If you were stranded in the middle of nowhere and could have one thing with you what would it be? If your answer was anything other than EJ Snyder, you might want to rethink. EJ is the host of Discovery Network's Dual Survival, and a three-time Naked & Afraid legend. He's an extreme survivalist who teaches the skills and has proven that they work. EJ talked to us about what's it's like to be one of the most well-known survivalists in the world.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in northern New Jersey, just outside New York City, in tough Italian neighborhoods. My folks divorced when I was very young so my mom worked three jobs to try and raise me and my kid brother. My step-dad was a musician who wasn't making a lot of money. As a kid, I learned very early on that if I was going to count on anybody in this world I had to rely on myself. My dad was an avid outdoorsman and hunter so whenever we had a weekend with him, he'd take us out to the wild to hunting, trapping, camping, fishing. We'd hike, we'd get in the water, canoe, raft. A lot of times we would try to escape the city life and go off to local streams, or marshes, or woods where we could find them, and just get in there to feel quite at home. We were pretty much a couple hooligans and we'd get into a bit of trouble.
How did you get to where you are now?
As I grew up my idea for life was to become an actor and stuntman and my mother thought that was a stupid idea. At 19, with no path to college because I went to three different high schools all my athletic scholarships were scrambled all over the place so I joined the Army. I decided I was going to go in the Army and figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. Figured that'd be a good way to have some adventure, and get some money for college, and figure out what I wanted to do.
My time in the Army went by rather quickly. I probably didn't march to the drumbeat of the normal soldier in the Army but I stood up for standards and what was right. Led from the front and got in your face when it was necessary to do as a leader. I made the rank of sergeant major which is the highest rank you can obtain. I made it ahead of schedule. All the time I was ahead of my peers.
I started doing some acting and stunt work to try and figure out a job when I got out of the Army. I wanted to be a technical advisor to film. I thought it was a good way to make some money, get back into TV finally, and realize a dream.
How did you get the opportunity to be on Naked and Afraid?
I was stationed in Hawaii at the time and it was time to retire and my wife's mom got ill so we moved to North Carolina. I had a contract job with the Army as a contractor, private contractor's a civilian, teaching survival. I was teaching survival to the Army for about 6 years to future green berets and other soldiers.
While I was doing that I was still trying to do the acting on the side so I got a few other gigs. Then, I was a huge Survivor fan and I wound up becoming a finalist for season 21 and at the last minute, they cut me. That's when the reality world found me. I figured out I'm more of a character than I could play one and my survival world crossed into reality TV. I started doing some stuff with my survival thing on a couple different shows. I did a pilot called The Sheriff for Spike TV which didn't go anywhere. I was on Can You Survive a Horror Movie on the Chiller Network. I did Patton 360 for the History Channel. Then, I was called upon to try out for Dual Survival by Discovery Channel. I tried out. They loved me. They picked another guy over me but they said, "Hey, we've got something for you."
They put me on a show called 72-Hours that was on TNT. It was a survival adventure race and then as I was done with that show, that adventure, sitting in the hotel room I got a call from Discovery and a brand new show, a brand new survival series that they thought was going to be cutting edge, that they wanted me to do the first pilot for because I was the most qualified survivalist they had on the roster. Off I went in January of 2013 with a lady name Kellie Nightliner, and we filmed the pilot for Naked and Afraid. It was a big chance for me to go out there completely naked with no shoes, no food, no water, and a complete stranger and one item each with a carrying bag and make history. Nobody knew what we were doing. The premise is you guys meet, the man and the woman meet on day 1, we have 21 days to survive this harsh environment, and make it to an extraction point, and get extracted. I was the first man to ever do it. Me and Kellie had our differences but we came together and found it in teamwork to get through it and we made it. We were the first two to ever do it.
How have your experiences with survivalism changed your life?
I changed as a man. I've always had a huge heart but I became more compassionate for life and everything in it. God brought me out there to humble me and show me his face and give me my calling. I always was living my calling except asking that question. I just didn't realize it until he almost killed me out there. While I was at my lowest point and on my deathbed I realized that my purpose in life was to help others, to be a leader, to teach survival, but more importantly to motivate and inspire people to take the challenges of their life head on with a good mindset, a positive attitude and an iron will and live this mantra, and march forward. I was humbled to my knees out there, literally, by God and that changed me for the rest of my days forward.
What is a typical day like for you?
A typical day for me is always full tilt. Starts early, about 5:00, some coffee, a workout, come back, more coffee, shower, get to work on whatever is the plan for the day. I'm always having meetings with people all over the place and a lot of times I make them come out because I could be in the woods doing a YouTube video, doing a gear review because I get sent gear all the time to check it out because people value my opinion about that. Most weekends I have a survival class booked or some kind of an adventure, backpacking trip going on that people pay for me to guide them and teach them. I'm living life to the fullest. It's fast paced. My motto is, survive by your own will in life and in everything you do.
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