Love to explore? You’ll find a friend in Ed Stafford, along with other bravehearts like Gary Connery, the wingsuit pioneer, and Guillaume Nery, the extreme freediver. While you won’t see Ed Stafford flying or free-diving, you will find him constantly trapped in strange lands, with neither food nor first aid kit, but the smarts and sheer limits of human potential. The best part is that he does this because he wants to. If you’re as much of an extreme as him, join him in the upcoming Left for Dead series and watch him fight his way out of the most treacherous environments in the world.
How different is Left for Dead from Marooned with Ed Stafford?
Both shows couldn’t be more different. Marooned was all about surviving in a location for 10 days. The aim was to thrive, so my goal was to set myself up for a comfortable existence with ample shelter and food resources. I wasn’t living like an animal.
As for Left for Dead, it is a more dynamic journey. I’m constantly on the move and the show is physically far more exerting. Rather than spending two or three days building a shelter, I’m sleeping under trees or finding places that offer a bit of shelter. I’m also losing a lot more weight than when I was on Marooned because I have to do more now. While both shows are very different, I hope the thing that remains is the authenticity of my experience. Like Marooned, Left for Dead is non-scripted, a genuine journey through some of the most unforgiving environments in the world. It’s been hard work, but I’m really happy to have been involved in it.
Why do this to yourself?
When I was younger, I was driven by a desire to prove myself and take on tough challenges. I wanted to show the world I could do it. These changed as I got older. With Left for Dead, I get to travel and learn. To be in situations where I have to learn and think outside the box and be creative, is a humbling experience. I think it’s a healthy way of challenging myself and preventing stagnation in life. The show has been a genuinely good lifestyle choice for me.
What were some of the places you had to navigate through?
I had to escape from the Atacama Desert in Bolivia, cross a region of the Darién Gap in Panama, and traverse through Madagascar.
What was the absolute worst?
I was most nervous about the Darién Gap because of the political instability and high crime rate in the area. The trafficking of drugs and people into North America is rampant there. I was surprised we even managed to get permits to film there. While it was also a physically demanding journey, I was pleasantly surprised by how warm and welcoming the locals were. I’ve had a few other similar experiences where you expect people to be scary, but they turn out to be really nice. It ended being a fun trip for me, despite the initial intimidation.
How does it feel to be likened to someone like Bear Grylls?
I owe a lot of my career to Bear. He took survival television and invigorated it in a way that had never been done before. Bear took it by the horns and elevated it to a real and fun genre in entertainment with loads of energy and adrenaline. I think I’ve ridden off the back of that to a large extent. However, I feel that Bear and I are very different. He usually has a camera crew with him, so the natural progression for me has been to make do without a camera crew. I wanted to add a different element of realism to my experience and showcase the truth behind unscripted television – if you can’t light a fire or find food, you are going to remain cold and hungry for the rest of the night without the help of your crew. But I don’t think it’s a case of one being better than the other – Bear opened a lot of doors for me to do my stuff as well.
Could you share some survival skills with our readers?
1. How do you navigate through the woods with nothing but nature?
Remember that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. In the Northern Hemisphere, the sun will point south at midday. Conversely, in the Southern Hemisphere, the sun points to the north. Shadows also serve as mini compasses on the ground. Although I understood navigational theories before Left for Dead, I learned a lot more practising in real life during the show.
2. How do you build a proper campfire without a match?
It is surprisingly simple. Before I started doing all these survival work for Discovery Channel, I had no idea how to build a fire – I’d always used a lighter! When they challenged me to spend 60 days on a Fijian island, I had to learn. I ended up hiring a man from England who holds the Guinness World Record for lighting a fire with the shortest hand drill method. It works by creating heat through friction to start an ember that can then be used to build a fire and is best suited for fire starting in dry climates. I paid him to teach me all the skills I needed to know to survive, and I learned that it’s all about getting the right density of wood. If it’s too ‘dead’, it will fall apart and flake. If the wood is too ‘alive’, it’s got too much moisture. The easiest way to tell if a piece of wood is suitable is if you’re able to make a light dent in the wood with your thumbnail.
I also rely on floating technique to get a fire going, which is something I learned from YouTube. Another technique I would recommend to get a fire going involves capturing the sun with a makeshift magnifying glass. On Marooned, I made use of a nail to create little fractures all around the outside of an empty glass bottle. By shaking the nail inside the bottle, the whole bottom eventually comes out in one piece.
3. How do you treat your wounds in the wild without a first aid kit?
Seawater is the best remedy in coastal areas. While the sea is not a disinfectant, it’s a really good cleanser for wounds. Jungles on the other hand are the worst. They are moist and lack sunlight – the perfect stimulants for bacteria to fester. In such an environment, the more sunlight your wound can get the better. It is important to let it dry out.
4. How do you make your own bed and shelter?
It really depends on the environment. In hot, arid environments where it’s not expected to rain, I’d sleep on the floor without a shelter. In some jungle environments where the chance of rain is high, I would have to stay dry and prevent the risk of hypothermia. On Marooned, I made use of layering big and waxy leaves to form a shelter. I did this by creating a hook at the base each leaf stem and securing it on the wooden thatch I had put together.
5. What do you use for self-protection?
I work with the principle that most animals are more afraid of me than I am of them. I usually don’t see many animals because they can hear me and they stay away. The annoying creatures are in fact the smaller ones, like the mosquitoes and ants. You can deter them by sleeping right by the fire. The smoke does all the work.
6. What do you build to boil water?
Bamboo is one of the best natural containers to boil water. Leftover tin cans also make for good containers to boil water. In the past, I’ve tried boiling water by submerging a couple of superheated rocks, which I heat up in the fire. Unfortunately, it sounds better than it really is – the rocks are always covered in ash and the water tastes far from ideal.
7. What is the universal edibility test for food?
Rub the food on your skin and wait an hour. If you have no reaction, rub it on your lip, and if nothing happens, eat a tiny chunk and see how your body reacts. If nothing happens during any of those stages, the food is probably alright to eat.
Ed Stafford: Left for Dead will premiere on 17th Oct, 9pm on the Discovery Channel