- Richard Haywood
Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Ed Stafford. Left For Dead.
Who is Ed Stafford?
Ed Stafford is a 41 one year old ex-British army officer who became world famous for being the first person to walk the length of the Amazon River. Which is about a billion miles long and goes through jungles and stuff. It took him a couple of years and boosted him into the world record books. It was truly an astonishing feat and if you ever get the change to watch the videos he made to witness the sheer grit of the man you’ll see what I mean about it being astonishing.
Among other things, Ed Stafford now “hosts” a telly show on Discovery where he is dropped in the most hostile places on earth (as in remote and barren.) He has a bag filled with cameras, a drone for aerial shots, an emergency first aid kit and that’s it. He is left for ten days to navigate from point A (the drop off) to point B (the pick up) without food, water, tools or navigational equipment. He also carries a satellite phone to maintain emergency contact with his team back in their base – and his team also track his progress using a GPS system so they can respond to rescue him should the need arise, and in the episodes we see Ed booking in at morning and night. Other than that it’s down to Ed to survive, navigate and get to the pick up in time.
So that’s the premise of each episode. It’s about overcoming hardship and the spirit of endurance. About being smart and not panicking. It’s also about knowledge of the environment within which he is trying to survive. How to find water, food, shelter. How to navigate using the sun, shadows, stars, fixed points etc. About the mental anguish of true isolation and braving searing heat or freezing cold. How to start fires and keep warm and keep moving and Ed is an endearing, highly personable chap too. There is a humbleness about him which keeps you glued to the screen. His facial features are very expressive so you can visibly see the pain he feels. You can see when he is freezing cold or sweating and struggling with dehydration. When he is exhausted and drained to the point mere mortals would just give up and phone the base to come and rescue them. You can also see the jubilation when he finally gets the fire going or reaches the summit or drags free of the mudbank and I’d challenge anyone to watch him and not think what a spiffingly nice, genuine, remarkable, enduring and incredible man he really is.
He eats plants and flowers. Tree bark. Berries and leaves. Mushrooms and other stuff. He finds fruit and identifies each and says which bits can be eaten and narrates about the nutritional value. He’s done his homework and knows his stuff and with each thing he eats a message appears on screen giving the calorific content of said item.
He also eats every living creature he comes across and he doesn’t just eat it, he devours it like an unstoppable, insatiable apex predator eating killing machine.
“The chopper is now going and that’s it, I’m alone for ten days in this desert with nothing other than my bag and I’ll admit I’m nervous. This could be the hardest one I’ve done and I really don’t know if i’ll make it…” cue pained pensive look and a view from the drone zooming up that gives us an idea of his isolation, then back to Ed staring wistfully. “It’s morning and the sun is there, so I know that way is east…I need to head roughly west…OH MY GOD A LIZARD JUST RAN PAST ME…I’M GOING TO EAT IT. COME HERE YOU LIZARD…STOP RUNNING AND LET ME EAT YOU…HAHAHAHAHAHA! GOT IT…CHOMP CHOMP CHOMP…”
He films it on his Go-Pro too. The whole bloody thing. From the wistful, endearing humble chap to the mad glint that steals into his eyes as he dives and punches and bludgeons to drag his prey up in front of the camera then scoffs it with lip-smacking delight before swallowing with a mad smile.
The man eats better than I do and I live in a town filled with shops. It’s just nuts. It’s bizarre and fascinating in a what the actual fuck kind of way. I watched him walking through a mangrove thing, it was clearly very hot and he was clearly struggling to keep going…until he saw a bird fly out from a low nest. “OH MY GOD A BIRD FLEW OUT…THERE MIGHT BE A NEST. THERE IS! HAHAHAHAH IT’S GOT AN EGG…CHOMP CHOMP CHOMP…”
The thing is, that egg contained a bird that was maybe a day or two from hatching. It was fully formed and fucking sickening. I turned off for a bit after that and it was that point that I started to pay attention to just how much this guy eats when he’s on these treks.
Now don’t get all shouty and start griping about survival and how hunger is a powerful motivator and if you don’t have the stomach for it Haywood then go wallow in the chocolate aisle at Tesco. I’m not a vegetarian (although I don’t eat lamb or young animals) and if was truly starving I’d kill to survive. We are predators. We are a species that strives for survival along with everything else…but um….Ed Stafford ain’t starving is he. He eats everything. Like literally. He found some crab holes, it might have been the same episode actually, so he got a big stick and poked it down to stab them and drag them out and go CHOMP CHOMP CHOMP. He walked past a snake minding it’s own business. Like a python type thing so he beat it to death then made a fire and cooked it. He found giant millipedes and ate them and kept snails in his pocket to feed with certain leaves to purge the toxins from their guts before he went CHOMP CHOMP CHOMP. He found a mouse hole and made a Wile E. Coyote ACME trap with a massive boulder and then came back the next morning to go CHOMP CHOMP CHOMP on the poor rodent flattened underneath it.
There’s something awful about that side of it. Something that makes me want to switch off and I have a few times. But then I made myself go back and keep watching, almost as though it was a test of manhood to keep watching, but no matter how hard I try, and no matter how much I like Ed Stafford – and I really like and admire the man – there’s something very wrong about it all so I had a think and reflected to determine what was bugging me.
It’s because the show is an entertainment programme. Ed Stafford is willingly going to those places and willingly putting himself into those situations to provide entertainment. Yes there is some educational qualities but it’s 95% entertainment, and those animals and creatures would not have been killed or eaten if he wasn’t there. That baby bird he ate might have been the last one of it’s kind in that area – and for no reason other than entertainment, he killed and ate it, and once that thought was lodged in my head it wouldn’t shift. It started becoming like fox-hunting to me. A brutal, barbaric thing done for sport and fun.
The guy carries a bag. He could shove some ration packs in it and high energy food. I’d still watch because for me the progamme is about Ed and his endurance, about his ingenuity and fortitude to keep going, but therein is the issue because his ability to kill and eat in that way is part of his character. That’s how he is able to do those things and keep going, and don’t get me wrong, when the kill is done and the creature is eaten, Ed normally offers thanks for it, but you can see the glint that comes when the hunt is on or the kill is being made.
I’m not a super-wussy either. I’ve seen horrific death both in human and animal form many, many times and I can grasp it’s part of life. I watched a Sparrow-Hawk take out a pigeon in my garden and tear it apart to eat while I watched and yeah it was bad for the pigeon but hooray for the bird of prey. We’re all part of the food chain, that’s what life is. It’s hard and gritty and violent. Be strong and swift or get eaten, but doing it for entertainment, to record and put on telly when you have the means not to kill is not something I can get comfortable with.
Ah well, it’s worth a watch if you’re not super squeamish (like me) and when the End of Days come i’m on Team Stafford…but until then dude, just pack some food and narrate what you could do to eat the creature and then let the thing go and live its life.
Just because you could kill and eat it, doesn’t mean you should.
Take care RR Haywood