Surviving the survival shows

PATTIE PEGLER
Last updated 05:00 15/10/2013
Vinnie Jones
HARD MAN: Vinnie Jones.

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OPINION: All shouting and no substance. That's the thought that sprang to mind watching Vinnie Jones: Russia's Toughest (starts tonight, 9.30pm, National Geographic).

It's about toughness and, lest we forget, Jones hammers the point home about a million times.

"I'm taking on Russia's toughest," he shouts in the opening minutes before heading off to Kamchatka where he tries to track down poachers.

"I'll be hunting them down by tank, boat and helicopter" he tells us as the footage cuts to shots of a tank, a boat and a helicopter.

It's all "toughest challenge", "toughest jobs", "dangerous locations" and "harshest terrain". I feel exhausted just watching him.

But, after all this hype, it turns out that actually he's just tagging along with the river police. And I have to say they don't look that happy about it.

Nonetheless they pin a badge on him. "I can bash up the poachers now? Can we shoot them? No?" asks Vinnie in that slow and contorted English that Brits have used to talk to foreigners since the days of It Ain't Half Hot Mum.

I feel a bit embarrassed for him. The river police look bemused. Later on he sees some wildlife.

"I can't explain the feeling," he confesses as he watches bears on a river bank. Somehow that doesn't surprise me. But it is part of the problem with this show. The basic material is interesting - Russia seems like a wild country and Vinnie meets some pretty hardcore guys. But there's no insight. Just shouting and camo gear.

For the viewer it's simultaneously exhausting and dull.

Wild Planet: North America (starts tonight 8.30pm, TV One) is a more serene experience. Narrator Tom Selleck doesn't shout at us, instead he intones, gravely. He says things like "Untamed wilderness - in its splendour, brutality, beauty, we find our own story, our spirit forged in the land".

Okay, so - coupled with a rather irritating rock music soundtrack - this sort of purple prose can come across as a little cheesy. But don't let that put you off. This wildlife series was three years in the making and it's great.

The first episode takes us from the Rockies, where a young mountain goat starts his life on a sheer cliff edge, to the Great Basin Desert, where wild horses roam.

There are whales and bears, wolves and turtles. It's all beautifully shot and you'd have to be a real curmudgeon not to feel some joy watching the baby goat skip and buck through the snow.

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Less joyful and more just weird is new series Naked and Afraid (starts tonight, 8.30pm, Discovery). Each week, a man and a woman, complete strangers, are dropped naked into a wilderness spot. Then they have to survive for 21 days. The episode I watched was set in Tanzania. The pair had to walk barefoot across a thorn-strewn landscape, drink muddy water and ward off hyenas. Worse than your average camping holiday.

This is the ultimate sadistic survival show.

- Stuff

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