Southern Survival is a reality series where the team from survivalist subscription box company BattlBox put the products they evaluate under extreme tests, and have a lot of fun while doing it. The crew that tests the product are CEO Daniel Dabbs, “resident redneck survivalist” Brandon Currin , product specialist Mikki Montgomery and test specialist Steve Jordan. Can the show fill the void reality series like Duck Dynasty and Mythbusters (at least the original version) left behind?
SOUTHERN SURVIVAL: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening Shot: After BattlBox boss Daniel Dabbs and “resident redneck survivalist” Brandon Currin give a lighthearted disclaimer to not try their stunts at home, we see Brandon setting up mannequins wearing camping gear.
The Gist: The first set of tests involve something Brandon loves: fire!
The mannequins he dragged out onto BattlBox’s test field (next to the company’s HQ — and Dabbs’ house — near Milledgeville, Georgia) were there to see if the camping equipment they were wearing and using would protect them from fire. So he blows the whole thing up. But one mannequin survives, and he names it Steve Jr., as a dig to his buddy. We see the mannequin haunting Brandon everywhere, including the bathroom.
Brandon is tasked with finding a fire starter that works in extreme conditions, and he finds a match that restarts itself even when it is dunked in water or snuffed out in dirt or wind. Even a blast from a fire extinguisher doesn’t put it out. Steve gathers together different fire resistant suits, including a racing suit he wore “in a different life” (and 50 pounds ago) that get blasted by Brandon’s 2000-degree flamethrower to see which actually protect the scarecrows they’re on.
Finally, Mikki finds a local fire department’s training structure, and Brandon and John are supposed to take the breathing and escape gear she’s procured to see if they can get out of a smoke-filled building (the smoke in this case is water vapor). One item is a simple ladder that works from a second floor window. Higher up, there’s a maze they have to get out of using breathing gear and emergency lights. And at the top of the five-story structure, the two of them have to rappel down. One problem: Steve is deathly afraid of heights.
Our Take: With Southern Survival, it’s pretty obvious that Netflix is going after the Duck Dynasty crowd. And that’s just fine. Firstly, there was a time when Duck Dynasty was the most-watched show on cable, even surpassing The Walking Dead. Secondly, Duck Dynasty was a pretty entertaining “reality sitcom”, especially before you knew the politics of the Richardson family. Southern Survival is there to fill that void, along with a few others in the reality segment.
There’s definitely a Mythbusters vibe, where stuff is blown up in the middle of a field, or seat belts are tested by flipping trucks, etc. The tests are well-constructed and fun to watch, especially when we bring the personalities of the various team members into play, like Brandon’s love of fire or Steve’s fear of heights.
But it’s the sitcom part of the show that really makes it fun. Like other shows in this vein, like the aforementioned Duck Dynasty or Pawn Stars, it’s fairly obvious that the scenes in between all the tests are either scripted or at the very least tightly outlined. They’re there for pure entertainment, not to give any insight into how the company operates or what the team members actually do. Again, that’s just fine; all you really want to see is the team put themselves and the products in extreme situations, anyway. So a little light, pre-written banter between testing scenes is OK with us.
It’s apparent that the four team members have worked together for awhile — or they’re really good at faking it — and we don’t even care that Brandon loves the American flag and that “my farts sound like a bald eagle.” As long as they keep things light, we’ll keep watching.
Sex and Skin: Thankfully, no.
Parting Shot: Brandon finally gives Steve Jr. his due and blows him up. The four of them walk by the smouldering remains of the mannequin, and Brandon grabs its charred head as a trophy.
Sleeper Star: Mikki is the wild card here; she’s just as happy to destroy things as the rest of them are, but she’s more gleeful about it.
Most Pilot-y Line: Considering how goofy the show is in general, it’s hard to say one line or scene is goofier than the others.
Our Call: STREAM IT. If you want something light to watch and maybe get some ideas of gear to buy to help you survive some extreme situation, Southern Survival is a pretty fun choice.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, VanityFair.com, Playboy.com, Fast Company.com, RollingStone.com, Billboard and elsewhere.
Stream Southern Survival On Netflix