Veteran Tyax Heliskiing guide heads to the wilds of Panama to help produce an unscripted survival series.
The scenario: two fearless contestants tethered together with a 6 foot steel cable struggle to survive off the land in the remote rivers, caves, deserted islands and jungles of Panama for two weeks. Debuting this fall on Discovery Channel, Tethered is the latest in a long line of ‘unscripted’ survival and outdoor adventure shows with one thing in common – the considerable talents of veteran Tyax Heliskiing guide Scott Flavelle.
As the new show’s ‘Adventure Director’ this summer, Flavelle was responsible for selecting the terrain and designing the survival situations and physical challenges in some of Panama’s most pristine and remote locations. That included deciding what was doable for the "survivalists", determining the acceptable safety margins required to account for the unexpected, and ensuring the overall safety the entire cast and crew. That Flavelle had to accomplish all of the above while working with indigenous peoples in a both Spanish and the local Embera dialect were nothing new to this seasoned film production veteran.
“I really appreciated the challenge initially of figuring out where the best place to go is in Panama. And I got huge satisfaction out of hiring local people and having impacted their lives for the better,” says Flavelle, who has worked on everything from epic wilderness-based feature films like Seven Years in Tibet, Alive and K2 to outdoor reality TV shows like Survivor, Pirate Master, Expedition Africa: Stanley and Livingston and Capture. He has also helped produced numerous Eco Challenge adventure races all over the world.
For Flavelle, Tethered presented its own set of unique challenges, including commencing shooting in the bat cave where the two contestants first met before selecting their survival implements - a pot, a knife and a fire starter.
"Several crew members had worked in caves before, and were spooked by fears of asphyxia," recalls Flavelle, adding that everyone was also less than happy to have to breathe cave air that smelled like bat guano.
Many more safety concerns arose throughout production and it was Flavelle's job to keep everyone safe during the grueling shoot. During the last day of shooting, for instance, he had to devise a way for the two contestants to make a raft and then safely float toward civilization down the rising, unpredictable waters of a jungle river.
"By the time we were ready to do this log raft down the river with our two survivalists tethered together, the water level had really come up and the current was very powerful", he recalls. "Then, as they were wading up to their necks to cross the river they got swept off their feet toward white water. We were just about to rescue them when they got their feet on the bottom and managed to make it to shore."
On another occasion Flavelle had to step in when the show’s executive producer, a seasoned surfer, wanted to crank up the action by having his two exhausted, half-starved stars jump, still tethered together, off a 50-foot cliff into an ocean swell.
"Nobody had ever tried it before and we didn’t know what was going to happen when the tether hit the water -- if it would slap them in the face or get tangled around their arms,” explains Flavelle. “So instead I chose a 20 foot cliff. And everyone was happy that they got off the big ledge, except the surfer."
Despite having its own extraordinary set of challenges, wilderness adventure design, logistics and producing does share some common elements with guiding heli-skiing guests, according to Flavelle.
“Both disciplines require searching out the best terrain for the objective while trying to be as efficient and cost effective as possible,” he says, adding that he initially gained the skills to do logistics and safeguard large groups of people in a feature film industry from guiding heli-skiers.
So if you find yourself in one of Scott Flavelle's Tyax heli-skiing groups, rest assured that you’re in the hands of a man who has just about seen and done it all when it comes to creating the ultimate -- and safe -- adventure experience.
With 35 years of backcountry experience, this living legend is considered one of the finest mountain guides working today. A native of Whistler, BC, Scott is also an avid paraglider in summer.
Posted: Thursday, August 28, 2014