British explorer Ed Stafford loves to push his limits, and the audience’s. Two of his shows — Man Woman Child Wild and First Man Out Season 2 — were recently aired in India on Discovery, Discovery HD, and Discovery Plus App. In the first, Stafford is joined by his wife and two-year-old son on a remote Indonesian island. In the second, he races against expert survivalists in extreme environments.
We spoke to Stafford about mixing adventure with parenting, taking on diverse opponents like Hollywood stuntwoman Ky Furneaux, surviving high altitudes, and his travels in the subcontinent.
Man Woman Child Wild was filmed in 2019. How do you look back at your off-grid adventure with your family?
It was the beginning of a new level of responsibility as a dad and as a husband. But the experiment wasn’t long enough for us to really settle into the experience. We have twin girls arriving in July, so when they are old enough (around 2-years-old), we hope to take the concept and supersize it. Fingers crossed, Discovery Channel wants to commission it but there is definitely unfinished business as far as I’m concerned.
What was the most challenging moment of the adventure?
I think simply staying alert enough to keep Ran (son) safe for a month in such a remote environment was exhausting. He was at an age where he wanted to explore and climb everything, so it was a mission to just keep him safe.
Did the presence of your wife and son enhance your survival instincts, given the stakes were much higher?
It just made me more exhausted. More mouths to feed. More people to be concerned about. The island wasn’t hard to survive on for me — it was just the strain of trying to make Ran’s day as comfortable as possible so that he didn’t suffer. In fact, I think he enjoyed it more than any of us.
Parenting is all about preservation. How do you reconcile that with your passion for risk?
To say that parenting is an act of preservation is to look at the world through fearful eyes. As a parent, I think the easy option is to overprotect and not let your children do risky things as that is easier for you. Actually, the brave and bold thing to do is to dynamically risk assess situations and allow your child to make their own mistakes, and learn and grow, whilst you are in the background ensuring that they are not going to come to any harm. Wrap your child in cotton wool and they will not become wise or strong.
The second season of First Man Out pits you against some of the best in the game. Tell us about going up against these experts.
The diversity of opponents was nuts. Ky Furneaux is a Hollywood stunt woman-turned-survival guru from Naked and Afraid. Josh James is a Kiwi bushman from Kings of the Wild with legs like tree trunks. Will Lord is probably the world-leading authority on flint knapping and primitive skills and would embarrass any “survival expert” in terms of his depth of skill. Wu Xinlei is a Chinese former
soldier in the French Foreign Legion — a total wild card who I knew nothing about. Finally, Matt Wright (aka the Juggernaut) was a boat captain and survival expert from Naked and Afraid, who
was picked to face me in the coastal episode in the South China Sea. It was like the first season — supersized.
Do you enjoy the competitive element in exploration?
I do enjoy it now. I think if you conduct a survival experiment where you have nowhere to go and no time pressure, it’s not really realistic. You would want to get out and find help/safety. So there would be time pressure and I think the competitive element assists in making the challenges more like real-life escapes from adverse experiences. Plus, it makes it more fun to add a bit of healthy competition.
Which were some of the most difficult and grueling landscapes to traverse?
The high altitude episode shot against Ky Furneaux was physically the hardest episode. Even to get to the infil point (the start) there was a climb of about 700 metres vertically and after about 100 metres, the drone operator had to turn back. We went to plan B which was for the Director of Photography (DOP) to fly the drone. But as we reached the top, the DOP showed symptoms of pulmonary oedema and was escorted off the mountain. In order to get aerial footage of the beginning of the race, I had to take the drone on myself as I was the only other qualified drone operator! In short, even getting to the beginning was tough - but the relentless cold weather and altitude meant that things didn’t get easier.
Have you travelled across India much?
I’ve only been to India once. The Himalayan episode of FMO season 1. I’d love to spend some time in India but I’d like to take my time and really do it slowly — completely the opposite from First Man Out. There is so much to see and learn. One day!