Can you picture what Fort Hunt looked like 15,000 years ago? It probably had mastodons, giant beavers the size of black bears, and some of the first people moving into the area, says archaeologist Todd Surovell.
Surovell, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Wyoming, who grew up in Fort Hunt, makes his TV debut Sunday on a new reality series “I, Caveman.” Surovell, a West Potomac Class of 1991 grad, is the son of Glenda Booth and Robert Surovell, and brother of Del. Scott Surovell.
The Discovery Channel program, which airs at 8 p.m. ET on Sunday, pits 10 people against Mother Nature, challenging them to survive in the wilds just as people did thousands of years ago.
Surovell serves as one of four experts on the program, discussing on-camera the authenticity of the experiment. He is not one of those who must "survive" on the program, although that was discussed, he said.
"It's one thing to know how to survive in theory and another to actually do it," he said with a laugh Friday in a phone interview from his university office. The participants "weren’t just set out in the world naked. Nobody wants to see people freezing and starving. But materially, it was absolutely right, very authentic.”
The people who participated in the program had to survive, Surovell said, by keeping themselves warm, hydrated and fed. They had to eat what they could find. Surovell said the options for food for cavemen years ago were the same for the participants: plants, animals, worms, snails, fruits, leaves, stems and the like. The trick, he noted, “is knowing what’s edible. It takes a hell of a lot of work to feed yourself.”
Surovell, who lives in Wyoming with wife Nicole, also an associate professor of anthropology at the university, said he probably became interested in science growing up in the woodsy environs of Tauxemont, the neighborhood where he grew up that is named in honor of the native Americans that lived in the area in the 17th century.
Todd attended Tauxemont Preschool, Waynewood Elementary, Sandburg Middle and West Potomac High Schools, then University of Wisconsin for a B.S., the University of Arizona for a master's degree and Ph. D.
In an interview with Patch, executive producers Kevin Greene and Lisa Andreae also discussed the program:
Patch: How did the idea for the show come about?
LA: “In our fully connected plugged-in world, with every convenience at our fingertips, we thought it would be interesting to 'unplug' humanity and explore to see if we still have what it takes to live like our ancestors. 'I, Caveman' feels like the ultimate social experiment into the human condition—a way to measure the impact of 10,000 years of civilization, both psychologically and physically.
Patch: When and where was “I, Caveman” filmed?
KG: “The program was shot entirely on the Motherwell Ranch in northern Colorado during June 2011.”
Patch: Are any experts involved who verify the authenticity of the production?
KG: “We had four experts on hand to ensure that the world of our participants was an accurate representation of life in the upper Paleolithic era. These experts are featured in the show, observing the participants and commenting on their successes and failures. Our experts were Todd Surovell, an archeologist from the University of Wyoming; William Leonard, a biological anthropologist from Northwestern University; Scott Kuipers, a prehistoric survival expert; and Dr. Grant Lipman, a wilderness physician.”
Patch: Who are the people who participated in the show and why were they chosen?
KG: “There were a total of 10 participants in the experiment. Led by documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock (“Super Size Me”), the participants included a variety of men and women intended to represent a broad cross-section of ordinary people, although most of them either had significant outdoor experience or brought some skill to the group that could be beneficial (e.g., one was a nurse and one was an inventor).”
Patch: Did anyone get hurt or have to leave the production?
KG: “There were many nicks and scrapes sustained by the participants throughout the experiment, but no serious injuries. However, due to the grueling nature of the Paleolithic way of life, some of the participants were unable to complete the experiment and voluntarily withdrew during filming.”
Patch: Were participants briefed on how to live in the wild before the show started? How did they prepare?
KG: “Participants were given two days of training by Scott Kuipers and Scott’s assistant before the experiment began. In addition, some of the participants practiced prehistoric living skills on their own before they arrived on location.”