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Just like with the roundup of the best survival movies, TV shows are designed to be interesting to watch, which means they often show silly situations, extreme personalities, and so on.
Some of The Prepared’s team serve as consultants to these TV shows, so we know first-hand just how staged or extreme they are. But there’s still value in watching. Think about what you would do in similar situations, pay attention to how people solve problems or what kinds of mental traps they fall into, and so on.
In no particular order:
Survivorman (2005, 7 seasons). Bear Grylls may know his stuff, but his show is staged. Survivorman’s Les Stroud, on the other hand, goes into the wild by himself for days at a time — even managing his own camera equipment. Excellent display of wilderness skills in environments around the world. (IMDB) (Trailer)
Jericho (2006, 2 seasons). Follows a small Kansas town as dozens of nukes go off around the US, throwing the whole country into chaos. Nearly every episode has something to do with prepping/survival that we wish more TV shows focused on. Jericho is a cult favorite, but was cancelled after two seasons. The series definitely has some flaws — if you hate shows on networks like CW, you might want to skip. (IMDB) (Trailer)
The Handmaid’s Tale (2017-current). After an extremist religious group takes over the United States and the world order shifts, women are forced to live subservient lives. The main character is kept as a pregnancy surrogate for elite families that can’t produce children on their own. (IMDB) (Trailer)
The Walking Dead (2010-current). Popular series that opens with the collapse of society due to a massive zombie outbreak. Follows a small group of people over the years as they deal with everything from practical survival issues like food and water to silly stuff like zombie defense. The studio never should’ve fired its original showrunner (Shawshank Redemption’s Frank Darabont), and it jumped the shark in its middle seasons (roughly 4-8), but seems to have recovered lately. (IMDB) (Trailer)
Falling Skies (2011, 5 seasons). Set in the immediate aftermath of aliens invading earth, small groups of survivors (lead by a former history professor portrayed by Noah Wyle) struggle to organize and live. They eventually fight back against the occupiers. (IMDB) (Trailer)
Jeremiah (2004, 2 seasons). Based on a successful comic book, the series is set in a future post-apocalyptic-like world. Jeremiah is one of the oldest survivors of a deadly virus that wiped out the adult population, sparing only those at puberty or younger. (IMDB) (Trailer)
The Rain (2018, 3 seasons). The world as we know it has come to an end, due to a rain-carried virus that wiped out nearly everybody in Scandinavia. Six years after that event, two Danish siblings emerge from the safety of the bunker where they have been staying. To be honest, we abandoned this series part way through due to some facepalm-worthy writing and dubbing — but it has a sexy bunker, and many in the prepper community enjoy the series anyway. (IMDB) (Trailer)
Containment (2016, 1 season). When a deadly epidemic breaks out in Atlanta, a vast urban quarantine is quickly enforced, leaving those stuck on the inside to fight for their lives while local and federal officials race to find a cure. We found the series a little cheesy at times, but it certainly relates to the COVID-19 experience. (IMDB) (Trailer)
The 100 (2014, 7 seasons). When nuclear Armageddon destroys civilization on Earth, the only survivors are those on the 12 international space stations in orbit at the time. Three generations later, they send 100 prisoners down to the surface to test its habitability. (IMDB) (Trailer)
MacGyver (1985, 7 seasons). A secret agent that became the epitome of problem-solving, improvisation, hacking, and resourcefulness — so much so that we often refer to “MacGyvering a problem” in survival situations. Don’t bother with the modern remake. (IMDB) (Trailer)
Survivors (2008, 2 seasons). An unknown virus pandemic kills more than 90% of the world’s population. Those immune must strive to survive and overcome the difficulties of this new world order, hoping that the virus will not mutate. (IMDB) (Trailer)
The Strain (2014, 4 seasons). The story of the CDC Canary Team investigating an outbreak in NYC with hallmarks of vampirism. As the strain spreads, the team wages war for humanity. Fantastic setting, realistic survival methods (if you exclude silver swords and vampire stuff), bartering and the fight for resources, and a super cool hidden room. (IMDB) (Trailer)
Under The Dome (2013, 3 seasons). Adapted from a Stephen King novel, a mysterious force field surrounds a small Maine town, trapping residents inside. Can be cheesy at times, but it’s interesting to watch the character’s personal development as they fight to survive. (IMDB) (Trailer)
The Stand (1994 miniseries). Another Stephen King adaptation. After a deadly plague kills most of the world’s population, the remaining survivors split into two groups — one led by a benevolent elder and the other by a maleficent being — to face each other in a final battle between good and evil. (IMDB) (Trailer)
The Colony (2009, two seasons). Streaming on Discovery+. “Reality” show where a mixed group of contestants are stuck in a Los Angeles warehouse for three months. They scout for supplies and use their personal knowledge to improve their shelter, build creature comforts (such as a hot shower), communication, transportation, food, etc. (IMDB) (Trailer)
Naked and Afraid (2013, 12 seasons). An interesting take on the mostly-crap “reality” survival TV genre: two contestants are stranded in the wilderness, naked, with only one personal item each. (IMDB) (Trailer)
Alone (2015, 8 seasons). Another of the better “survival reality shows.” Many contestants are self-proclaimed survival exerts, and this show puts them to the test. Each person selects 10 items from a list of 40 to essentially make a lightweight bug out bag. They carry their own camera equipment. Whoever survives the longest (up to a year) wins $500,000. (IMDB) (Trailer)
Ray Mears’ series (1994-2017). Mears is a staple in the bushcraft community. He’s had over a dozen shows in the last 25 years, including Bushcraft (2004, 10 episodes), Extreme Survival (1999, 18 episodes), World of Survival (1997, 12 episodes), and Survival (2010, 3 episodes). (Ray’s website with lists)