Man, Woman, Wild's Mykel Hawke and Ruth England

Talking with the fierce but tender stars of the Discovery survival series

By , Editor
Survival shows are fascinating, if only from the knowledge and skills demonstrated that satisfy fundamental human needs like food, potable water, fire, and shelter against the elements and predators. When the Zombie Apocalypse erupts, Quetzalcoatl lays waste to the Americas in 2012, or when the world economy collapses, those who can fend for themselves in the face of uncaring and amoral Nature will be the new royalty.

On top of the handy skills demonstrated, knowledge imparted, and exotic locales, Discovery's Man, Woman, Wild entertains and edifies with the drama inherent when a husband and wife battle the slings and arrows of some of the least domesticated regions of the earth, and the interaction between them ranges from loving cooperation to snarling irritation. It reminds my wife and me of home, other than the mortal danger part.

The husband in question is Mykel Hawke, former Green Beret, Special Forces officer, with specialties in telecommunications, intelligence operations, remote medical management, combat search and rescue, guerilla warfare, counter terrorism, and security tactics - dude is badass.

His wife is no slouch either, Ruth England is a photographer, documentary filmmaker, TV journalist, and world traveler of the most dangerous and remote locales.

Together they sojourn to some of the most remote spots on earth and survive on nothing but grit, spit, and a whole lot of duct tape; oh wait, that's the Penguins of Madagasgar. But anyway, the show is amazing; Mykel and Ruth are tough, brave, intelligent and a ball to watch.

Man, Woman, Wild airs on Discovery at 9 E/P Fridays. In tonight's episode, the Hawke's are stranded in California's mountainous high desert with only a canteen of whiskey when their donkey runs off with their supplies.

man-woman-wild-donkey.jpgI had the pleasure of speaking with the Hawkes recently by phone.

EO - It's very obvious you have a strong relationship that runs very deep, but that doesn't mean people don't get on each other's nerves.

Mykel Hawke - The bottom line is we do love each other. We have committed to each other. We have a child together, so we are all about making a relationship work while we are in the middle of a problem and trying to solve it. You're going to have those moments when the pressure and discomfort mount, and you have to get things done.

Ruth England - He's a pain in the ass at home or in the jungle.

The situations you put yourselves into are about as stressful as it gets!

MH - A lot of people think because it's a TV show we have this huge crew and safety extraction helicopters on standby. No - it's a cameraman and a sound man and anything could go wrong. We do take a lot of real risks. We try to be as common sense smart as we can, but these are real situations.

RE - I really worry about him a lot, especially when he goes off hunting. He won't take me with him most of the time because of the human footprint factor, and he often leaves the crew behind for the same reason. He's just gone into the jungle, forest, wherever, and I don't know where he is if something happened, if he stepped on a snake or fell down a hole. Who knows what could happen?

The genuineness of that drama really comes through, and it shows that you do try to keep the situations as real as possible. Like when you, Mykel, were down in that hole, you were very forthright: "If this gets too long, I'll ask the crew to help me out of here."

But you waited it out until Ruth, clearly very worried, came looking for you. You are true to the mission of relying only upon yourselves as a team, surviving, making circumstances as endurable as possible while working toward the ultimate goal of rescue.

man-woman-wild-cactus.jpgMH - A lot of people watch the show and they don't know who we are. I'm a no-shit American Green Beret Commander combat veteran and I have an obligation to my fraternity to teach good principles and try to live up to our standards of keeping it as real as possible. But also, common sense has to prevail - we're not out to make snuff videos.

So, we very much try to push ourselves and teach people what options you might have if you found yourself in that situation. Sometimes it's tough.

RE - Sometimes it FEELS like a snuff video.

How did you come up with the idea for the show and how difficult was it to bring it to fruition?

RE - I have a TV journalism background and I have done a lot of travel, much of it remote travel. I've been everywhere from Rwanda to the Arctic Circle. I'm often with a very small crew, no medical personnel, and very far from hospital. And even when you get there the doctors might not be trained in the manner that they are in the West.

I've been in cars that get stuck in the mud in the middle of Africa, in the middle of nowhere. I'm often in tiny little planes and you hear about them going down all the time. So I've always wanted to learn about basic medicine and survival.

I was actively looking for a survival teacher when I met Myke and fell in love, got married, had a baby. So it was a natural process of events.

MH - The other thing is, after 9/11, the profile of Special Forces got raised, and because I had worked as a medic and in security on some productions, they started asking me to work in front of the camera, guest appearances doing a little teaching, a little segment on jungle warfare - that kind of thing. Before you know it, people said, "Why don't you guys work together." And we said we'd love to do something like this show.

We were very lucky Discovery found us, liked it, and gave us a chance to do this and share and teach people. We've been very blessed.

Mykel, there's no question about your background and abilities, and that you're a serious guy with a mission. But you're also willing to show your softer side, especially in relation to Ruth. But also toward living creatures in general.

We were on the verge of tears when you were addressing your prey, the wild boar, in such a respectful and thankful manner. You have to eat, and in a survival situation you desperately need the protein and fat of meat, so the stark reality is you have to kill things. But it's clear you don't take this lightly.

MH - A lot of people don't realize how many wars I've been in and how much death I've seen. Ruth will attest to this: I don't kill an insect if I don't have to. Any life I have to take, I always appreciate it and treat it with the utmost respect. So for me, those are difficult moments. I do my best to make it as painless as possible.

When I killed the wild boar it was one precision slice to the heart, and that was more humane than any treatment it would have received from a predator in the wild or from a meat processing plant. That's very important to us as we try to teach people how to respect all life: only take when you need and only take what you need.

RE -  And only kill in a humane manner.

What's you production schedule like? Do you shoot these episodes all in a row?

MH - Oh no no. Listen to me now: this stuff is hard core. To be honest, I'd rather be on a combat mission. These are no-shit, you-might-not-come-home missions. And the moment we stop thinking that we might get snake-bit just picking up firewood is the moment it happens.

It takes about 10-12 days to get to the location, sometimes three days just to get in there, then you have to put it together, go out and film it, film the connecting shots, then you need two weeks to recover because you are so beat up with chicks and tiggers... Whoa, reverse that...

[Everyone laughs] We're zombies right now after a month on the road overseas...

But you come back and you have cuts and slices and scrapes and bangs and bruises, and usually some form of dysentery, and it's just tough. 

So normally we shoot on a two-week-on two-week-off schedule, which just gives us time to recover. Plus, we have a little boy and we have to spend time with that little midget so he know Mommy and Daddy are okay, everything's alright, before we go out there and leave him again with the family and the nanny.

How old is he and how long have you been married?

MH - We've been married almost seven years, and he's five.

That must be the hardest part of it, leaving him.

RE - Absolutely - it tears me to pieces. Where we can, we take him with us and leave him with a family member or nanny at the closest town to where we are shooting, but even then we are often a day and a half away from him. But the worst is leaving him at home when we go. It absolutely kills me - I hate it. I'd rather wade through a swamp full of snakes than leave my little boy behind.

But I believe in what we're doing. Most of these survival shows are big hairy men, usually ex-military guys like Myke. But when survival situations occur in real life it is often women and
children and families, so I want to show women that we can do it.

MH - I come from a background in guerrilla warfare and we are all about lateral thinking and fighting because we don't have the strength of numbers and forces. It's really important to me that people understand I have worked with outstanding woman commandos and Ruth is one of them in every sense of the word.

Just this season alone, we've seen her save you on a number of occasions.

MH - She always does, and there's more too. Remember that four days is edited down to 40 minutes - a lot doesn't make it into the show. Ruth has saved my bacon every single time we've gone out - she's a true asset.

Mykel Hawke Ruth England Man Woman Wild.jpgIt's clear you really are a team - you function like a team and when you're apart on the show, you each seem to feel diminished.

RE - Yes, I miss my Snuggles. When we're in those kinds of environments, especially, I don't like not being with Myke. We do work as a team, and even though I now have quite a bit of experience, he has 22 years of thinking in these kinds of scenarios. I feel vulnerable when he is not around, and I also worry about him.

MH - Yeah, she worries about me all the time, man.

RE - All of that experience doesn't stop him from stepping on a snake or walking into a bear. At one point when we were in the Amazon, he was shooting something and I just waited on a log for him to finish and I felt this disconcerting wriggling under my buttocks, and I stood up and a fer-de-lance, which is the most dangerous snake in South America, wiggled out, hissing. That wasn't on camera, no one saw that, but these are the kinds of things that happen every day when we're shooting.

One of the great things about the show is that it graphically reminds people how dangerous untamed nature really is.

RE - We are nothing in the face of nature.

MH - For me, after being in so many wars and seeing how short life can be and how quickly it can change, it's good for me to keep reminding myself that our time is limited and to make the most of it, and let the ones you love know you love them.

And don't get distracted by everything around you. Remember that these are the basics that we all need: food, water, fire, shelter, loved ones. It's in all of us because it's where we came from, it's how all of our ancestors lived. It 's very important to remind people of this and why we're willing to go through such misery.

Mykel, did marriage and a family change you?

MH - I want to answer that before the Sgt Major does. A little background: I had a very rough childhood, a lot of abuse, and I ended up surviving on the streets for a winter and that's what got me into survival.

I ended up getting into a gang - I was shot and stabbed before I ever got into the military. So I have always had a very intense side of my character - when I gravitated to Special Forces it was a natural fit.

And I was married before - I've got two grown boys and a grandson. That said, having seen so much death and destruction has made me really appreciate life, and so now I try to have fun whenever I can and enjoy it. I am so much nicer now than I was in my youth. I enjoy being married - it has definitely changed me!

- I'm still waiting for a honeymoon! We haven't vacationed in forever. I've got to train him just to wind down and relax, but he is definitely better than he was!

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Eric Olsen is a career media professional and serial entrepreneur who has written influentially on a vast array of topics for periodicals, books, TV, radio, and the Internet. Olsen founded and published award winning online magazine and oversaw creation of the original content organization…

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