The Office stars chat about the shows hilarious Survivor Man episode
In 2007, while millions of people were obsessing over The Office, Steve Carell was obsessing over the outdoorsy survivalist reality TV show, Survivorman.
Carell and his wife Nancy were such huge fans of the reality show that it inspired him to write a Survivorman-themed episode of The Office, aptly titled, “Survivor Man.”
The inspiration behind “Survivor Man”
For those who need a little refresher, this episode finds Michael heading to the woods to rough it because he’s upset that he was left out of a corporate wilderness retreat.
Fischer reached out to Carell to hear why he decided to write this particular storyline, and the story is delightful.
“He said that he and his wife, Nancy, loved this show called Survivorman. So Steve pitched the idea for this episode because he and Nancy were such fans of the real show,” Fischer said. “[Survivorman] was a Canadian TV show starring a real life survival expert and filmmaker, Les Stroud. In each episode, he would be dropped off in a remote location and would have to survive up to 10 days. He brought little or no food, water, or equipment except for his camera equipment because he would film himself. There was no camera crew.”
Fischer went on to explain that although the show sounds dangerous, there were a few safety precautions in place. “There was a support team who monitored this guy from a distance just in case he got attacked by a wild animal or something. They were not going to leave him out there to die,” she explained, noting that’s the reason Dwight was watching Michael from afar in the episode.
Fischer also said that on the real Survivorman, Stroud “was allowed to scout and study these areas ahead of time with a team of local experts,” which meant he could craft his survival plan in advance.
“Something that Steve said was that he and Nancy noticed that the guy was always doing things like Michael does, like turning a stick into a spear, like he’s going to go spear an animal. But he never actually succeeded in actually killing an animal,” Fischer said. “So Steve and Nancy had a theory that he just really didn’t want to kill any animals because he was a really nice guy — because he never seemed to actually catch any living food to eat.”
Carell’s big “Survivor Man” stunt
What makes this episode feel so real is the fact that Michael genuinely looks like he’s been abandoned in the middle of a forest. Fischer revealed that the wooded scenes were shot near the 44-mile marker on the Los Angeles Crest Highway, and filmed at a picnic site called Charlton Flats in the Angeles National Forest.
When Michael arrives on-site he memorably brings a roll of duct tape, a video camera, a knife, and a bag of something that to this day no one can quite identify (but it’s OK, because we never see him use it).
What we do definitely see him use, however, is the knife. Remember when Michael cuts his pant legs off to fashion a hat to protect himself from the sun? Carell actually did that reckless stunt himself.
“Steve said the costume was not rigged. He cut his pants with a real knife.”
“Michael has decided it’s getting hot and he takes his knife. I was so worried about his leg the whole time, by the way, that he was going to, like, sever his leg,” Kinsey said.
“I reached out to Steve because like you, Angela, I was very nervous. It looked very real,” Fischer replied. “And Steve said the costume was not rigged. He cut his pants with a real knife.”
“Shut up,” Kinsey fired back, shocked.
“He said it was in hindsight, it was a truly stupid thing to do. He kind of can’t believe that he did it,” Fischer continued. “Steve really likes this moment, though. He said it makes him laugh because in the movie Castaway, Tom Hanks does this. And that’s kind of where he got the idea. But Tom Hanks does it after he’s been on the deserted island for like two years… And Michael does it after 35 minutes.”
The glorious “Happy Birthday” shot
Any true fan of The Office will remember the “Survivor Man” episode features a laugh-out-loud funny scene in which Michael is seen dramatically singing “Happy Birthday to You” to Creed in the middle of his wilderness excursion.
The sad rendition comes as the camera pans out, and even the cast of the show thought the scene was brilliant.
“I need to talk about this shot of Michael singing ‘Happy Birthday,’ because it is just wonderful,” Fischer said. “Michael has just made a spear, the teeniest, tiniest spear on the end of a very crooked stick.”
“…There’s this shot that pulls so far back. And what’s amazing about it to me is, guys, Steve was really in the middle of nowhere and our crew was far back, as this shot reveals,” she continued.
“Yeah, I thought it was a beautiful shot,” Kinsey agreed. “I also love these moments when Michael remembers things like Sprinkles — like Creed’s birthday. You know, and he sings the song and he’s like, ‘Happy birthday, buddy.'”
The shot also made Fischer think about the fact that Carell wrote this episode — a difficult off set, day-long shoot in the woods — for himself.
“If I were writing an episode for myself, I would make it pajama day at the office where we all wear our pajamas and there are no stunts,” she said. “I would write a very different episode. So I applaud Steve for really going for it in the name of comedy.”
Be sure to listen to the full podcast episode for more behind-the-scenes stories about filming “Survivor Man.”