Ray Mears: I'm not comfortable with where survival shows are heading

Ahead of his new BBC4 show, How the Wild West Was Won, the bushcraft expert tells RadioTimes.com how he "detests a lot of cheap TV at the moment"

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Ray Mears: I'm not comfortable with where survival shows are heading
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TV survival guru Ray Mears has swapped the trade that made him famous for a new history travelogue show about the Wild West.

The survivalist has taught bushcraft on British television screens since the 1990s, and has been pitted against Bear Grylls as a 'real' survivalist, who doesn't do tricks, fakery or gimmicks for entertainment's sake.

"The survival stuff has taken a different angle on television, which I’m not really very comfortable with," explained Mears ahead of his new North American BBC4 history show How the Wild West Was Won.

Although Mears still teaches survival as a subject and continues to be a guide, he has no plans to do any further survival shows. "I like to deal with the real subject, not the hype," explained Mears, who believes that the integrity of the survival subject has been brought into question as a result of certain TV shows.

"The most important thing about British television is that programme makers hopefully listen to their audience. Our audience is a very sophisticated audience, I get to meet them when I give lectures, I listen very intently to the questions they ask. It saddens me when I get asked 'is this true?' or 'is this real on television?' We have a very sophisticated audience in the UK and it’s the envy of the world. That’s what makes our television good."

Mears believes US survival shows are the worst, "[Bear Grylls] does it a lot better than some of the stuff I’ve seen coming out of the US recently," said Mears, who's not impressed with survival shows like Discovery's Naked and Afraid (which does pretty much what it says on the tin). "It’s just rubbish, it’s just people who don’t know the subject dreaming stuff up – it’s telly gone mad.

"There is a lot of stuff coming out of America at the moment which I absolutely detest, a lot of cheap TV at the moment – it’s bad for the industry because the viewers get tired of it and they don’t trust telly anymore."

In How the Wild West Was Won, Mears veers away from the survival genre and uncovers the tales, routes and struggles of North America's Wild West. He films spectacular panoramas, travels to mountainous scenes, across vast deserts and the Great Plains. 

"I think my skills and my experience, all the things that I’ve done, enable me to communicate with people on a slightly different level," he explains. "I think historians can take a very dry viewpoint, a retrospective viewpoint. I’m interested in the human. When people go west, I hear the sound of the traces being tied up around the girth of a horse, I hear the clink of a bucket being hung on the back of a wagon, the sound of an axe being sharpened on a stone." In his new show, he intends to bring these fascinating stories to life.

How the Wild West Was Won with Ray Mears starts at 9pm, Thursday 22 May, on BBC4


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Visit North America with Radio Times Travel, see here for more details