Reality Bites: Doomsday Preppers

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There are a million reality shows on the naked television. We're going watch them all, one at a time.

Confession time: Ever since Red Dawn, I've been intrigued by the idea of putting together a survivalist stockpile in the event of Commie invasion/global pandemic/"low level" nuclear conflict/"Obamacare"-related economic catastrophe. Like many people who came of age during the Cold War, I gave at least passing thought to taking to the hills and fending for myself should the proverbial shit hit the fan.

Then I remembered I live in one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world and not, in fact, on the edge of the Rocky Mountains. But just because we Houstonians are doomed to be devoured by mutant cockroaches doesn't mean everyone is, and NatGeo's Doomsday Preppers offers a sometimes fascinating (and occasionally disturbing, or maybe it's the other way around) window into the lives of those preparing for the end of days.

The episode I saw was called "It's Gonna Get Worse." Each ep showcases three preppers, followed by an assessment by a panel of experts. These experts aren't named, but I like to believe the evaluations are conducted by Snake Plissken, Max Rockatansky and Tank Girl.

First up is Bruce Beach. Bruce is old school, and has been preparing for nuclear war for the last 50 years. He built a 10,000-square-foot shelter 27 years ago out of 42 retired school buses to "save the children." Dubbed "Ark 2," its primary function is to protect roughly 500 survivors from fallout (southern Ontario not considered a primary target...sorry, Toronto), with literally tons of food and a makeshift air filtration system designed to keep the occupants from suffocating.

And the whole family pitches in, including the grandkids. They clean the shelter, learn decontamination procedures and pack "go away" radiation detector kits for those who won't be allowed inside. Oh, did I forget to mention he's mostly only taking kids and "younger people?" Yeah, chances are pretty good if you show up at Ark 2 he'll be happy to unlimber you of your children, but you'll be left to fend for yourselves against zombie caribou and the Canadian equivalent of the Lord Humungus (Lord Gretzky?). "We have room for your children, but we don't have room for you."

Yeah, get bent, beardo. Better my kids die with me in the wasteland than end up in your Koresh compound in the Great White North. "We're not about survival, we're about reconstruction?" This is obviously survivalist-speak for "I am the natural choice to help propogate the next iteration of the human race."

Next up are Jeremy and Kelly No Last Name Given, who are prepping for life after "peak oil" with their one-year-old son. Jeremy predicts a 1970s-style oil crisis, times 1,000. He views their planning as a "precaution" against the eventual collapse of the utilities grid, part of which involves rationing water from their hot tub. Another is stockpiling pet store antibiotics (most human pharmaceuticals are produced overseas and wouldn't be available in a fuel crisis). I hate to admit it, but that's actually a pretty good idea.

Though it seems to me if you were that certain of the collapse of society, you wouldn't have kids in the first place.

But fish pills and hot-tub cocoa aren't going to help you when mob rules go into effect. For that, Jeremy has "The Beast," a surplus M35 Army cargo truck (actually an M35 chassis with a van body, usually referred to as a "109 van"...*cough*), as an escape vehicle/makeshift mobile home. He's also hoping to stockpile 1,500 gallons of used motor oil for use as emergency fuel. After that, the plan is to forage for motor oil from abandoned cars. It should only take a half a year or so to siphon enough to get to Albany.

Jeremy scores pretty high on the experts' assessments, who acknowledge that having a deuce-and-a-half would be pretty rad. Okay, they didn't really put it like that. Maybe it's just me, but if I was preparing for the collapse of civilization, I don't know how loudly I'd advertise the fact. By parking that thing in his driveway, he's just asking for someone to pre-emptively come after his stash.

Wait a minute, why didn't Bruce get an assessment?

Finally, there's Dr. Bradford Frank, the psychiatrist who's convinced there's a coming bird flu pandemic and has visions of funeral pyres in the streets. Well, not *actual* visions, but you know what I mean.

Bradford's challenge isn't so much that his scenario is implausible, but that his wife and daughter think he's out of his mind. He's stockpiled a year's worth of food, which means shit to wife Narin, who as a youngster escaped the killing fields of Cambodia. She still seems equally divided between stubborn refusal to accept the possibility of the worst coming to pass and overconfidence in her own ability to make do when society collapses.

Bradford's final prep involves putting as much distance as possible between his family and the infected, specifically in an abandoned mine two and a half hours away. We learn just how well the couple communicate with each other when Narin reveals she spent two months hiding in a cave while fleeing the Khmer Rouge.

Two and a half hours away? Good thing nobody else will be fleeing the city if disaster strikes? And does he *own* that cave, or is he just confident nobody else knows where it is?

Of the three, Bradford is certainly the least prepared, mostly because of his family. Chin up, Doc. Some of our most celebrated postapocalyptic badasses didn't come into their own until they were...relieved of their loved ones.

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