Hudson Valley Native Joe McConnell Joins Survivorman Les Stroud in Canadian Wilderness

A Hudson Valley native and amateur filmmaker joins Survivorman Les Stroud in a remote Canadian forest


Survival selfie: Joe McConnell (left) gets tips from the master, Les Stroud

Photographs courtesy of Joseph McConnell

Picture yourself lost in the woods for days after a hike gone wrong. You have little to no food, it’s cold, and you’re mentally and physically exhausted.

This is exactly what Orange County native Joseph McConnell went through during his time as a guest on the Survivorman show on the Science Channel. McConnell’s episode premieres Saturday, November 7; we had a chance to get a sneak peak into his experiences before the show airs.

For those unfamiliar with Survivorman, it is a cautionary series, hosted by survival pro Les Stroud, that aims to educate viewers in the unfortunate event that they are caught in a dangerous hiking situation. Stroud, armed with his own cameras — no production crew members are present during filming — navigates the wilderness for extended periods of time and records all of the techniques he uses to sustain himself until he makes it to safety.

For many, any amount of unexpected time in the great outdoors is nerve-racking. Nevertheless, McConnell was calm. “I was a big fan of the show,” he says, “and I wasn’t too apprehensive.”

McConnell had backpacked throughout Europe for the last decade, so when Stroud announced a contest in which he’d allow a fan to join him during one of his expeditions, he jumped at the chance. He felt his adventurous spirit was a perfect fit for the show; he also knows his way around a camera (watch his four feature films on his website here). In fact, one of the primary criteria for the contest was that candidates had to know how to film themselves. McConnell recalls Stroud saying, “I don’t care if you’re a couch potato, as long as you know how to film yourself.” With all of this experience, a television show about survival seemed like a natural step.

Not surprisingly, McConnell was chosen from more than 200 submissions. By early April, he and Stroud were deep in the Temagami Forest, six hours north of Toronto, Canada. All they had with them was a very small food ration of beef jerky to share, a backpack, and three cameras each. For a twist, Stroud offered McConnell a table full of items and asked him to name the top two he would think would be most critical to survival. After McConnell selected the water bottle (with a built-in filter) and a hatchet, Stroud rolled up the rest — those two items would be McConnell’s tools for the entirety of the trip.

“It was pretty difficult, because I was really hoping he would just do everything for me!” laughs McConnell.

survival campsite
One of Stroud and McConnell’s campsites

Realizing that the show was essentially a learning experience, he stressed Stroud’s helpfulness throughout the journey.

“Any points where I was complaining, it was really just due to circumstances,” McConnell says. “He was very helpful and generous because, you know, he’s been doing this for 20 years. It’s nothing new to him.”

The most challenging part of survival? The hunger.

“The cold was pretty terrible at night and I couldn’t sleep, but the fact that I was hungry made all the other issues much worse. I would’ve eaten anything.”

On the second day, Stroud and McConnell trekked through a grueling 10-to-12 hour-long hike. “I was overheating a lot on the hike because I was tired and cold and I hadn’t been eating, so it was really taking a toll on me,” McConnell recalls.

At one point during filming, the pair became legitimately lost after they were forced off the trail. But with Stroud’s skills, it wasn’t a dire issue.

“We came into really thick bush and ended up having to go around these big swamps, so once we did that he kind of lost his bearings as well,” McConnell says of his hiking partner, whom he compared to Frodo and Sam in Lord of the Rings in his blog. “But he is very good with the sun and directions, so he knew, ‘Okay, if we go northeast for two or three days, we’re going to find a road.’”

McConnell’s experience goes to show that one should always prepare for hiking by packing more food than is necessary, as hunger can cause delirium and exhaustion. Hikers should also familiarize themselves with the area.

“Would I do it again?” McConnell says. “Yes, in a heartbeat.”

Watch McConnell’s adventure and learn more survival tips during the premiere of the episode, called “Real Survival Isn’t As Easy As It Looks,” at 10 p.m. on November 7 on Science Channel.

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