SURVIVALIST REALITY TV STAR NAKED AND AFRAID - EJ SNYDER
“I have the Harley Davidson of life going down the road. I have a sidecar, and I try to keep Death right next to me.” - E.J. Snyder, reality TV star Naked and Afraid, military survivalist
ON EPISODE 7:
Science has created the tightest knot ever - on the molecular level. Jeff and Dustin talk about the recent discovery from scientists tying molecules together, and how this could lead to a whole new level of materials. Then on What Fuels You, the discussion turns towards playing it safe versus taking risks, especially when considering long-term risks and immediate risks. Finally, The World's Strongest Coffee is going green and tune into the Update to find out all about it.
ABOUT EJ SNYDER:
EJ Snyder spent years in the military learning survival techniques and that led to more opportunities in his life. EJ joins the podcast to talk about his training and being on Naked and Afraid and shares some really cool stories about reality television and being on the front lines. Plus he explains why he continues to push his limits in life, even after near-death experiences.
Jeff: We know from talking to you before that you have been on a couple of the different survival shows and you teach survivalists. As a child, when you were a kid, going way back, were you an outdoorsy kid? Were you always drawn to kind of like being in the woods and playing around like that or did this kind of come later in life?
E.J. Snyder: Surprisingly, I grew up in New Jersey outside New York City and my dad was a big outdoorsman, so he used to take us on the weekends, escape the city. He was a big hunter, trapper. He'd take us out camping, fishing and we'd do a lot of hiking. We'd go out there with him all the time. I was about scouting a little bit, but when I'd get back home me and my kid brother would find ourselves down there near the local marsh or near a park or a creek where we could find something because we just loved being outside all the time. We would be playing with stuff we shouldn't have been playing with like water moccasins and you know, just crazy stuff. We'd get all these muskrats and we'd try making traps to catch them out of whatever we could find and then we really were into building all kinds of crazy forts and weapons. So it was something in me that I didn't realize was just dying to get out. So when we would go up to Vermont and upstate New York where my father had family and we would be in the outdoors out there in the farms and the country, something just sang to my soul. So as I went through life and going through different things that kids go through when I hit 19 I wanted to be an actor-stuntman. My mother said that was a bad idea. I would be starving. As a poor kid, I really had no way of getting to college. My folks had pretty much split up before I was 10. There were no computers then so there was no path for me to figure out how to make it in life, so I joined the army. They promised me some college money. I wanted the adventure and I went. While I was in the army I attended Ranger school and that's where I got my first taste of actual formal survival training. So I really liked being in the infantry, being outside. I got into field crafting and doing all kinds of things we used to do in the bush as an infantryman, hiking, getting into that stuff. I really got involved with rocking climbing and mountain climbing with my brother before I went in, but then I really started ramping up these things when I was in. When I had off-time I'd go canoeing and rafting and all these things. So when I became a Ranger instructor in 1996 down there in the Florida Ranger Camp, I was training Rangers how to survive swamps and water, I was a primary survival instructor. They're like, "Hey, you've got to go to survival school." I'm like, "Oh, well what do you do there?" They're like, "Well, you know, all those survival things. You learn how to rub sticks together and make fire and all this other stuff," but it was actually military survival school, which we all know is SERE training which is hiding behind enemy lines and learning about to survive not just the wilderness, but not getting caught by the enemy and having bad things happen to you. So I really took to it. I went back and it became like a self-quest for me because during those times we had the Y2K coming. Everybody thought the [inaudible 00:03:22] world was coming. I was like man, I need to be on point. I've got a wife, two kids. I've got to be able to figure out how to keep us alive, so I took to it. I did a self-study to become the best survivalist I could all around. Not just a military survivalist, but all aspects. Become more of a hybrid survivalist. I also went to tracking school and I was also teaching tracking then. So fast forward to where I retired from the Army after 25 years and serving two different wars in Iraq. I served in the Gulf War in '91. Went back in 2004 for 15 months in Iraqi Freedom the second time. I got out and had a contract survival job waiting back at my school, the SERE school that I went through, to teach soldiers how to survive behind enemy lines and I did that for six years as a contractor. Before I got out, just before I got out I started, I was in Hawaii, I started doing some acting and stunt work, was on a bunch of different projects. You can look me up on IMBD under E.J. Snyder and see all the little things I was involved with. Not all of my projects are there, but some of the more known ones. Next thing I know the TV world and my survival world crossed paths. I was a big guy. I was big into Survivor and that show and I applied for it and I was in the final casting. They cut me at the last minute, which was their loss. It was whatever God's plans were for me, but what I didn't know was Discovery came looking for me. I did a couple of different shows. I was on the History Channel's Patton 360 as a commentator. I did the Can You Survive A Horror Movie with the Chiller Network as a survival military expert and then Discovery saw that and they called me up to try out for Dual Survival when they were first replacing Dave Canterbury. So I went out there as a last-minute replacement for a guy that couldn't make it with four other people. When the smoke cleared, Discovery Channel liked Joe Teti over me and I wound up, they said they'll give you a call and I'm like, "Yeah okay. Whatever." I wound up doing a show for TNT called 72 Hours. It was a survival adventure race. I ran through the Fijian jungle, episode seven, and I had two people. You meet your partners on the starting line and you're running through this exotic place looking for $100,000 briefcase. First team there gets to keep the money and split it. Well, I have two people that should have never left their living room.
Dustin: Oh no.
E.J. Snyder: I'm dragging these two people, keeping them fed, keeping them hydrated, and leading them on this adventure. So if you've got nothing better to do, download it on Amazon.com. It's a great 45-minute video. You won't be disappointed. From there when I was sitting in the hotel I got a call from Discovery. Said, "Hey, we've got a really crazy new survival show and we think we want you to film the pilot because if you go out there and don't die, we think everyone else will be okay." I was like, "Okay. I'll go out there." So I find myself in the middle of Tanzania, Africa with a strange woman I don't know. One item each, and I'm used to going out with several items to survive with. So I have a knife, she has a pot. We made history. We went out there, first ones to do it. Nobody, not even the crew knew it, what was going to happen. So as I'm throwing my clothes into the back of this vehicle, I'm like, "Wow." I'm thinking to myself this is a bad idea.
Dustin: Yes. Yeah, it seems like the worst idea ever just to trounce around in a very angry, hot place with absolutely no clothes, but especially no shoes. That's the craziest thing. Did that tear up your feet or what?
E.J. Snyder: That was the worst thing. As I'm throwing these clothes in the back of this truck I'm thinking, what's my mom going to think? I hear these lions in the background and I'm like, "Wow." Well, they had already paid me and I see this figure off in the distance. It's my partner and the vehicle drives off and as the dust clears I take my first five steps and I've got like 12 thorns in my feet.
Dustin: Oh no.
E.J. Snyder: I'm thinking this is not going to be ... Off I walked. Little did I know I was going to do that two more times after that and be the only guy to do it three times. So it was, it really tore my feet up. If you watch the first episode, Terror In Tanzania, I wound up on the second day getting an acacia thorn into my, like the ball of my feet. Not the ball, like the arch area. I think it was my left foot. Man, those things go in real easy because they like to keep the animals off of them, from eating the trees, but they come out very brittle and they break off and so about an inch into my foot I had this thorn in there for like, it must have been 15 days or something. The timelines are a little bit off on the edit, but it damn near killed me.
E.J. Snyder: It infected [inaudible 00:08:19]. I was about a couple hours from getting septicemia into my bloodstream and the doctor was like, "Well, why is this guy ... How is this guy still living? He should have been dead a week ago." The producer, Steve Rankin who is Bear Grylls EP for Man Versus Wild, well, he walks up to him in his British, he's a Brit so he's pretty frank and he goes, "Well mate, I'll tell you, God doesn't want him and the devil won't take him. The devil's afraid, so here he is." So there I was.
Jeff: That's crazy. So I mean, it's one thing to do what you did in the armed forces, and thank you so much for your service and everything you did with the army, but it's got to be a different thing doing that on a reality television show. What is it like? I mean you're fighting for your life. You're almost dying, like you're saying, but then there's a camera crew with you. Is it surreal? It's got to be so surreal.
E.J. Snyder: Yeah. The craziest thing was as I was walking and leading Kelly and I on the second day to the waterhole, I looked back across the open Savannah, we were in the Serengeti Plain, and I see Kelly back there and she's, what a trooper she was moving along and I'm there and behind us is, not only do we have our six-person camera crew with us that's the producer and the camera, the sound and the guide, but behind them is about 15 clothed executives from the production team and Discovery. I'm thinking, and we're buck naked us two. I'm thinking what kind of a sight is this? It dawned on me, it's like wow, if this is what history is and what we're doing is we're on the cutting edge. None of us at the time thought I thought it was a stupid title Naked and Afraid. I thought it was not going to go anywhere, but like I said, I'm getting paid. I'm already good, but I thank God that I was wrong. I put my mindset in a way that if a camera guy was drinking a bottle of water in front of me and eating a ham and cheese sandwich it wouldn't have mattered because I was there to challenge myself in a survival situation and make it as real as possible. So that's how I approached it. I know other people have angst and they talk about food all the time and all that stuff. I just look at it as I do a lot of train as you fight. Like in the military we train as we fight. They say more sweat in training, less blood in combat so I apply that mentality to my survival training and when I'm out there because I want it to be as it is real and I want to experience it to the full max and test myself. If I don't eat that day it's on me. Nobody else but me.
Dustin: So did they eat sandwiches in front of you, the crew?
E.J. Snyder: Kindly they did not. They would go off-site when it was time for their meals or their snacks or their drinks. Occasionally they'd have water on them because they're out there with us and they're ... The camera crews are what really amazed me on filming these adventure docu-series type survival shows because in a lot of cases they're putting themselves at risk many times just like you are where they're stepping. They're filming, they're not watching. They don't see there might be a snake there or whatever and sometimes they're on the side of cliffs with us trying to manage very heavy gear and capture the scene. They're a credit to their field, but occasionally drink water in front of me, but that stuff never bothered me because, in the military, you're taught to compartmentalize a lot of feelings, emotions, and memories and thoughts, so I just put it, I just put my mind in the scenario, just like I did many times in my training events in the military and it's like hey, I'm in a survival scenario and if I don't eat or drink, it's on me. If I get wet or cold at night it's because I built a crappy shelter and that's a lesson for me to learn.
Dustin: That's nuts. So I'm a huge fan of Naked and Afraid and there's something I personally wanted to ask you for a while because you've been on both Naked and Afraid and Naked Afraid XL which was a big group of people instead of just two people. The thing that I've always wondered is that, is it easier to survive with just one other person who's not conflicting with you as much or is it easier to survive with a big group of people who are all helping out, but there's the other side of it where it's like there's a lot of personalities. There's a lot of conflicts that could happen. What do you think was more challenging, just with one other person or with a big group of people?
E.J. Snyder: The bigger group because there's more dynamics to it. There's pros and cons to both and I teach this stuff all the time. Group survival, everyone has to come to terms that not everybody can be the quarterback. But when you've got alpha types and all these big egos and they think they're the best leaders and all that, just because they think they are, it doesn't necessarily mean they are. When you lay your proverbial resumes out on your background, your job fields, your life experiences, even not necessarily just because I was the oldest I was the best. It's just I have a more military type approach to survival but I'm very understanding of people, but if a group, sometimes groups of people, they don't know they're ... They need to be led, they don't know it. They don't admit it. Then if I come in there and I'm not to the philosophy of hey, let's just sit around and conserve energy and just do what we have to just to make it, for me on the 40-day challenge personally I was not just out there to make it. I thought maybe this might be my last time going out on this challenge. I need to learn as much about myself and my survival skills need to be tested to the max so I'm going full pedal to the metal. I've got an overabundance amount of energy for someone of my age, which I'm now 51, and people half my age have a lot of trouble keeping up. It's just my work ethic, how I grew up, my military training, and I was very thankful to be paired with Jeff Zausch who is pretty much a brother to me. He really took a place in my heart. My brother passed away some 24 years ago now and he filled a void there. We're so like-minded thinking, we didn't even have to really, we could just look at each other and knew what we were thinking. We didn't have to talk about things. We were wanting to be A type predators, full beast mode. Get out there, primal screams and all and people would get on me about, "Oh, you're too loud. You're this. You're that." Well, when I yell it's a primal release of joy. It's anger. It's praising heaven. Praising God for the victories that I've gotten and I want my brothers and sisters that have left before me up there in Valhalla or Heaven, wherever they may be sitting, waiting for me to join them in hopefully another hundred years from now, but I want them to know I'm down here still doing it. But getting back to your question, with a group, when people start getting angry, they're [inaudible 00:15:50], you're not going to necessarily like everybody, but there's got to be some compromise. In a group scenario, you have more people to do more work and get more things done, but you have to have one leader. Only one person can be really directing the shots and you can be a little democratic about what you're doing, but sometimes there's no room for all right, let's take a vote. We can't vote on everything. Sometimes we just need to be people of action, and for me the group scenario, you have a leader, someone that's fully the best qualified to do that job. For me in camp life, I don't let anybody go out by themselves because that's a hazardous thing. When we were in the military we always said battle buddies, but in survival, if you're out there on your own and something happens and no one knows where you're at, you have no communication devices, you need to be with somebody else that can help you. So I always had a philosophy of group survival where you make everybody work in pairs, preferably with somebody they get along with and get more bang for your buck. Have two people sit back at camp life, cut firewood, tend the water, work on the shelter and send out, let's say we had eight people, send out the other six in pairs, some to go fishing, some to go hunting, some to go gathering. That way and you rotate those duties to keep your brain from getting burnt out. On the other side of the coin, when you're just with two people it's a lot. You don't have to gather as much food, but there are less people to do the work. A lot of cases it's just you and that other person to make a compromise. It's a little easier. There's not as much drama between two people, especially if you get along. Now we have seen on regular Naked and Afraid 21 days that we've had some opposites out there that just can't figure it out. Like I said, in any team, there's got to be a quarterback, whether there are two people or more and there has to be some compromise on both sides, to give and take. You've got to give a little bit, so go along to get along sometimes, you know? Sometimes you're not always going to get your way. The sooner people realize that and the quicker you can gel together as a team, no matter how small or how big, the more productive you'll be.
Jeff: That is excellent. So I mean, you've done it by yourself, you've done it in the military, you've done it as a private citizen, you've done it on reality television with small groups and big groups. As you said, you even have had moments where you've almost died from it. What fuels you to continue to go out there and to practice this survivalist thing? What fuels you to do that?
E.J. Snyder: The one thing I didn't see coming, I thought I was going out to do something pretty cool the first time on Naked and Afraid and just do this really cool survival adventure. This is it. Here I come. What I didn't know was God was going to humble me and He was going to break me down. The reason I go back out because every time I go out I learn more about myself as a man and I've changed as a man since I've been out there for the better. I've evolved as a survivalist and became more capable and I get tested. I know just, people will say, "How do you train mental toughness?" Mental toughness is something that you can be born with. It's that killer instinct, that will to live that's in everybody. I say everything in life's about mindset, so if you have the right mindset and you want to test yourself to the max, then you just have to keep pushing yourself because those challenges we go through in life, those experiences, those ... I always say I never lose. I either win or I learn.
E.J. Snyder: So through learning one gets to really understand themselves and what they're really, they can take. Since I was out there I believe I've become a living, breathing example for people to look and say, "Watch how this guy operates and I need to apply that to my life, to the survival situation." We're out there and people can learn from us and it could save their lives. It's proven already that these shows have saved lives, and for me, I just keep going back out because I want to be the best I can be so when that day comes that it's on, the world is a [inaudible 00:20:25] flop, the people of wealth and power become the lowest part of the food chain and folks like myself actually become the richest people on the planet because we've been preparing and understanding one, who we are, what our capabilities and skills are, and been preparing for that day so it's not a shock to us and that we go into action. For me, God has charged me to do several things. One, be an example and a motivator and an influencer to others. To be a leader, whether it be in my community or in times of challenge and to teach survival and help others through that. That's what I'm living and doing now.
Jeff: That is ...
E.J. Snyder: That's what [inaudible 00:21:10] three different times on Naked and Afraid and now through Dual Survival, really testing my skills.
Jeff: That is so inspirational, man.
Dustin: Yeah. That's incredible and I think the strangest thing about being a survivalist is that you put yourself closer to death than anybody else. The thing that I'm wondering is how many times have you dodged death?
E.J. Snyder: The funny thing about me is I have the Harley Davidson of life going down the road and I have a sidecar. I try to keep death right next to me, that way I'll always know where that little bastard is so he can't sneak attack me. He can't kill me because Murphy's out there and Mother Nature's going to throw swings at you. So I've probably cheated death more times than I can count, but I think it's because God's grace to me is I fear nothing, for God puts my steps before me.
E.J. Snyder: So I have nothing to fear. When you have God, there's a great quote from this, the movie, the new Star Wars movie, Rogue One that the blind Asian guy's out there and he says, "I fear nothing for the force guides my steps." So that's a little religious in there and I'm very spiritual, but I've cheated death probably more times than I can count. That's okay. People have told me, "Why do you do these things?" A lot of my former employers are like, "You know, you're taking years off your life?" I beg to differ because I believe I'm adding years to my life.
Jeff: That's so cool. So you've been through all these different experiences all over the globe through the military and through your reality television. Are there any places on your list that you haven't been yet that you want to kind of, I'm not saying maybe even try to survive in, but maybe just kind of visit and go? Like is there any bucket list place that you haven't been to yet?
E.J. Snyder: I don't have a bucket list. My family laughs at me because I have this to do list that never ends.
Jeff: Oh, awesome.
E.J. Snyder: I'm always adding to it because if you have a bucket list, that means it's going to end sometime and I don't plan on ending ever, you know?
E.J. Snyder: I want to try and be like a vampire and live forever, but I know that's not true, but so I don't make a bucket list, but I do have a list. On that list my good friend Ivan Castro, he officially retired yesterday. He was a Major in the United States Army, a former Green Beret. He started out as an enlisted guy. He has a book out now called Fighting Blind. Again, that's Fighting Blind.
E.J. Snyder: If you really want some inspiration read Ivan Castro's book Fighting Blind. It's amazing, a best-seller. The guy got blown up when the enemy mortar came into his compound in 2006 and he's been pushing forward as a blind man doing some amazing feats. So he inspires me to want to do more and do better. Well, he's going to be heading to the North Pole in 2018 and I've volunteered to hopefully get on that team with him to get up there and see the North Pole.
Jeff: So cool.
E.J. Snyder: I've never been to Australia or New Zealand and I'd like to get to those places. I'd like to visit the United Kingdom, all aspects of it just because I've never been there. I've been to a lot of places but I've never been to these couple locations. I want to go where no man walks because if you can be where no man is supposed to be walking, you might get to see something pretty cool and maybe untouched by man.
Jeff: That is really cool. So I know you do a lot of traveling still and appearances and stuff like that. Is there anything coming up in the near future that you can tell us about that you're going to be doing?
E.J. Snyder: Well, here very quickly on January 17th through the 21st I'll be in Vegas at the annual Shot Show.
Jeff: Oh cool.
E.J. Snyder: The Shot Show is a gathering of government, military, law enforcement professionals, hunting professionals, shooting professionals and it's a great event, so I'll be out in that area along with my partner Jeff Zausch. We're going to be at the TOPS Knives booth Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, so that would be the 18th, 19th and 20th from 10 to 12 because my knife, the SXB, Skullcrusher Extreme Blade is made by TOPS Knives, so we'll be doing some booth appearances there. On my website, www.EJSnyder.com or you can follow me on Facebook on my fan page as EJ Skullcrusher Snyder. I post where I'm going to be at quite often so we're lining up, I've got a meeting next week to line up a bunch of Comic-Cons. I've got a bunch of survival shows that are coming up, these expos that I'm going to be, so we're plugging the calendar right now as we speak so that's going to be getting posted very soon. I've also, I've got some big meetings coming up, but I'm doing a commercial for the As Seen on TV Network channel for Live Fire Gear and Day 1 Gear. We'll be shooting that in February, so that will be coming up very soon as well.
Jeff: Awesome. All sorts of exciting stuff. Well, once again man, thank you so much for talking to us and thanks for all of your service with the military and all the stuff you've been doing with reality television. Like you said, I'm a fan of Naked and Afraid too. You've taught me a thing or two about being a better person and hopefully surviving out there if I ever find myself out there.
E.J. Snyder: There are countless stories, and I know I talk a lot, but there are some really great stories out there where these TV shows have actually saved some lives. One other story, I love Death Wish Coffee, I'm drinking some right now. I love your guys brand. I love what you guys represent and meeting you guys up at the New York City Comic-Con last year was a great highlight of my year.
Jeff: So much fun.
Dustin: That was a blast. We had a blast, man.
E.J. Snyder: I love coffee and I've always been a part of coffee, so coffee's always been in my life. Let me share this one quick story with you. I am such a coffee addict, when I was in the Gulf War I was moving up and down the line when we had halted looking to see if anybody had some coffee. I had my canteen cup out and I smelled some coffee being brewed but I didn't know where it was. So I come up on a guy from Philadelphia, my buddy Dan, and I'm like, "Dan, what are you doing?" He's like, "Oh." It looked like he was doing his laundry because I see these green socks in this big Bedouin pot and there's all smoke coming out of there. I'm like, "What are you doing, your laundry?" He's like, "No." Those green socks had coffee grinds in them and he was using them as filters. That was the best cup of coffee I ever had on the planet because it saved my [inaudible 00:27:59] out there and I dunked my canteen cup in there and got me a swig of that stuff. I was like, "Gosh, I hope he washed those damn socks for real." But oh well.
Jeff: That's incredible, man. Thank you so much for sharing that and we're going to be talking to you more because like I said, Death Wish loves you too, man. So thanks again.
E.J. Snyder: A lot of great things coming up in 2017. Like you said, go to my website, EJSnyder.com. Follow me on Twitter or Instagram @EJSnyder333. I'm always posting stuff. I'm very active. My YouTube channel will be getting up big and heavy. If you want to purchase my knife go to TOPSKnives.com. Look for the SXB Skullcrusher Extreme Blade. Go to, there's another tool I just signed off that's pretty cool. It's a 12 in one survival tool. It's called the Outlast Recon Survival Tool. Those links are also on my webpage and I do a lot of charity work for kids with cancer. I've actually if you go to Reality.com, look up the celebrity guest list. Look for my name. If you feel in your heart to donate to fight breast cancer I'd appreciate it. Guys, thanks for the time.
Dustin: Hey man ...
Jeff: Thank you so much.
Dustin: ... not only are you inspiring, you're incredibly entertaining and I'm glad that we're aligned with you and I'm so happy that we had you on our podcast, man. Thank you so much.
E.J. Snyder: You're welcome. Like I said, I do teach survival so classes are getting posted. I motivationally speak and appear, but I always said two things. When I found out in the army is being an instructor and as a speaker, if you really want somebody to listen and remember and learn, you've got to be a couple things. You've got to be loud, you've got to be informative, and you've got to be a little bit humorous. When you can put those things together it makes for a good lesson and really good TV.