Doomsday Preppers: TV Review

Doomsday Preppers National Geographic - H 2012
National Geographic Channel

Doomsday Preppers National Geographic - H 2012

A fascinating look into a survivalist subculture busily preparing for the end of organized civilization, Doomsday Preppers treads on thin ethical ice when it critiques and encourages its protagonists plans while knowing full well that their apocalyptic fantasies have little chance of actually coming to pass.

National Geographic Channel's new show follows a fringe group of Americans actively preparing for the end of the world as we know it.

“Across the country, there is a growing darkness. A belief that the end of days is near,” the narrator on Doomsday Preppers, National Geographic Channel’s new paranoid reality show, intones in the program’s lead-in to the strains of tense, foreboding music.

The fascinating thing about this rather dire piece of information is that it very few people seem to agree on the way that life as we know it is about to go straight down the proverbial toilet. On the premiere episode, for instance, Producers Alan Madison (Food Wars) and Matt Sharp (Love Lust) dredge up a couple in Texas who are certain that a sudden change in the earth’s magnetic polarity will set the continents in motion like plastic pucks on an air hockey table, a botany enthusiast in Los Angeles obsessed with the coming mega-earthquake who makes salads of the weeds growing under the city’s freeways, and a Houston woman convinced that a sudden global oil shortage will render humankind into no better than a pack of wild dogs.

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“I’m a prepper because I’m preparing for when the sh** hits the fan,” Paul Range says while giving the film crew a tour of his heavily fortified, steel shipping container home outside of San Antonio.

A former Viet Nam veteran, Range and his wife, Gloria Haswell, spend their days canning and storing food, honing their aim on a daunting arsenal of weapons, coordinating matching t-shirts, and mapping out the smallest details of what they will do when the magnetic poles plunge the world into chaos.

“The worst case would be a massive earthquake type thing, where the continents did a fast shift,” Range says over appropriated footage of the devastation wrought by last year's quake in Japan. “Most all the buildings would fall down and collapse.”

Though his home won't likley be nominated for any Feng Shui design awards, Range is fairly certain it will weather the shaking. "Essentially, I'm in a welded steel box," he says, "so I'm not worried about my container shifting in an earthquake."

While surviving the continental bumper car ride is one thing, staying safe from the ill-prepared masses who'll come begging for food an shelter, is another. 

Cameras rolling, Range, Haswell and select group of heavily-armed, like-minded friends, practice a “bug-out” drill in which the group hastily exits the compound in supply laden school buses for a second hideaway a few miles away. Though this “plan B” is not fleshed out in great detail (why would one rural outpost prove safer than another when said sh** hits said fan?), it’s hard not to imagine a pack of ravenous zombies or Road Warrior villains with mohawks giving chase across the barren Texas back roads.

“It’s not a hobby,” Haswell says, “it’s a lifestyle.” Given the furvor with which the couple prepares for the end, the every-man-for-himself future, armageddon also seems like something of a not-so-secret wish for these people. 

In the third segment of the premiere episode, we meet Megan Hurwitt, a web developer in Houston, Tx., who the narrator describes as a “party girl turned prepper.”

Living in anticipation of a global oil crisis, her us-versus-them vision of the future is reminiscent of the aftermath of the nuclear holacaust described by Cormac McCarthy in The Road.

“We’re going to starve. That’s going to send everybody into a panic,” Hurwitt tells the camera. “They’re going to run out to all of the supermarkets and buy up everything that you need to survive. People are going to start stealing other people’s food. You’re going to hear gunshots, a lot of them. People are going to start to kill each other. When peoples’ kids go hungry, they’re going to come after you. Your lives will be in danger, my life will be in danger, and it will happen in a matter of days.”

Megan's survival plan includes working out so as to be able to fend off attackers, honing her aim on a variety of firearms, and navigating an escape route to northern Mexico, which is, for some unexplained reason, the safest place she can think of heading when the gas pumps run dry.

Wearing rather skimpy workout clothes thorugh much of the episode, and swinging on a stripper pole in her apartment, Hurwitt's psyche makes for compelling viewing.

“You don’t want to end up having to whore yourself out in order to live,” Hurwitt says. “And really, that’s what a lot of women would face.”

Were these characters presented as the subjects of a documentary that simply explored the survivalist mind-set, Doomsday Preppers could have been a grade-A hour of gawker television on par with the likes of Extreme Couponing and Hoarders. Unfortunately, the inclusion of an “expert assessment" of our protagonists' preparations lands the show on thin ethical ice. 

"Keeping your 15 year food supply in one area is a grave risk, leaving you vulnerable to losing it all with one direct hit or one strong attack," the show's narrator tells Range and Haswell, thereby indulging their far-fetched doomsday fantasy even though the program later concedes that there's no evidence that a shift in magnetic poles would result in the turmoil the couple imagines.


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