The quick answer is yes; absolutely, if the show is true to its viewership. That said, it can also go horribly wrong; let’s examine why.
The Big Picture:
Much of modern society today is operating with a complete disregard to the laws of nature, and it is by no means the master of those universal laws.
Instead of learning from those universal natural laws, which have shaped the universe around us over the millennium, some of society stupidly seeks to cheat those laws at every opportunity. One simple lesson that stems from Darwin is this; the smart and the strong survive and the stupid and the weak perish. Some people in society today have elected to pursue actions that are counter to the universal laws of nature, creating situations that are unbalancing themselves and the world around us; situations which are not sustainable in the long term. But what does this have to do with Reality TV, prepping and survival?. . . Plenty!
It’s no stretch when it was said that “American people don’t believe anything until they see it on television”- Richard Nixon
The first time I heard the terms ‘edutainment’ and ‘infotainment’, I thought to myself; that’s a great concept; learning something while being entertained. Some variations of these concepts are integrated into some Reality TV shows that market to the Prepper and Survivalist audiences. However, over time the concepts have been diluted and even perverted in a few cases. When it comes to educating the public with regard to survival and disaster preparedness, realty TV shows in that genre are, in my opinion, starting to fail in the mission of educating audiences. Entertainment is a transient value to audiences, however the educational aspects (if any) of a show can provide long-term value to audiences.
Initially, I was encouraged and thought that reality TV could become a teaching tool for survivalists and Preppers, which is one of the reasons why I appeared on National Geographic’s Doomsday Preppers.
However my opinion is now beginning to morph as a result of the recent National Geographic reality TV show titled ‘Doomsday Castle’, which is premised on the concept of using a so-called ‘castle’ as a means of post apocalyptic long-term survival. This premise is highly flawed, as I will outline further into this article. The show also seems focused on the study of people trying yet failing in their disaster preparedness and the family’s interactions in those endeavors. Sadly the show fails to teach or highlight methods that would work under the conditions of an actual large-scale disaster, which is why you’d even want to consider such a large fixed defensive structure in the first place. From my chair, Doomsday Castle instead focuses more on the interpersonal family dynamics, and creates a show more along the lines of a ‘doomsday soap opera’. So far, the show seems to appeal in large part to teenagers and young adults by the looks of their fan page on twitter (#doomsdaycastle); basically people with the least amount of experience in disaster preparedness and survival.
As some National Geographic Doomsday Preppers viewers may recall, the same people and ‘castle’ that are now featured in Doomsday Castle were previously featured in season-2 episode-8 of the Doomsday Preppers series (‘No Such Thing As A Fair Fight’).
Season-two of National Geographic’s Doomsday Preppers covered the survival paradigms of 43 different Preppers, including the castle people, who were given a score of ‘68’ by Practical Preppers, LLC, which put them in 19th place in a field of 43 Preppers. Coincidentally, my survival paradigm (The Nautical Prepper) was also featured in that same series (Season-2, Episode-15; ‘A Fortress At Sea’), where Practical Preppers, LLC awarded a score of ‘83’, which was the highest score in history of both season-1 and season-2 of Doomsday Preppers.
Having been through the entire process myself, coupled with my background in long-term survival and disaster preparedness, I find myself in a position to offer some insights and critiques on the Doomsday shows, which some other writers cannot possibly have.
The recent explosion of ‘doomsday’ genre books, movies and TV shows has essentially been kicked-off by several factors working synergistically: The ubiquitous nature of the media (TV, radio, Internet) coupled with media sensationalism of natural disasters and man-caused events; extensive media coverage of studies related to such disasters and events, and many predictions regarding large-scale disasters. Some potential issues are also related to the overpopulation of the planet coupled with serious societal and political problems. Of course some ‘doomsday predictions’ are little more than science-fiction, as in the walking dead (‘Zombies’), while a few are based in real science (EMP attack, Geomagnetic Storm, Computer Hacking of the Energy Grid, etc.).
Of course with the media-driven onslaught of these various risks as they apply to personal safety, a market has arisen for the equipment and know-how in survival-preparing and dealing with risks ranging from common accidents, such as lacerations, broken bones, heart attack and downing; to fires, earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes.
When it comes to large-scale disasters, the vast majority of citizens will find themselves on their own, and some people realize this truth after a bit of due diligence using reliable sources.
Large-scale disasters, which are being discussed by our own government, such as a major failure in the national energy grid (‘grid-down scenario’), are a frightening reality, mainly because of the distinct possibility for continental-scale chaos, which cannot be addressed by the government once it begins, and this is based upon their own analysis.
So with these understandings, it’s clear that we are possibly faced with increased levels of personal risk, that logically require some measured and proportionate levels of training and preparedness, which is why disaster preparedness TV shows are suddenly relevant, and may even be a good idea, if they teach legitimately effective measures and concepts.
In the case of the Reality TV show ‘Doomsday Castle’; for openers, the castle that is highlighted isn’t even a ‘castle’ in the traditional sense. A quick study of traditional castles shows that the walls on real castles ranged from 5 feet thick to as much as 40 feet thick of solid stone:
And even as robust as castles were back then, “defending castles usually surrendered” when assaulted with relatively primitive methods.
The walls on the so-called ‘castle’ on the Reality TV show Doomsday Castle are a mere 12 inches thick, which to those of us with any engineering backgrounds know can be easily breached by ramming a truck through the wall, which would likely bring the adjacent wall down in the area of the impact. Of course the 12-inch-thick cement-filled cinder-block walls on the Doomsday Castle are no match for a .50 caliber rifle round, which will penetrate the wall. Near the end of the video below, you will see a USMC sniper make a shot through a solid cement block wall from a mile out, killing the aggressor!
These are critically important considerations in a fixed-location defensive position, such as bunker or so-called ‘castle’: In the case of Doomsday Castle; ‘castle failure’ is very likely.
So when a Realty TV personality tells the public that a 12-inch concrete wall is adequate as a primary defensive wall on a fixed-location facility that is engulfed in a large-scale disaster that is defending against thousands of potential aggressors over time, that statement is in my opinion misinforming the public. There are many other flaws with the Doomsday Castle survival model, both short and long term. In the final analysis, this so-called ‘castle’ is in reality little more than a commercial building that has the facade of a castle.
When viewers would tune-in to Bear Grylls (Man vs. Wild) expecting to see what is possible in the way of extreme survival methods, in some cases the viewers were not treated to the truth as alleged in this New York Times article. And in this article.
I recall watching an episode where Bear Grylls squeezed the liquid out of some elephant dung, claiming that it was a solution to dehydration in an emergency. Sure, that might work in a situation where you only needed to live for a few hours longer, until a military EVAC unit arrived. And it also works on TV since there is a medical doctor nearby with the various drugs that you would require to combat all the parasites, viruses and bacteria that are likely contained in such an unsavory solution. In a real off-the-grid survival situation, where you are actually ‘on your own’, such a solution to dehydration might allow you to live long enough to perish from dehydration due to dysentery and or a bacterial infection.
So as we see, these reality TV shows are less about ‘reality’ and ‘edutainment’ and more about mindless television entertainment (sit back and ‘zone-out’).
So how does a network go about providing such education with entertainment (edutainment)? I’m not sure, but I am sure we all have some ideas! If we produced a reality TV show based-upon the ‘this old house’ model, it might be called ‘This Old Disaster’ and would likely be just as boring to much of the audience today who demand much more.
Programming producers today look to add characteristics (and ‘characters’), action, drama and sex appeal to reality TV so they can attract large audiences with as much range in viewer demographics as possible within the genre, which in turn attracts a host of advertisers and that of course makes money. But most of these ‘characteristics’ really serve no purpose in the education and training of Prepper/Survivalists. I guess one question is, if producers are entering into the Prepping/Survival genre, don’t they owe the audience something true to the genre?
Clearly the ideal programming mix is a tall order for even the most talented producers, and it sometimes fails in one episode and succeeds in another when it involves a series of episodes, such as in National Geographic’s Doomsday Preppers, where the depicted survival methodologies ranged from the obtuse to the actionable. In the end, when you are trying to appeal to a very wide audience demographic, you can end up with content that is too diluted at every level. Maybe the trick is to focus a bit more, and make sure that whatever is depicted is legitimate and the techniques depicted will work in the given scenario, even if the scenario is staged. However, this would require the participation of expert advisers on-set, and that costs money.
When I saw the young lady with the bow and arrow on Doomsday Castle, I couldn’t help thinking it was a Hunger Games knock-off. Sure, the bow and arrow is ‘in-theme’ with the castle genre a few hundred years ago, but using a bow and arrow in the modern context of trying to defend any fixed-position from aggressors who are using firearms is just silly. Generally speaking, a decent marksman with even a .22 caliber rifle, using .22 long-rifle rounds, can be effective at ranges to 100+ yards. Contrast that to a skilled hunter with a powerful compound bow who is only effective out to 50 yards…and then there’s the cyclic rate of a semi-automatic rifle compared to a bow… talk about a miss-match.
Real Preppers and survivalists may tune-in to a reality TV show if there is a sense that there may be something useful and effective that can be learned, such as how to build an outhouse (a great asset when the grid is down), or how to harness the sun for solar power, or how to actually catch fish (catching, not fishing), or how to bug-out and survive during a large-scale disaster.
However, these same things may not be very interesting to some audiences who may simply tune-in hoping see certain family members and the drama related to family dynamics. Discovery Channel’s Orange County Choppers successfully capitalized on that paradigm for many seasons, and maybe Doomsday Castle can do the same? From my chair, Orange County Choppers did it best because in addition to showing a lot of cool custom motorcycles, they showed a lot of hands-on motorcycle building techniques and mechanics along with the family-drama; they had the right balance. I fear that Doomsday Castle is far too unrealistic to be considered legitimate by knowledgeable Preppers and survivalists, so they will likely lose much of that audience if the episodes continue as they have begun.
And the worst part, I think, is that some of the lesser experienced audience may embrace and incorporate some of the obtuse ideas and methods that are being depicted and portrayed in Doomsday Castle into their own preparedness methods and plans.
We need to keep in mind that prepping and survival is not a popularity contest, or a game show where you get another chance; death doesn’t care who you are!
As Albert Einstein said: “What is right is not always popular, and what is popular is not always right”.
“Rule #1 in survival is; don’t get dead”!
Cheers! Capt. Bill
Capt. William E. Simpson II is a U.S. Merchant Marine Officer with decades of boating and expedition sailing experience, who has successfully survived long-term off the grid at remote uninhabited desert islands with his family using sailboats that he equipped for that purpose. Capt. Bill holds a U.S.C.G. 500-ton captain’s license for commercial inspected passenger vessels, including, power, sail and assistance towing vessels. He is also the author of many articles on sailing and the book ‘The Nautical Prepper’ (Ulysses Press) You can read more from the Nautical Prepper on Capt. Bill’s personal site at www.williamesimpson.com