Reality Bites: Fat Guys in the Woods

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

Until now, it never occurred to me to review any of the shows on the Weather Channel for "Reality Bites." Not because it was necessarily lacking in the category (I'm still somewhat bummed I never got to check out Lifeguard! Southern California), but because I was afraid of outing myself as that least cool of misanthropes: the weather nerd.

I had an unhealthy obsession with TWC in my teen years that I can't rightly explain. I lived in central Texas, which isn't a particularly exciting area, climate-wise, but there was something hypnotic about that national radar loop, the Local on the 8s, and Marny Stanier. More than that, I think it was the awesome destructive power of weather on display that kept me hooked, even before I moved to Houston and had the "privilege" of riding out my first hurricane.

Luckily, the other night I came across Fat Guys in the Woods, which is only related to weather in that most primal sense: it'll kill you stone dead if you can't handle yourself. This is -- I guess -- especially true if you're overweight.

The opening titles lay everything out plainly: "We secured our place at the top of the food chain, and now we've got the waistline to prove it." Our host, survivalist Creek Stewart, thinks the solution to America's obesity epidemic is sending everyone into the woods for a week with nothing but a filtered drinking tube and a survival knife for the duration.

In The Episode I Watched ("Eat Bees to Survive"). Creek is joined by the hefty triumvirate of Rocky the forklift operator, Dan the wannabe wrestler (formerly 500 pounds, he's down to a relatively svelte 300), and Jeff, an aspiring C&W singer.

All three are also dealing with personal tribulations that probably helped them in their pre-show auditions: Rocky is trying to quit smoking, Jeff just lost his job and has to decide whether to pursue his showbiz dreams or provide for his family, and Dan apparently never realized wrestling is fake.

Besides that, Rocky doesn't seem all that fat. Sure, his BMI is probably over 25, but he looks more like a football player gone to seed than Louie Anderson. Guess that line between compelling television and heart attack liability line is a tough one to walk.

Survival priorities remain the same as you were probably taught in Boy Scouts: find shelter, obtain water and food, make fire, shun homosexuals. Creek whisks away our trio into the heart of Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountains to find someplace to hunker down straightaway.

The survival aspect appears secondary to good old fashioned manual labor at the outset, but most of the dudes pitched in to make their shelter without complaining. Next up, fire. Specifically, starting a friction fire using a bow drill. This being America, however, Creek uses a freaking four-foot spindle. Much consternation comes from the need to spark some flames before sundown, when temperatures plunge into the teens. All the same, I'd wager one of TWC's cameramen has a cigarette lighter.

Throughout the show, helpful survival tips are displayed for those of you playing fat guy at home. Some are handy enough (finding and boiling water especially), but are we really expected to consult state wildlife regulations when we're about to die of starvation? Sorry Mr. Bald Eagle, warrior needs food badly.

In this case, the group finds water in rather anticlimactic fashion: there's a creek about a hundred yard away from their camp. I felt like Klinger when he walked over the hill and saw he and Charles had almost frozen to death with the 4077th less than a quarter mile away.

Further proof of how sedentary we've become as a nation comes when Jeff jumping a two-foot gap between boulders is treated like a season-ending cliffhanger. Naturally, Creek associates this with the "leap of faith" Jeff has to make between "living his dreams" and going back to the 9-to-5 lifestyle. Less Dances with Wolves, more Jeremiah Johnson, please.

Food is the next priority, though I find it highly suspect that these guys supposedly went two whole days with nothing but a few grapes to eat. When the deadfalls they set up prove fruitless, Creek distracts everyone by having them make bowls for water, perhaps to enjoy some stone soup, but when day three passes sans food, the group has to forage. They end up roasting a hive of bees and shamelessly stealing their honey, like a bunch of pudgy(er) Winnie the Poohs.

Next up: Solo Day! The three men are sent into the hills with their whopping half a week of training to survive on their own, not counting the camera and sound guys. Of course, Creek saunters by to make sure nobody's going to die of hypothermia before retiring, presumably to his luxury trailer for a hookah of finest Turkish tobacco and a plate of bald eagle.

Each man has time to contemplate his solitude as well, and we almost believe Jeff when he says, "Being out here, without a phone, or a computer, is ... nice."

Everybody survives, naturally. Though for how long remains in doubt, considering Dan walked off and left his campfire while it was still smoldering. "Smoky Mountains" isn't supposed to be literal, you idiot. Finally, Creek gives everyone a spiritual fist bump, and even gives a cool Rambo knife to Jeff as reward for his leap from the lion's head, or something.

Conceptually, I don't really have a problem with Fat Guys in the Woods, except to point out what should be obvious: aren't fat guys actually better situated to wilderness survival? Five days hardly seems like much of a strain for guys who should be able to live off their delicious stores of blubber like a harbor seal.

Maybe they're saving that for sweeps.

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