While many wouldn’t be able to survive in the wilderness if stranded, it doesn’t stop audiences from watching other people try to do it — here are the best survival shows, ranked from worst to best. In mainstream television and movies as well, the survival narrative is extremely popular. Harrowing tales of survival in films like The Revenant, The Martian, and 127 Hours almost instantly strike a chord with viewers. But when the same narrative is applied to reality TV, it morphs into something all the more fascinating.

Watching real people strip back the complexities of modern lifestyles to fulfill their basic needs not only makes up for a gripping reality series but also satiates a viewer’s want to connect with nature. This explains why survival reality TV rarely relies on exaggerated melodrama and often has the narrative of a rite of passage for its contestants. Due to its popularity, the survival reality TV genre contains many kinds of shows, some of these are savage yet beautiful, while others are less successful. Here are the 15 best survival shows, ranked from worst to best.



15 Surviving The Stone Age

The Cast of Surviving the Stone Age poses together on a rock overlooking the forest

Surviving the Stone Age: Adventure in the Wild is a 2020 three-part miniseries following eight researchers who endeavor to survive in the Bulgarian mountains for a month using only the means of those who lived in the Stone Age, and it’s one of the best survival shows. Their goal is ultimately to learn more about humanity’s ancestors from this era while also testing their own merit in survival situations.

For lovers of reality television and history, Surviving the Stone Age is an excellent crossover that provides interesting tidbits about humanity in the Stone Age while also featuring the classic tropes of reality survival series. The show is also populated by personalities with a general sense of what they’re doing, eliminating some of the follies of other series that feature less capable contestants.

14 Snowflake Mountain

The whole cast at the beginning of Snowflake Mountain. 

Snowflake Mountain is a fun–if somewhat misguided–reality show that takes groups of young adults without the necessary survival skills and instincts into various wilderness situations where they are forced to learn about the perils of survival, and adulthood.

While Snowflake Mountain is a far cry from some of the more well-known survival series on television today, it does prove to be somewhat of a guilty pleasure for many viewers, who can’t help but be entertained by the contestants’ complete lack of wilderness survival skills. The sheer amount of unbelievable moments makes it one of the best survival shows, even if it is guilty-pleasure reality TV, as each and every contestant flails when it comes to even the most basic of tasks.

13 Naked and Afraid

Jeff Zausch screaming on Naked and Afraid

Set amid some of the most extreme environments on the planet, Naked and Afraid features several pairs who — bereft of clothing — attempt to survive the harsh forces of nature, making it one of the most bizarre but best survival shows. While the show’s “stranded in the wild” approach isn’t exactly unique, but the sans clothing rule brings a unique feeling to the table.

Along with that, time and again, the series brings a quasi-documentary feel by proving that the participants being featured have to face real threats of the wilderness. For instance, executive producer Steve Rankin was bitten by a highly venomous snake during filming in the Costa Rican rain forest.

12 The Colony

Cast photo for The Colony

Produced by Discovery Channel, The Colony brings an intriguing concept to its fore and it’s one of the best survival shows. Its contestants neither find themselves on an isolated island, nor a rainforest replete with wildlife. Instead, they are stuck in a simulated post-apocalyptic environment where survival goes beyond finding food, water, and shelter.

The show not only creates an immersive experience for its contestants but for its viewers as well. Like most other reality shows, it may not always seem genuine and might get voted down for its role-playing elements. But its meaty post-societal narrative and well-cast contestants are enough to give it an original appeal.

11 Dude, You’re Screwed

Dude You're Screwed Title Card with man wandering in the desert while wearing a suit

Dude, You’re Screwed is Survivorman meets Impractical Jokers, as five expert survivalists compete to see which has the better skills. Each episode sees one survivalist kidnapped by the other four and dropped off in a desolate location, where he is left to survive by himself.

This series is a perfect watch for anyone who enjoys seeing experts in their field pushed to their very limits, and it’s one of the best survival shows. Though the series had a very limited run of only two seasons, there is nevertheless plenty of entertainment value therein, as well as several good tips on how to survive in various harsh environments.

10 Ultimate Survival Alaska

Ultimate Survival Alaska: Three men stand atop a mountain

Beyond its breathtaking snow-clad mountains and idyllic dense forests, the Alaskan region is well-known for accommodating some of the most unforgiving environments. Subjecting themselves to this perilous terrain are the contestants of Ultimate Survival Alaska, one of the best survival shows out there.

Divided into four teams—woodsmen, mountaineers, military veterans, and endurance athletes—the contestants aren’t in it for a grand prize. Instead, the sheer joy of conquering the mountains, glaciers, forests, deep valleys, and wildlife of Alaska drives them to survive the location’s harsh conditions. The unique team categories and Alaskan wilderness make the series both intriguing and nail-biting.

9 Surviving Disaster

Surviving Disaster Title Card

Hosted by former Navy SEAL Cade Courtley, Surviving Disaster is a series devoted to giving its viewers tips and tricks for surviving even the most harrowing disasters, including natural calamities, pandemics, and even manmade disasters. It’s practical advice and focus on the audience makes the series unique, and one of the best survival shows out there.

While Surviving Disaster only aired one season, the series is nevertheless an intriguing, if not somewhat morbid, foray into the worst-case scenarios imaginable. Even if these tips never come into play in most viewers’ lives, many feel more prepared for any eventuality, no matter how disastrous.

8 Man Vs. Wild

Man vs Wild Bear Grylls with a machete

One of the most popular reality shows of our time and one of the best survival shows, Man vs. Wild not only offers a thrilling survival experience to viewers but also inspires and educates. Leading the show with his forte and charm, Bear Grylls navigates some of the most inhospitable environments on Earth.

While he’s at it, he does not hold himself back from giving viewers a bang for their buck by portraying an unflinching look at survival. Be it to learn more about survival or to solely enjoy Grylls’ nail-biting feats of bravery, there’s a lot to look forward to in this one. It’s the series that first brought Bear Grylls to the forefront of audiences’ minds, and the show that ultimately launched his very successful career in survival television.

7 Survivorman

Survivorman Les Stroud looking at something

Akin to Bear Grylls, survival expert Les Stroud purposefully strands himself in dangerous remote locations for a whole week in one of the best survival shows, Survivorman. With no food supplies or fancy equipment, the outdoorsman wholly relies on his survival expertise and navigates viewers through his experience with his one-man camera rig.

The flair with which Stroud deals with every obstacle that comes his way is entertaining enough to keep most viewers hooked. But going a step further, the show offers valuable insights on survival tactics that might come in handy for many. Ultimately, Survivorman is an easy show to love, becoming a staple of its genre.

6 Dual Survival

Bill McConnell and Grady Powell on Dual Survival

Dual Survival, as the name implies, features not one, but two expert survivalists, Dave Canterbury and Cody Lundin, each with a starkly different method of braving extreme environments. The two experts exchange ideas and debate methods in various corners of the world in one of the best survival shows, at times taking the opportunity to prove which method is truly superior.

This series is an excellent addition to the reality survival television pantheon, offering genuine tips from real-life experts and giving the viewer the opportunity to assess which survivalist they agree with. Dual Survival is truly unique in this regard and is therefore a must-watch for any die-hard survivalist. It was so popular that it also got a spinoff series titled Dual Survival Brazil.

5 Alone

Alone cast sitting together outside.

As the title of the show suggests, its contestants are left all alone with no camera crews or support and Alone is one of the best survival shows. All footage seen in the series is self-shot. With each season, the reality TV features a new location that has an ample supply of food and water for the survival of its 10 participants.

However, it comes down to the participants to explore the torrid lands of their environment and equip themselves with everything they need to survive. Alone has an edge over most other similar shows because of its transparent and unobstructed approach to survival. The contestants have to do it all by themselves and test their primal instincts to their limits. With 10 seasons under its belt, the survival show has inspired international audiences, spawning a British, Australian, Norwegian, and Danish version.

4 Frontier House

Frontier House: a woman and two children feed a pig in a pen

Frontier House is more of a history lesson than a reality show, but it’s still one of the very best survival shows. Aired by PBS in 2001, the series gave three families the opportunity to get a realistic frontier experience by recreating the year 1883 in rural Montana. Other than its period setup and well-done set designs, the show features some intriguing community interactions between its participants who are all from varying backgrounds and cultures.

The series also adds a layer of reality by not including any Herculian tasks or challenges but by placing the families in an environment where they must figure out everything all by themselves. It’s these elements that inspire not just the involved families, but also viewers to revel in minimalistic yet meaningful lives; similar to those who actually lived on the frontier. The show was nominated for an Emmy in 2002, and was followed up by Colonial House in 2004.

3 The Island With Bear Grylls

Bear Grylls World's Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji

Bear Grylls leads the way once again in one of the best survival shows. Every episode of The Island begins with Bear Grylls dropping off a group of amateur survival enthusiasts on a remote Pacific island. The catch is that a grand prize of GBP 1,00,000 is kept hidden somewhere on the same island. The first ones to discover it can either split it with others or choose to keep it all for themselves. Meanwhile, the ones who fail to survive and leave the island get nothing at all.

After its first season, the series was met with backlash because of its seemingly professional team of contestants. It was revealed that many of them had previously worked with Grylls and had expertise in survival. But in the latter seasons, the show made up for these blunders by featuring contestants from decidedly opposite backgrounds who really worked to survive and made up for a pretty entertaining viewing experience. The series ultimately won two awards, a BAFTA TV Award and an RTS Programme Award.

2 Life Below Zero

Life Below Zero Next Gen Johnny Rolfe

Life Below Zero unfolds more like a documentary than a reality TV series. Nonetheless, it’s one of the best survival shows on television. Throughout its runtime, it highlights all the trials and tribulations faced by those who live off the grid in extreme Alaskan temperatures. Unlike most other reality shows that are set in Alaska, Life Below Zero avoids collapsing into unnecessary melodrama or comedy.

Moreover, none of the people featured in the show are mere contestants, but are real residents of the Arctic state; struggling and surviving day after day. Thanks to its unflinching portrayal of life in the Alaskan wilderness, Life Below Zero has won eight Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards, mainly for its stunning cinematography and editing.

1 Survivor

Jeff Probst smiling on Survivor season 42

Since its release, Survivor has aired over 40 seasons and is now a veteran among reality shows. Throughout its runtime as one of the very best survival shows, it follows various groups of castaways who have to fend for themselves on a desolate island. While they are at it, contestants must also compete in challenges to win rewards or immunity from elimination.

The final winner is labeled as the “Sole Survivor” and gets a whopping prize of 1 million dollars. When it comes to its critical ratings, Survivor has had its share of ups and downs. Even so, it has garnered a huge following of its own because of its exhilarating challenges, twists, and diverse set of contestants. With over 600 episodes, Survivor is the longest-running survival show in history and has won seven Emmys and even a GLAAD Media Award.

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