Men learn backwoods survival techniques on 'Fat Guys in the Woods'

Aug. 07, 2014 @ 06:11 PM

As the premiere episode of “Fat Guys in the Woods” begins, a camera swoops over a rugged, wooded landscape.

“Great Smoky Mountains,” a title reads.

Then comes another title: “Winter weather advisory.”

It was about to get really cold.

“Fat Guys in the Woods” is the Weather Channel’s new reality show. The focus is wilderness survival techniques.

The first episode was filmed in East Tennessee during one of last winter’s intense cold snaps.

“It was absolutely brutal,” said Creek Stewart, the Indiana-based survival expert who hosts the series. “The coldest conditions I have been in while sleeping outdoors. It makes things that much more difficult and uncomfortable.”

Each episode of “Fat Guys in the Woods” brings a group of everyday men to a remote area. Stewart teaches them how to endure extreme backwoods conditions without modern camping equipment.

Segments were filmed on private property in Townsend and Walland, as well as in Monterey and Crawford.

“Week after week, I take guys into the wilderness to prove that if they can survive with me, they can do anything they set their minds to,” Stewart said.

The series debuts Sunday at 10 p.m. In the first episode, three men in their late 20s and early 30s join Stewart in the snowy woods.

Stewart tells them that because of the cold, hikers on the nearby Appalachian Trail recently had to be airlifted to safety.

“The thing about Mother Nature is that she doesn’t care whether you live or die,” he tells the guys, who look appropriately chastened.

Cameras follow the men as they build primitive shelters out of sticks and leaves, start fires without matches and set snares to trap animals for food.

The episode’s guests are from Los Angeles. They’re amiable and quick-witted.

They follow Stewart as, seeking food, he looks for animal tracks in the snow. One deadpans, “Are there tracks for a Pizza Hut?”

“These guys are stuck in a rut, and they need a kick in the pants,” said Stewart of the show’s guests. “They need an extreme experience to bring extreme change. I’m happy to provide that in the form of a crazy week in the woods.”

As you would guess from the title, the show’s guests are men. “Guys just love the idea of taking on Mother Nature and seeing who can come out on top,” Stewart said. “It’s the way we’re wired.”

Still, Stewart said, the show’s techniques aren’t just for men. “The theme is universal.”

Stewart, who grew up in scouting and is an Eagle Scout, has been teaching survival skills professionally for 16 years.

“I’m a very practical survival instructor,” Stewart said. “I believe real disasters happen to real people all the time.”

Survival techniques may be essential when disaster strikes, Stewart said.

“We see the headlines all the time,” he said. “Tornadoes, hurricanes. The survival scenario doesn’t matter. The core survival needs are the same: shelter, water, fire, food.”

At the end of the first episode, Stewart wishes his guests “a lifetime of adventures.” Why is adventure important?

“I’ve watched how the wilderness can change people,” he said. “There’s a part of everyone that longs to be connected to the outdoors. There’s a side of yourself that you rarely see unless you’re in the wilderness.”

People learn a lot about themselves on wilderness adventures, Stewart noted. “We’re coddled in our modern cities, and those comforts keep real feelings and discoveries at bay.”

There is, Stewart said, “nothing like an experience in the woods to bring a huge dose of perspective back home.”

kburns@themountainpress.com