Three days can make you or break you… (Part 2)

A little while back I posted an article from Van Becker.  He was featured on an episode of TNT's survival show “72 Hours.”

If you missed the original article click here to read it now.

Three Days Can Make You Or Break You (Part 1)

In the previous article he listed how the training that he did for the show.

Now that the show has aired, he wanted to list out what he learned from his experiences and give us a bit of insight into some of the action that was left on the cutting room floor.

Check out Van's article below:
So hopefully you all watched the show.

Unfortunately you also saw that we lost.

Here are the questions I want to discuss:

-What did I learn?

-What worked and what didn’t?

-What would I have done differently?

-What fatal mistake(s) did I make?

These are questions that went through my mind for days. The first 24 hours after leaving the competition was simply trying to walk.

Lesson one.

Although it made sense, from the perspective of saving energy not walking in the loose dry sand, by walking in the hard packed wet sand, I missed something. Something I should not have. I am not a runner. I get cardio from hard yard work, moving mulch and soil around and also from how I lift weights.

My heart rate often is above 130bpm when weight lifting. My target heart rate zone is about 130-150.  So if I lift 4-5 times a week with my heart rate in the THRZ range, I am doing well.

What I did not consider was walking on that hard surface at an angle for 7+ miles would cause be severe illio-tibial band syndrome. Extremely painful as the video shows, and had it not been for knowing how to tape up my knee, I would have been using a crutch to walk.   Lesson learned? Avoid walking on an angle for a long time.

Second lesson.

Working as a team requires teamwork but also requires a leader. Gill and I both had designs on being the leader. Difference was Gill had little orienteering experience and really was out of his element navigating across open terrain.  We tried taking turns being the navigator.  Gill was less than effective.

At one point, he wanted to climb a very steep 200+ foot hill to see the other side, rather than walk an extra half mile around it.  I tried doing the math for him, first in distance, then time and then in calories.

He was simply not going to agree with science.

Fortunately Lauren understood, agreed with me, and we pressured Gill our way, and we saved ourselves a lot of time and energy walking the extra half mile. Gill did at least admit the hill would have been a bad choice but he said it was a lucky guess on my part.

Lesson Three.

Never assume others have the skills they claim unless you KNOW that they do.  Case in point; the first night when it came time to set up camp, I asked Gill, “You choose, fire or shelter?” He chose shelter.

I spent a good 30 minutes collecting beach driftwood for our fire.  When I came back, the shelter was a disaster.

Gill did not know how to secure a string to a fly without grommets.

He did not know the little trick of wrapping the material around a small stone and using that as an anchor.

He did not bother using stakes, even though there was plenty of wood to use. He tied it off to bushes that moved in the wind and then used our water bottles as tent pole tie off anchors.

After the tent sagged repeatedly when the wind moved the water bottles, I went and put stakes in the sand and secured the fly.

We did not sleep the first night.

It was spectacular view to be on a beach in some far away place anticipating the next day’s trials.

I had eaten so much food the 3 days prior to the event; I had gained close to 10 lbs.  We pigged out and I hit the carbs like crazy. After the show and I returned home, I ended up dropping like 10 lbs in the first 3 days. Lesson 3 learned? If unsure of your companions skill set, verify and teach them.

It might cause resentment and problems, but not doing so sets up some dynamics that can hurt team survival.

Lesson 4.

In mission critical situations, check and double-check everything.

When we realized our poor navigation the day before had put us in third, Gill talked us into taking the swim. I was not thrilled. I can swim but the water was cold in the low 50’s would be my guess. The tide was coming in so there was a strong current sideways.

We did not know how deep the water was.  We had wisely chosen the watertight bag in our last supply drop.  We has also chosen the inner tube and pumped it up.

Between the inner tube and the water tight bag, we felt we had enough flotation to get across safely.  We stripped our dry clothes and put them in the bag and prepared to take a risky move.

Did I mention I almost drowned as a child or that I have a morbid fear of sharks?

Did you catch we were in Tasmania where there are lots of sharks?  I disregarded my gut instinct and we took the chance.

As one trying to lead, and being the most seasoned outdoorsman (>400 miles of hikes during Boy Scouts, and over 100 nights camping out, including Philmont), I made a fatal mistake that started us down a path of fewer options and less tolerance for poor choices for us to survive.

I did not check to make sure Lauren had properly sealed the water tight bag.  It folds like a coffee bag from the grocery store.  You fold it over three times and attach the elastic ties to seal it.

Lauren only folded it once.

Things start us down a perilous path from here. We got in the cold water. I am a big guy and grew up swimming at a local sulfur spring fed pool where the temp was about 54 degrees.

The current was rough. We made very slow progress trying to get to the beach where the shore looked navigable.

It took three times longer than I thought to swim it. We let Lauren swim on with the bag, and Gill and I did the tube.  When we landed we were psyched. We just pushed ourselves to complete an amazing feat and we knew we jumped way into first place. The jubilation was short lived. We discovered our clothes were all soaked. Everything was wet.  We needed to get moving or camp to warm-up. We chose to move.  We tried to empty the water out as much as we could. The bag, with all of our soaked belongings, now weighed about 45 lbs.

The rules mandated we had to carry the wet clothes to next supply drop. So here we go, wet, loaded down and cold.  How could it get any worse?  I had to ask.

Lesson 5 – Rules of 3 to survive.  You can survive:

  • 3 weeks without food
  • 3 days without water unless hot and arid or moving
  • 3 hours without shelter
  • 3 minutes without air

Always keep these in mind.

So we have now had almost no food for more than 36 hours. Two unknown pieces of fruit we sliced up.  We had water. I knew we could go 72 hours with no food.  As we started walking cold and wet down the beach, the storm moved in.  Not being from there and completely unfamiliar with weather, we made a fatal mistake.

The temperature dropped from a comfortable mid 60’s down to the high 30’s or low 40’s.   Then it started raining.  I violated the 3 hour rule.

I should have insisted and threatened to not move.  Rules are, the team must move as a group.  So 7 hours later, with blue fingers, blue lips and loss of fine motor movement, I finally realized Lauren was in serious trouble.

If we did not make camp and get out of the biting and wet cold, our competition was over. I made a stand and said NO, we stop here, now! Gill was very unhappy and insisted we needed to keep moving. Despite Lauren was shutting down physically.

Lauren was in bad shape. Her being smaller and having less muscle, she got cold much more easily than Gill or myself.

I made another mistake; I knew I could build the fire. I could hardly walk, and getting up and down off the shore was excruciatingly painful in my knee. I admit it, I was fighting back the tears cause I did not want my friends and family to see me cry, but man it was painful.

So I thought having shown Gill how to tie off the fly using the rock wrap trick and how to use wood scraps for stakes and twist them in to the ground, I told him to make the shelter. We were up off the shore in a sheltered area with access only from the ocean.  There was a berm in the area and I informed Gill the direction, anchor points and tied down points and explained I would bring back 4 pieces of wood for tent poles; two longer ones and two shorter ones.  I wanted the fly anchored ocean side of the berm into the berm so the wind would not get under the shelter and keep us out of the wind.  I wanted the middle poles the taller ones so that the rain would run off the tent and not pool. I asked Gill did he understand.  He said yes.  I went looking for the shelter poles. I found 4 and brought them back first thing.

Again I asked did he understand what he was to do. He affirmed he understood.

I went looking for wood. Fortunately this area had been part of a fire area and there was lots of dry wood, although wet on the outside it was dry and very flammable on the inside.  We did have alcohol based hand sanitizer so I was completely confident, that with the sanitizer and with a magnesium block fire starter, and there would be no problem with a fire.

After I came back with the firewood, I was flabbergasted to see poor Lauren sitting on the ground, with the fly draped around her. She was completely soaked and the wind was blowing hard. She might as well have been in the water. Gill had completely misunderstood and had busted up 3 of the 4 tent poles I brought him for firewood. He had done nothing for shelter for almost a half hour while Lauren deteriorated.  I asked him what he was doing.  It spiraled into a confrontation.

Now I had to find a way to get her warm while I went to find more poles.  I don’t know if Gill was just being obstinate or if he was so into hypothermia he could not process and his cognitive abilities were impaired.  So I went and got more poles at a cost of another 15 minutes or so. We needed more line for tie downs. We had ripcord bracelets. But after 5 minutes trying to undo it with purple fingers, I simply cut it off in pieces, and then tied them together. It was not pretty but it just needed to hold up the shelter.  I got the shelter up.  We were starting to work on the fire.

Meanwhile, Lauren crashed. She went into uncontrolled shaking and she said she was done.  At that point, I have got Lauren in hypothermia, Gill in hypothermia or being combative and not a team player but absolutely useless to saving our teammate.  He had to be told what to do on everything.  He started talking about going off on his own because we were quitters.  That is when I decided I had to protect my teammate and myself from harm.  Gill was a liability as much as Lauren was.  I agreed with Lauren and we called it quits.

Lesson learned?

I should have simply put the tent up myself and had Gill crawl in and keep Lauren as warm as he could until the fire got going and our relief drop arrived.  It was over now.  The disappointing part was as we were leaving, the green team caught up to us. They were in bad shape too. We would have been an hour ahead plus in shelter food and fire, had we been able to work together as a team.

Sometimes, it really is up to one guy to save the team. I accept the failures of the water bag, the shelter and my leg.  I failed to live up to the situation and had it been real, we would have likely perished.  I knew better and did not stick to my guns because I wanted to not look like a jerk on TV.  When push came to shove I should have simply dominated and dictated what needed to be done and stand my ground when I knew better. I ignored my training and my internal red flags…and it cost us.

This experience shows how a single mistake can put you on a path to ruin as it limits your options and your tolerances of messing up before it becomes fatal.

Want more info on Survival Reality Show? Check out these articles from our site:

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12 Responses to :
Three days can make you or break you… (Part 2)

  1. Dave B says:

    Man, don’t be so hard on yourself… you did great and more importantly you survived to be able to reflect on what would work better the next time. How many situations involving ego versus the elements turn out fatally?

    Thanks for sharing your insight and experiences.


    1. Van Becker says:

      I have to accept that I was trying not to come off like a jerk, when inside, I was fighting the desire to simply assert, I have more experience than you two put together. I studied for months to get ready for this. I trained to be strong and have my endurance up. I worked on fire starting and I know how to cook with no utensils and start fires almost anywhere.

      I ignored my instincts and that was our downfall.

  2. Phil says:

    I enjoyed the program and was pulling for you. You’re right- it is teamwork – but it takes a competent knowledgable leader to make it work

    1. Van Becker says:

      I tried to be more of a team player, and should have focused more on being leader.

  3. richard1941 says:

    It sounds like you did a lot of things right. Sometimes you don’t get perfect team mates; you have to work with their imperfections.

    What you had was a series of mishaps that fed upon each other: your bad foot, the failure to seal the bag of clothing, the inability of your team mate to construct a shelter, and then the hypothermia.

    It would be useful to hear more of your views on what you could have done differently to save the day.

  4. Hipockets says:

    You tried your best and your main mistake was you did’nt listen to your insticts,which always take you in the right direction’ Ask a woman’ I live my life by my insticts’

    1. Van Becker says:


  5. Marius says:

    Geee, isn’t it amazing how those fuc^3g Americans, when they lose, are able to point the finger to someone else for the failure?…
    Incredible!…But true…
    Since 1945 they were teached: “No problem sweetheart, you can’t win, we’ll drop a ‘bomb’ and we’re done…No contestants, no contest! – you win…” That’s how the fuc(%g American exceptionalism was founded!…
    The truth? Take any American male born after 1948, strip him naked, give him a knife and a lighter (what a luxury!)and throw him in the jungle. If he’s still alive after one month, without any help, he HAS A CHANCE TO BECAME A REAL MAN! Don’t think he already became one!- he just proved he has potential!…To became a real man takes much, much more than that…
    You think I’m kidding? Take a look around you, and try to figure out what’s going on…
    50 years ago, we made a National pride to walk on the Moon before the Russians.Today?… I let you find one…Maybe trying not to be the most obese nation in the World?…

  6. Marius says:

    And by the way, who to Hell certiffied you being a trainer of any sort?…Another looser?…Worse than you?…
    Who the Hell teach you you’re dead without a shelter in three hours? Your pregnant wife, carring for other three kids under five?…
    If Lauren got hypothermia and you were still functional, why to Hell you didn’t carry her on your back, both covered with a foil? Your body heat from extra effort would warm you both, and you didn’t have to stop. For God’s sake you knew the ordeal won’t last more than 72 hours!If the guys from “Way Back” or “As far as my feet will carry me” would have that privelege!…
    And Hell, even if you had to stop, you could still take care of her; make a fire, heat some rocks on it, put them around her, and cover her and the hot rocks with a foil – no need for shelter!
    Well, but American Idiot is AI because “there are no rules for that to follow”, immagination and inventivity be damned!
    I still wonder how to Hell we won WWII? Because since then all we won was something in our collective assess!…

    1. Van Becker says:

      KIND OF A JERK AREN’T YOU. I am certified by A.C.E. and have an MA in H & PE. 14 years experience. 3 years ago listed as one of the top trainers in St. Louis. So if you want to rant about stuff you are clueless about., feel free to do so. It only serves to denigrate yourself and your comments.

      regarding the rule of 3’s

  7. van says:

    I learned a lot from this adventure. I do know a lot more than most of my peers. Boy Scouts simply cannot be under-emphasized for providing me with many if not most of the skills I would need. Shelter, navigation, swimming, hiking, camping, food, cooking, water acquisition, fire starting, basic first aid in the field. All good stuff. Good thing is how much of it I did not forget. But like “Get Out Alive” with BG on NBC, lack of team work can kill everyone.

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