I wasn’t going to write about I-Caveman but I can’t stop thinking about it, so I will.

I-Caveman was a program on the Discovery channel that aired last Sunday. 10 people – 6 men and 4 women – were deposited in Colorado bush for ten days with a few furs and left to fend for themselves using only stoneage technology.

The team was led by Morgan Spurlock of “Super Size Me” fame.

Yes it was a reality show, there were some participants that made you wonder what they thought they were getting into. It was accurate-ish but obviously they were filmed, they were also observed from a tent, and there were no children. They starved for 8 days, moved camp, endured cold, sleeplessness and lethargy.

Finally, Robb Wolf saves them, killing an elk with an atlatl, probably the only person to have killed a large animal with such a primitive weapon in modern times. On film. Billy, the bowhunter, also showed impressive tooling and butchering skills.

The main takeaways I took from this film.

1. The killing of an elk for a television show bothered me but showed me. I was able to reconcile myself to it on the basis that my kids (who have learned basic survival and tracking skills) were watching and we were able to talk to them about the value of the elk to our ancestors (and therefore to us) as well as several other lessons that provided the context for this kill. Nevertheless, seeing this large, magnificent creature die was sad and sentimental as it sounds made me appreciate the way the world operates, the food chain and the value of everything in our lives if we choose to reflect on them. It was moving for the hunters too, no matter they had barely eaten in 8 days.

2. The women with the exception of Manu, a Maori bounty hunter, were embarrassment to their gender. In paleolithic times, women would care for the children and as there were none in this instance, the women were devoid of a significant part of their purpose. However, hunting for small animals would have been a priority as they were without protein sources for days. This would have been carried out by women but all they seemed to do was hang about, keeping the fire burning.  It is likely that had their ancestors lolled about complaining serving little useful purpose that I could see, these women would not have had the opportunity to have been in a reality show. Because they would never have been born.

3. The show brought home the precariousness of life in that time and made me marvel at how strong, robust and evolved our species is. It is a technological marvel that we are here on this earth, way beyond anything that Microsoft and Apple have given us. We owe it to ourselves to make the most of our lives just on this fact alone. That we often abuse ourselves and our bodies is shameful in light of the tenacity and will to survive our lineage has given us but ironically that tenacity and ability to withstand harsh conditions is also the reason we can take the abuse and yet survive long enough to procreate and protect the next generation to adulthood.

4. The necessity for a group belonging. Individuals acting alone would die. There was no opportunity to go it alone, think independently or refuse to cooperate. I’m sure there was in fighting, factions and grumbling but ultimately survival was about the team. Whether you liked it or not. The translation to modern day is clear. It is still as a group that we perform best. But it also requires some submersion of individual desires or thoughts. Working for the greater good is less valued today in favor of individualism but is still a large part of our society. Maybe we should be more accepting of those parts that are less than perfect instead of throwing out the baby with the bathwater as we often do?

5. The regret of the premature quit. Two people left the group before the end of the ten days. One should clearly have never gone in the first place and provided only negative value to the group. Because this is the 21st century and this was for a TV show she was allowed to leave the project. A rather less pleasant outcome would have likely befallen her had she taken that attitude in primitive times. But the other was Robert, a guy who regularly went out hunting for the group, had his heart in it but kept coming back to camp unsuccessful. Eventually it got to him and he left. The next day, they killed the elk. I bet, if he’s honest, Robert will regret leaving early for the rest of his days. He missed out on the kill, the celebration, the triumph. Another 24 hours and he’d have had a great memory to look back on. Slow and steady wins the race comes to mind. Always a tough call knowing when to quit. When it means starvation and death though, quitting isn’t a option.

Did you watch it? Have any thoughts?

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary E. Ulrich
October 4, 2011 at 1:43 pm

This makes the “Survivor” reality show look like a beauty contest. I like that it was a group effort, rather than each person trying to trick and slime-out the others. I agree with you that our evolution came about because of a group belonging and caring about each other.

Too bad the women disappointed. That probably needs more study. Sounds like an interesting show.
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Alison Golden October 4, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Yeah, this definitely wasn’t a competition. I can’t stand those and wouldn’t have watched it. This was more along the lines of 1940s/Victorian/Colonial/Edwardian House, etc. from PBS. We’ve watched all those and they were awesome, taught us all a lot. We don’t watch too much TV but many of the shows we watch are interesting to us but also generate a lot of discussion both during (it takes us about 90 minutes to watch an hour long show – thank goodness for DVR) and after, over dinner. I think the kids get a lot of out of these kinds of shows. Plus it’s good bonding. 🙂

I wondered about the women – whether they were selected to show a certain dynamic – how people get resentful when others don’t pull their weight, or the effects of lack of food – or if we were just unlucky. They certainly weren’t warrior women, that’s for sure. Shame.


October 4, 2011 at 3:36 pm

We have this on on the DVR ready to watch.

I am one of those very rare people that find prehistory completely fascinating. I was an Anthropology major.

Actually, I find any history before the Industrial Revolution fascinating simply for the fact that people these days do not realize how lucky we are to be able to raise our children without worry of a large carnivore eating he or she. Lucky to grab our food ready for us at a restaurant or super market. Lucky to know we most likely will not die at 32 of old age. Just plain lucky on so many levels. We are very displaced from what our ancestors had and didn’t have.

Anyway, I guess I don’t have to worry. And I sound like a crazy woman talking about it. LOL. I know I am lucky. And never take life for granted.

~Allie (The crazy anthro lady)
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Alison Golden October 4, 2011 at 3:51 pm

Same name, same crazy. Except you have two L’s in your name. Perhaps that makes you slightly more crazy. But only just 😉


Primal Toad October 4, 2011 at 10:41 pm

I watched. I loved it. I think it resembled pretty well how our ancestors would have lived back in the day without kids. I liked how they starved for a few days which meant the kill was more meaningful. They celebrated but they also were very emotional. Robb Wolf almost broke down. I almost broke down. Watching the show makes me appreciate everything I have so much more.

It actually inspired me to live back home in Michigan during November and December. It’s freezing cold which is why I want to move own to Florida during the winter but I also want to deer hunt. I want to experience the achievement of killing a deer and doing the necessary work to make it edible for family, friends and myself. I want to get emotional. It would be a primitive experience for sure.

The show makes me realize how easy we have it in today’s world. I will no loner take anything for granted. My perception on life has changed immensely. Just imagine if I was one of the ten!
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Alison Golden October 4, 2011 at 10:51 pm

Hey Toad, still hauling that stump, I see. Still makes me nervous 😉

Yeah, I think that was the biggest takeaway for me too. How easy we have it. How I can move six feet from where I sit typing and stuff myself silly if I want to.

It *was* very emotional, wasn’t it? And perhaps that’s as it should be. Generally, we have very little idea about where our food comes from, how it is raised and lands on our plate. It was shocking to see that kill and watch that huge elk’s life seep away. Powerful, and as you say, primitive, stuff.


Ellen Berg
April 4, 2012 at 8:01 am

I didn’t even know about this program, but I’m sure it’ll rerun and I’ll catch it then. Loved Colonial/Victorian House.

I understand the emotion, and quite frankly, it’s the only thing I have a hard time reconciling with being Paleo. I love animals, cannot stand seeing them in pain or dying–I still cry watching Bambi! My husband points out that there’s a disconnect there as I have no trouble eating them, and he’s right.

We’ve become so disconnected from our food and where it comes from that too many people are eating things like pink slime and other chemically enhanced products and believing they’re “food.” It reminds me of the lessons of The Grapes of Wrath where Steinbeck chronicled the negative effects of separating the farmer/man from the land and replacing it with corporations and machinery.

Oddly enough, the thing that’s shifted me into appreciation for the animals I consume has been cooking whole chickens in my crock pot. Unlike hamburger or stew meat, a whole chicken looks like what it was. I sat there with this body in my hands and thanked it for giving its life so that I could nourish myself. I do that with everything I prepare now, and it’s cut down on my waste–a life was taken, I must not waste any of its sacrifice.

Whether we’re paleo or vegetarian or vegan, we all need to become more connected to our food. It’s the single most important step humans need to take unless they’d like to embrace Soilent Green at some point in the future.


Alison Golden April 5, 2012 at 8:06 pm

Hi Ellen:

I hope it comes around again because we want to watch it once more. If you want to see the most poignant part of it, you can here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BrHCpxoBcyU
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October 9, 2011 at 5:43 am

I haven’t watched it, but you’re making me want to watch it. #2 on your list really struck a cchord with me. I can’t believe those women didn’t do anything but play with the fire. Smh. But..I bet they looked good for TV, right? Reality TV…gotta love it. Well, I know women way back when would also gather beands and nuts and dried fruit. They also made clothing and the side dishes while the men were out hunting. And those women couldn’t even do that…wow!


Alison Golden October 9, 2011 at 11:06 am

Oooh, they were irritating, Shay. I doubt they would read your blog, somehow.


October 10, 2011 at 2:01 pm

Yea…I doubt it too because my words would knock them out. lol
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Trey October 16, 2011 at 4:58 pm

Argh! What a time to be without cable. I would have eaten that show up. I’ve often wondered if I had it in me to tough it out in a survival situation like that.

I haven’t gone crazy enough yet to hike out into the woods Bear Grylls style, but I definitely want to take an extended camping trip one day with minimal provisions and see how I fare.
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Alison Golden October 30, 2011 at 4:53 pm

Sorry that you missed it, Trey. Keep an eye out or check out Robb Wolf’s blog for info on it. You can at least get the backstory that way. http://robbwolf.com/2011/10/12/i-caveman-after-party-part-1/


S, M, Sullivan August 9, 2012 at 2:32 am

Oh Lord, those women were cringeworthy, except Manu! I watched in disbelief as a hungry girl discarded a snail that some guy had gathered and cooked for her. The men built the shelter, kept the fire going, did 90% of the work, while the females looked on. In real life hunter/gatherer societies women collect 80% of the food. If I’d been there, I’d have been digging up cattail roots and making fishnets and scraping birch and pine inner bark (if you chew it, you get a few calories and fibers for making twine.) Anyway, no one would have starved.


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