Spike’s death obsession continues, as the channel follows “1,000 Ways to Die,” “Deadliest Warrior” and “Jesse James Is a Dead Man” with “Surviving Disaster,” a goofy but strangely absorbing reality-drama hybrid that would be unintentionally hilarious after several beers. Lacking such mood augmentation, the show offers convenient self-help tips if, say, your flight is hijacked, a bioweapon is released or a highrise turns into a towering inferno. Mostly, it’s a way to re-create disaster-movie and terrorist scenarios for the bored, paranoid or those merely too cheap to buy “The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook.”
Billed as a former Navy SEAL, host Cade Courtley joins the cast of actors and stuntmen in staging these treacherous situations, simultaneously narrating the action by speaking directly to the audience. So in the premiere, he’s aboard a plane that’s hijacked, turning to us to dispense advice before trying to ram through the cockpit door and grab the hijacker by the throat.
The series is billed as something that “may actually save lives by providing actions that anyone can perform.” Frankly, it’s quite a stretch to maintain that the series’ educational value outweighs its prurient aspects — in this case, re-enacting the “United 93” scenario with a happier outcome. Other episodes will include nuclear attack, home invasion, fire, avalanche, lost at sea, hurricane, earthquake and mall shooting.
Experts are even interviewed to pad out the dramatic events. And at least in the first hour, those sequences don’t scrimp on bloodshed, with one terrorist slitting a woman’s throat and a second victim bleeding heavily out of a chest wound.
For all that, Courtley — whose piercing eyes vaguely resemble those of “Lost” star Michael Emerson — approaches his “Don’t panic, now shove your palm into the hijacker’s nose” shtick with such intensity and earnestness that it’s easy to get sucked in, especially with high-decibel music relentlessly pulsing behind him.
Perhaps most interesting, though, is what Spike’s programming choices say about how the channel perceives the reptilian brain of the young-male animal. Slicing that spongy organ open, execs at the cabler seem to believe the target audience wants to see others die or nearly die while learning methods to avoid expiring themselves, even if that means having to kill somebody.
However cynical the formula might sound, if they throw in a few beers and some nudity, they’ve probably got that about right.