a shit.

How much of your show was a mental challenge rather than a physical one?

In terms of not having to be a He-Man to get through it, then yes, absolutely. In terms of having a positive outlook on things, then yes. I dealt with the stresses and strains of the Amazon by using NLP tips, and helped get myself some perspective on it. The advice I’ve used to help me get through was actually from my Aboriginal friends. Aboriginals spend extended periods of time doing walkabout and they’ve got a real connection with nature – they are the people I’ve found have been the most helpful. They’ve given me advice on how to stay composed. I can’t say it’s all mental, because, they think that us westerners are all f**ked up because we’re stuck in our head the whole time, believing that we are our brain. They think that we have three brains, the biggest brain being our stomach, our gut, our instinct; the second biggest being our heart and our emotions; and the smallest brain being the logical brain. They think that if you get stuck in your logical brain, you’ll be anxious, worried and neurotic and wont be able to relax. They’ve been teaching me how to come from a deeper more instinctive place, and that ends up making life so much easier. It’s been a really nice evolution of coming out of an ex Army-type attitude, to going into the psychoanalysis, western medicine ways of dealing with things, to this almost more spiritual way of dealing with things and how to look after yourself. It applies to everyday life as much as it does to these everyday locations.

How did you cope with being alone, did you find the camera was your ‘Wilson’ from Castaway?

I deliberately didn’t watch Castaway before I went away, but whoever researched that was pretty accurate. It was a very well put together film. The camera was a bit like my Wilson, yes. I just treated it like it was my best friend who was a bit stupid. In a way it’s a double edged sword, because although you can speak out loud to yourself and not feel like you are going mad, you end up acknowledging lots of worries and fears that you probably wouldn’t even go into if you weren’t trying to explain it [out loud]. It opens up a darker chain of thought that you wouldn’t normally go into.

Watch Marooned at 9pm from May 4 on Discovery Channel


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