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Earlier this year, the Weather Channel had an odd and surprisingly spirited dust-up with DirecTV over the network's ratio of reality shows to weather reporting. DirecTV felt the ratio was too high and refused to carry the Weather Channel unless it devoted less of its time to programs like "Iceberg Hunters" or "Coast Guard Florida," and more of it to, you know, the actual weather.
In April, the two entities reconciled, and the network agreed to more daytime meteorological reporting. It is not abandoning the reality biz, however. Mere months after this tempest in a tipping bucket, the Weather Channel gives us its most provocatively titled program yet: "Fat Guys in the Woods."
One could compare the show to many things - "Survivor" meets "The Biggest Loser" might work - or nothing at all, which is probably safest. In each hour-long episode, survival expert Creek Stewart takes three endomorphic men into Tennessee's Appalachian wilderness, where, armed with only the most basic tools, he teaches them how to survive for five days. On one of those days, each man must go off on his own.
While everyone else might chortle away at the title and the initial sight of three hefty guys in snow hats trundling through the frigid undergrowth (for the rest of the country's added enjoyment, the first participants are from Los Angeles), I was mourning what I felt was an opportunity missed.
With his surfer-dude hair and overuse of the term "bro," Stewart may seem a bit much (he is the Weather Channel's official survivalist), but the man knows his stuff. And his stuff is important. Even in Los Angeles, where each and every year a handful of poor souls find themselves lost, often fatally, in the wilderness.
So you know what? I want to know how to make a pine-bough bed that helps prevent hypothermia, how to build a shelter that provides protection while allowing enough ventilation for a fire to burn safely inside. And while I am grateful for the little asides Stewart provides (I have my emergency blanket, Creek!) and the fire-starting tips offered in the pilot (I will now be carrying char cloth at all times), I want to know how, exactly, to move that fire I have started inside my shelter.
Also, I need much clearer instructions on how to set a snare and, when the bunny is caught, less talk about the emotions involved and more direction on how to field dress it. When Stewart says he's using "the edible organs" to make a stew, I look up from my notes, concerned: What are the inedible organs, and by inedible does he mean poison?
Unfortunately for me and my needs, the show is much more interested in proving how beneficial survival skills can be to men whose sedentary lives have divorced them from feelings of essential competence, i.e. manliness. This is also a fine and noble goal, but in the pilot, which airs Sunday night, it involves a lot more telling than showing, with the men describing how they're too busy to work out and then how great they feel about being able to build a lean-to.
It may simply be a matter of too much information for a single episode - "Fat Guys in the Woods" might have done better to stretch each group's experience out over several hours - and perhaps, by the end of the season, all my questions will be answered.
After the first hour, however, I was left wishing for much less fat-guy talk and much more fat-guy action.
Oh, and, Creek, when you're ready to do "Fat Guys in the Woods Special Edition: TV Critics," I am absolutely in.
'Fat Guys In The Woods' airs on The Weather Channel at 10 p.m. on Sundays.