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The Colony TV Series
The Colony TV Series

Aired on the Discovery Channel

I was jonesing for more Walking Dead after I finished watching season 3. I couldn't wait for season 4, so in desperation, I followed the "More like..." links and stumbled upon this TV show. It's a reality series that aired before the outbreak. Each season confronted the participants with an end of the world scenario (unknown catastrophe in Season 1, disease in Season 2) and set them loose. I went in with very low expectations and was pleasantly surprised. I'm shocked that I haven't heard more about this and that it lasted only two seasons.

Before I set forth on a glowing review, let me get the negative out of the way:

  1. Too many useful people on each team.

    In season 1, the least useful person was the marine biologists and I'd still want her on my team. At least in season 2 they had a fashion model who was mostly useless. In real life, out of 10 people, you'd be doing good if 2 of them had useful skills and no more than 5 were dead weight.

  2. The show glosses over the team formation stage.

    I cannot blame the show for this, you have to have a good group to make for interesting TV. In real life, though, the team formation stage is the most critical. Many times teams fell apart or were dysfunctional. The bonding that happens (or not) on first contact is very important. I did like that they subjected the participants to sleep deprivation, hunger and other taxing situations before the show started.

  3. I wish my TEotWaWKI experience was sponsored by Harbor Freight.

    This is a Season 1 issue. It seamed like when they needed a tool, a Harbor Freight labelled crate containing the object just happened to be laying around. At least in the second season, they had to do some serious foraging to find their tools.

These are nitpicks. This show is informative, teaches many helpful skills and it was dramatic. Yes, I know this is a staged show and that the participants are truly not in danger (well maybe not, I read that season 3 has been postponed due to the death of a participant), but some of the emotional scenes ring true with me. Here's why you should watch the show:

  1. How to establish a fresh water supply

    As Mr. Grylls showed us in his Man vs. Wild series, fresh water is a key ingredient to survival. Both seasons showed the participants initially struggling with this. Where do you find it? How do you get it back to the shelter? Once there, how do you make it safe to drink? The answer to that last question alone makes this show worthwhile.

  2. How to generate electricity

    To electrify or not was a source for debate throughout TEotWaWKI. The infrastructure needed even for a minimal flow of current mitigates against mobility. It doesn't make sense if your shelter will be temporary and your mode of transportation is by foot or bike. Also, if you're able to scrounge supplies and aren't making things from scratch, your demand for juice won't be as strong. When you do find yourself in a situation requiring a regular supply, though, both seasons demonstrate how you can create your own and store it.

  3. How to work with butt-heads

    Michael from Season 1 is a classic case. He is defensive and quick to see insult in just about everything you say. It would be tempting to give him the boot. But he has an array of skills that would be most useful. Suck it up and see what you can do to put those like him at ease.

These are just a few. They also cover food gathering, security and other useful tidbits. And let me reiterate the drama. From losing team members to the stress from hunger and sleep deprivation, this is good TV.

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The Walking Dead Episodes 3 and 4
The Walking Dead Episodes 3 and 4

Developed by Frank Darabont

I'm on the edge of my seat watching this series. I've heard from others that they find it a bit slow, too much sitting around and talking. This ain't no Earth Abides. Decisions are made and action is taken. My jones for action is satisfied.

These two episodes clearly display an issue that is critical to surviving TEotWaWKI. No, I'm not talking about zombie fighting techniques or the best shelters to seek; rather, the composition of your group. Most teams formed up from whomever was available at the time. This led to a less than optimal cohesiveness for most and disaster for more than a few. One should never team up with someone they cannot stand for reasons that range from psychological to physical well-being.

  • Surviving TEotWaWKI is tough business. Why make it harder by forcing yourself to deal with assholes? This kind of stress will keep you up at night, sapping the energy you need to continue the struggle.
  • If you don't like them, they probably don't like you. This could cause you major problems at a crisis point, such as a food shortage. If you're the weaker party, you'll probably be kicked out, as I saw happen more than once during that first terrible winter. If you're the stronger party, they may strike pre-emptively, probably killing you.

You don't always have the luxury of choosing your team-mates. The exigencies of the moment may work against this. Or someone who seemed nice at first, grew to be a pain in the ass over time. You shouldn't just accept this as an unchangeable fact. You MUST do something. Here are your options (in descending order of desirability):

  • Insist that they change

    This may seem naive, and it would be in certain circumstance, but if you act early and the differences are not fundamental, not only might you remove the pain in your butt, you may also strengthen the ties of your group. Many folks do not realize that their behavior irks others and will willingly change when it's pointed out.

  • You change

    Maybe YOU are the pain in the ass. At least consider that. Even if it's not true, circumstances may require that you suck it up. If you choose this path, it is imperative that you at least appear to have changed. Do not continue with your prior modus operandi or you risk the same outcome that inaction would have triggered. After a while, you may come to terms with the group or you may choose the next option.

  • Leave

    Ideally, this option would be like an amicable divorce. You justly divide up your assets and then part ways. Before you do anything, though, consider how the group may react to your departure. It may not be welcome news, especially if you have a skill or possession that the group desperately needs. If you're in the minority, they may hold you against your will or take your stuff. If there's the slightest doubt, I would keep your departure a secret. Also, while it might be tempting to walk off with more than your share, remember that you may well run into these people again.

  • Kick them out

    This is a tough option to pull off. It may result in a civil war or the outcasts could stalk you, waiting for a vulnerable moment to exact revenge. Even if you're the majority, I would approach this just like the previous option; that is, make it appear you're leaving rather than kicking them out. If feasible, leave them with a greater share of the group's assets as a salve to their wounds. It might be necessary to execute the separation in penny-packets, smaller sub-groups leaving separately with a plan to rendezvous elsewhere.

  • Kill them

    This is the least desirable option, but it shouldn't be ruled out. There are certain violent personality types that do not take well to rejection. If you cannot be sure of a clean break, you may have to take pre-emptive action. You will be crossing a line, though, so fully consider all of your options. You may find that the group, though fully supporting the measure beforehand, will break up when the reality of what you did hits home. Still, given that, there may be situations where this is the only option.

The group of survivors that The Walking Dead is following, not surprisingly, have several cases that highlight the dangers of sub-optimal group relations (spoiler alert):

  1. The abusive husband Ed should not continue as a member of the group. Asking him to change will not likely work and kicking him out may result in the wife leaving with him. Perhaps the man should meet with a hunting accident. No one else needs to know. The fact that Zed took him out was opportune.
  2. Daryl Dixon is an angry, well armed man with good reason to be pissed. T-Dog's action most likely did result in his brother's death. Can you trust that Daryl will be reconciled? Or will he just bide his time. I'm not willing to risk it. Though Daryl is outnumbered by those who clearly don't like him, kicking him out won't be so easy. Killing them would be risky, too, as he appears to be hyper-vigilent. Ditching the man might be your only option.
  3. If I was Shane, I'd probably leave. Your lover doesn't want you around any more and her husband may well learn the truth. I wouldn't want that nagging at me day and night, but then I'd've never lied to her about her husband's death.

Like I said, the fact that there are so many dysfunctionalities should not be a surprise. It's a rare group that had none, and even in those cases, over time, things evolve from better to worse and then back again. Nothing remains the same. Just be aware of what's going on and act when necessary.

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The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead

Developed by Frank Darabont

It's been more than a decade since the initial zombie outbreak, but only now are we beginning to see it portrayed in drama. The new TV series on AMC, The Walking Dead, is the first serious portrayal of the period just after SHTF. I've only seen two episodes, but beyond a few nitpicks and similarities with other TEotWaWKI stories, I'm hooked.

The focus is on survivors in the Atlanta area starting a week or two after the outbreak reached a crisis. Those poor bastards down south had it much harder than even up here in Virginia. They had no appreciable winter to slow the ghouls down, so they never got a break. Even today, the Florida peninsula, surrounded as it is by water, is still pretty much a wasteland.

The main character, Rick Grimes (played by Andrew Lincoln), is a cop who was severely wounded before the outbreak and in a coma during it, only to regain consciousness in an eerily empty hospital, scattered with corpses. This is reminiscent of Stephen King's The Stand and 28 Days Later. He's trying to figure out what the hell happened while still staying alive. I'm surprised he's lasted this long, given his proclivity to fire off all of his ammo at anything which stumbles. He's lucky, though, to encounter folks willing to help out.

His motivation is to find his family. This drive is a common theme to most stories that cover this period. It, too, was my spur as I was in Manhattan when hell brook loose and had to make my way back to Northern Virginia. Alas, I have yet to learn what happened to my family. In this case, Mr. Grimes makes it back to his house, but his family is missing. We learn separately that they are alive, but there should be some interesting fireworks should they reunite.

The nits I have are how the undead are portrayed. For the most part, it is in line with reality: dumb, slowly stumbling and killed with a headshot. Occasionally, though, we encounter some outliers. Some use tools like the one with a rock used to break through a glass window. Others are agile and rather speedy, being able to climb a fence. These are rare, though, so not enough to kill my disbelief.

I am happy to see that this show has been extended another 6 episodes. I will surely watch them all.

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Man vs. Wild, starring Bear Grylls
Man vs. Wild, starring Bear Grylls

Starring Bear Grylls

This show should be required watching, period. Granted, none of his shows focus on the undead since this was recorded pre-SHTF, but that shouldn't stop you. The host is a hard-core dude who will eat anything, scale sheer cliffs and self-administer enemas. You don't argue with that kind of crazy.

Crazy like a fox, though. You would do well to listen to the man. Mr. Grylls teaches you what you need to know in order to survive in extreme situations. His approach is simple, focusing on the basics:

  1. Water: This would seem to be a no brainer, but back when potable water was ubiquitous, folks who suddenly didn't have ready access to a plastic bottles of water were at a loss. You need to know where to find it, how to decontaminate it and how much your body truly needs. Basic, yes, but absolutely life saving.
  2. Food: Ditto for food, but the emphasis here is getting over the icky factor. I've written about picky eaters before and want to re-emphasize some of the points I made. Eating is first and foremost about fueling your body. Everything else about a meal is a luxury. Bear shows you various sources of protein that will help you in the short term. Master that gag reflex and eat some bugs!
  3. Shelter: A mistake many folks made was waiting too long in the day to seek out shelter. You cannot do that as the sun is going down. I realize that many folks were in a hurry to get back home to their loved ones, but it was death to be caught out at night. Bear teaches you when and where to look, which applies even in a world overrun by zombies, but I would try to elevate my shelter more than he recommends. Another issue to consider that wasn't taken up by Bear is escape routes. You may be out of reach of grasping hand when you're up that tree, but you'll surely starve to death.
  4. Rescue: This is where Mr. Grylls' usefulness ends. There is no rescue in a world ruled by the undead. Even uninfected humans are a danger, indeed your greatest threat. This speaks to your ability to pace yourself. Patience is the key.

There are 5 seasons' worth of episodes, but you do not need to watch them all. At minimum, find those shows which match your local conditions. However, don't limit yourself since you never know where you might one day find yourself. I would watch at least one of each of these type:

  • Desert
  • Mountain
  • Arctic / Winter Conditions
  • Jungle / Swamp
  • Ocean / Desert Island

Bear Grylls is a man I want on my team, though probably not as chef.

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After Armageddon on the History Channel
After Armageddon on the History Channel

Aired on The History Channel

I DVR'd a bunch of stuff that aired during "Apocalypse Week" on the History Channel back in January. I was reluctant to watch this one since it's a talking-head-SMEs-with-reenactors show typical of the History and Discover channels. I was pleasantly surprised, however, that it was both informative and entertaining.

The show posits an outbreak of a virulent disease that wipes out the vast majority of humankind. We follow the experiences of a family during and after the pandemic, through multiple cycles of delay, deliberation and action stretching over years. Their experiences clearly demonstrate fundamental aspects of a survival mentality as well as practical advice.

The show reinforced some basic skills that we should all be familiar with now:

  • Don't be a picky eater
  • Look for water where ever it may be
  • Beware of strangers

I was bemused to learn a new way to gather fuel that would have saved me many a foul mouthful of gas: Puncture the tank and drain it. Why didn't I think of that? I feel like a n00b. If you don't need the vehicle containing the gas, this is much easier than siphoning. I would imagine, though, that you'd need to be careful not to create a spark.

More important than the tactics of survival are the approaches they recommend:

  1. If you have a valuable post-SHTF skill, it's probably best that you hide that fact until you'r certain of your position. You wouldn't want to be held against your will just because the town you passed through doesn't have a doctor.
  2. Don't be stingy with your help, but remember your priorities. Lending aid when it would cost you little may pay you back many times over later.
  3. Understand that the old way of life is over. We were nice back then because we were well off. We could rely on people's good behavior because there was a long term cost to screwing someone over. But when your event horizon is no more than a day or two into the future, those long term concerns evaporate. This makes bad behavior easier.

Those who fail to grok all of these points tend not last long when TEotWaWKI hits.

Finally, the show ably addresses the issue of scale. Knowledge of the extent of the problem — the area affected and how long it will last — greatly increases the chances of survival. However, most people do not have access to this information or reject it when they do. It is hard to part with the world as you knew it. Most people were strongly invested in it: a nice house, a good job and kids in school. I've heard many comments criticizing the family's failure to act in a timely manner. But I understand, it's hard to let go.

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Apocalypse Man starring Rudy Reyes
Apocalypse Man starring Rudy Reyes

Starring Rudy Reyes

The History Channel recently aired their Apocalypse Week. I had very low expectations, but surprisingly, they were exceeded. There is enough useful advice in the shows that I watched to make it worthwhile watching.

Case in point: Apocalypse Man. Rudy Reyes, a former Marine, walks you through the steps necessary to survive a general TEotWaWKI event. Since this was made pre-SHTF, he didn't know to include advice about the undead. Still, he gave some useful advice. This ranges from the general — make your shelter on the second floor of a building: high enough to be defensible, low enough to still escape if necessary — to the specific — steel wool and a 9-volt battery make for a great fire starter.

Still, not all of his guidance is tenable. I'm not talking about about instances where zombies render his suggestions invalid, like making for the hospital (truly, that would be the LAST place I'd've gone). Rather, he seemed to contradict himself by saying, on the one hand, keep a low profile, don't let others know of your existence, yet, on the other, literally broadcast your plans to anyone with a radio. Also, while he's transmitting his destination over the shortwave, he's telling you to get there 24 hours before anyone else so you can scout them out. Wouldn't that be a little difficult now that you've communicated your intentions to everyone within a 20 mile radius?

My daughter also raised the issue that it's fine and dandy if you've had the training it takes to be a member of a Marine recon platoon, but what about the rest of us? I nearly concurred, but realize that this is just the point. You need more than the knowledge of the strategy and tactics of survival. You need to be in shape, you need to have useful skills and a crisis shouldn't be the first time you're doing these tasks. Perhaps that is the real lesson Rudy is teaching.