'Fat Guys in the Woods': TV Review

Fat Guys in the Woods - H 2014

Fat Guys in the Woods - H 2014

The affability of both the host and the participants makes this health-oriented survivalist show a pleasantly informative experience.

Wilderness expert Creek Stewart leads a trio of men on a weekly adventure to learn how to fend for themselves without cell phones or frozen pizzas.

The Weather Channel provides exactly what is advertised with its new series Fat Guys in the Woods: three plump-to-chubby individuals go into the wild (the Great Smokies of eastern Tennessee, specifically) for a week to learn how to survive the frigid, wintry conditions (which is why it's on a channel devoted to weather). The trio are led by author and survival camp instructor Creek Stewart; as one participant describes him, "his gloves are almost as yellow as his vibrant hair."

The aim of the series is essentially to be a boot camp and wake-up call for lazy men with sedentary lifestyles. In the first episode, the three men are introduced as friends from Los Angeles who agreed they needed to take drastic steps to improve their health and well-being. That admirable goal, in addition to onscreen information about building shelters, finding flint, and other tips that give the series a light educational bent, is what makes Fat Guys in the Woods something a little meatier (as it were) than many survivalist series.

Fat Guys in the Woods is also a kind of survivalist show for The Weather Channel itself: The series comes on the heels of a battle between the channel and DirecTV over content compensation. As of April, the two came to an agreement that concluded with The Weather Channel promising to produce less weekday reality programming by half — such programming being, according to DirecTV, a source of customer dissatisfaction from those just looking for weather. It was also an issue that led to Dish's creation, several years ago, of the weather-only syndicated station WeatherNation.

In that light, Fat Guys in the Woods doesn't necessarily come across as justifying itself as core reality content for The Weather Channel (unless its aim is to encourage viewers to get outside, thereby necessitating a weather check first). On the other hand, its affable and willing participants, along with its desire to instruct as well as entertain, make it a pleasant viewing experience that doesn't ask much of viewers. Stewart also makes for an encouraging host — there is much back-slapping and bandying of "Dude!" and "Good work, brother" to be had.

By the end of each episode, the men will have lived for one week on a snow-covered mountain, learned how to build their own shelters, started and cultivated fires, and caught and cooked live game (first as a group, and later, individually). The adjustment and appreciation of the little things (four big guys sharing a small rabbit as their only meal of the week, for instance) seems like it could potentially have a lasting impression beyond their woodland camping adventure. The men do soberly consider the life of the animal they took to help sustain their own, but will they more deeply consider the source and processing of the chicken nuggets in their L.A. freezers? Who can say?

The show's biggest mystery, though — not in terms of the future of The Weather Channel's reality content, or about whether eating skull-and-organ stew has been a life-altering experience for its participants — concerns Stewart: How does he keep that vibrant mane so well-coifed in such extreme conditions? It's good work, brother.