World-beating British adventurer ups the ante by stepping into wilderness with only the clothes on his back
Explorer Ed Stafford is left for dead in new show
Former soldier-turned-television explorer Ed Stafford is a well-known face to fans of nature and survival TV. The adventurer, who holds the Guinness World Record as the only human to have walked the entire length of the Amazon River, has become a regular on the Discovery Channel, hosting shows such as Marooned with Ed Stafford and Ed Stafford: Into the Unknown.
His latest show could be his most daring yet, at least if the title is any indication. Ed Stafford: Left for Dead will involve the host being dropped alone into some of the world’s most unforgiving environments, from the Atacama Desert in Bolivia to the Altai Mountains in Mongolia, without food, water, a map, compass, camping equipment or knife and given a 10-day deadline to find his way to civilisation. Ten days is the length of time it takes the human body to begin to shut down without food or water, and the makers claim that the only equipment Stafford will carry will be the clothes he is wearing and his camera to record his efforts.
It should make for great television, but I can’t help wondering how Stafford’s family feels about the notion of him being “left for dead” by his employers. “I think they know that it’s all part of the theatre that is Discovery Channel,” he tells me.
In fact, Stafford is determined that he’ll be completely safe as he does battle with nature at its most harsh: “There’s a very thorough risk assessment that goes into every single episode. You can see the support team and I make a satellite call at the end of every day – these ex-military experts basically who, if I was to get into trouble, they would be able to get into my location within about half an hour, I would say, normally, within about half an hour.”
While show’s producers have an understandable desire to emphasise the drama of the situations Stafford finds himself in, the show’s star is eager to talk down the element of danger. “I think everyone needs to understand that we are just making television here,” he says. “We’re not actually wanting to kill anybody or not come out of this alive and safe. But having that support structure in place, it allows me to actually push the boundaries further and take bigger risks because it’s all within a structure that provides a bit of a safety net.”
The show may take safety seriously, but Stafford says that the claims that he is entirely alone in his struggle are true. The safety team monitor from a distance and will only get involved in an absolute emergency. This must make the challenge at hand a daunting mental task as well as a physical one, so what does Stafford think about to pass the lonely hours on the move?
“There’s quite a lot to think about,” he says. “Virtually all of the TV that I’ve done has been without food and without water. And it’s very difficult to think about anything other than food and water if you don’t have food and water. So, I think my brain definitely obsesses with both of those things. If you don’t have water, there’s not – you can’t really focus on many other things unless you sort it out.”
Stafford adds that getting to his destination is another key obsession during his long trials. “As each one of the episodes evolved, clearly I need to be thinking about navigation,” he says. “I don’t have a GPS or a compass. It’s natural navigation and being aware of all the different signs that nature can give me in order to orientate myself, to know that I’m going in the right direction, whether that’d be the Sun or different signs in the vegetation.”
An added complication, says Stafford, is that he is solely responsible for the filming of the show, which gives him even more to think about. “I’m not with anybody else. And so, I need to go ‘okay, I’ve been walking through this environment, how am I going to film it?’ Am I going to put the camera down on the floor and walk past it, or am I going to set the drone up? I’ve just got to be thinking slightly artistically as well. So, you’re going through all of the survival stuff and thinking about all that. Then you’ve got all the layers of filming it all and capturing it and telling the story, I suppose, best on camera.”
It certainly sounds like Stafford won’t be bored, and that’s before we even get to discuss the day-to-day internal monologues. “And then you’ve just got the normal everyday worries that you have in life,” he says. “If this is going as well as I hoped it would go, am I making good progress? Am I going to arrive on time? The sort of things that keep you going but slightly nibble at you and don’t allow you to relax, like if I haven’t found any food, it’s quite difficult to relax until I’ve got some. And so, that’s all ongoing.”
Stafford has, over the years, visited some of the world’s most challenging environments, but looking at the new show, which episode did he find the biggest struggle?
“The most difficult episode of the series, or the one that I least enjoyed was actually the jungle in Panama,” he says. “I always kid myself because of the Amazon and stuff that I love the jungle and I’m looking forward to the episodes that I’ve done in the jungle, but I always forget that walking in the Amazon was with the machete, and it was with boots on, and it was with a hammock to sleep in at night and a mosquito net.”
In the new show, of course, such luxuries were denied to the explorer, and it clearly didn’t make for an enjoyable experience. “That was a miserable episode,” Stafford says. “Every single night, I was lying on the dirt floor with mosquitoes biting me all night. I don’t think I slept more than a couple of hours each night on that episode. And I just started to degrade really fast. It was wet and really sparse of food. So, even though I normally consider myself to be a bit of a jungle expert, that was probably the hardest of all the episodes, certainly the current series. Yeah.”
Ed Stafford: Left for Dead premieres on Discovery Channel on Tuesday, October 17, at 10pm