Think being a TV survivor is hard? Consider the crew.

Hazen Audel may be the Primal Survivor in the thrilling new National Geographic show, but he’s not the only one with challenges to face.

Primal Survivor: Over the Andes sees adventurer and wilderness guide Hazen Audel tackle a clutch of South America's most rugged environments.

Photograph by National Geographic Channel
By Simon Ingram
Published 20 Jan 2023, 14:59 GMT

In Primal Survivor: Over the Andes, survivalist and wilderness guide Hazen Audel tackles some of South America’s most ballistic terrain in a journey down the mountainous spine of the continent. Here, he uses age-old skills gleaned from his time embedded with indigenous tribes all over the world to thrive against challenges such as wetlands teeming with predators, waterfalls, desiccated deserts and featureless savannah. 

It's adventurous, thrilling stuff – but whatever the viewer sees Audel tackling, there is a crew tackling it too, whilst simultaneously trying to deliver the goods on an entirely different level than mere survival. Here Primal Survivor: Over the Andes producer-director Tilly Marshall gives five insights from the field worth bearing in mind for any would-be adventure film-maker intent on tailing a survivalist, no matter what.

Danger breeds danger 

“Acclimatising to temperatures in locations that can vary from minus 8 degrees C in the mornings to 30 degrees C plus in the day and back again can be tricky. Coupled with working at high altitude ( the crew were up at around 18,000ft for the parts of this Andes series) means there’s a delicate balance of knowing when you or anyone on the team is just knackered and when you are in danger. 

“It really does give you a huge amount of respect for the traditional communities that live every day in such extreme environments. We always want to capture the most exciting content in these amazing places – but safety must come first.”

Bad weather is guaranteed

“Unpredictable weather is the only constant. Freak flooding sinking remote airstrips into the bog, desert hailstorms ambushing camera lenses, thick clouds in supposedly bone-dry terrain blocking the blood moon we’d waited all night to film (that was a VERY long day). These all mean you need to change plans and work with what you’ve got.  

Wetlands, deserts, mountain ranges – and the occasional special guest – populate Audel's adventures. But ideally not the ...

Wetlands, deserts, mountain ranges – and the occasional special guest – populate Audel's adventures. But ideally not the crew.

Photograph by National Geographic Channel

“To make sure we don’t ruin the shot everyone has to hide... and ends up uncomfortably wedged in crevices, halfway up trees or semi-submerged in rivers. We’re normally pretty successful.”

Tilly Marshall

“Relentless rain on location is the real mood killer. Emerging every morning from a wet hammock to put on soggy socks, sacrificing waterproofs to protect camera equipment and losing a daily battle against falling in the mud gets really quite boring. Frustratingly we can’t operate our drones in the rain, which is a shame because the dramatic thunderstorms are grim to work in, but I’d imagine look pretty spectacular from higher ground.”

Being camera shy is part of the gig

“[The crew] is all normally dressed in the same very grubby, very muddy, unappealing off-mushroom get-ups that blend into the background for this reason. It can be hard to keep track of where everyone is mid-filming – particularly when we’re covering especially rugged terrain from multiple angles. 

“So to make sure we don’t ruin the shot everyone has to hide from the drone and ends up uncomfortably wedged in crevices, halfway up trees or semi-submerged in rivers. We’re normally pretty successful but very occasionally you’ll spot a tiny hat or pair of sandals just in the periphery of the drone shot…”

Primal Survivor: Watch the Trailer

Deserts take no prisoners…

“Our shoot in Chile on the Pacific coast came right at the end of the Andes series. Everyone was experiencing tiredness. The incredible sand dune location that was selected for filming had of course been used as an impromptu buggy course since it had been recce’d, leaving endless tire marks in the previously pristine slopes. 

“We couldn’t reschedule or get a permit for another location so ended up having to walk for miles carrying all our equipment in extreme heat up almost vertical 1,000ft dunes to find a clear spot to get the drone shot, whilst trying to avoid making our own prints in the sand. Every time you paused after taking a step forward the sand would shift downhill; all our walkie-talkies simultaneously stopped working so we had to use hand signals to communicate; when we finally got the drone up it was quick to be dive-bombed by vultures; and we left all the snacks in the cars. It was a pretty hideous day's filming, but it paid off. Irritatingly it’s one of my favourite sequences from that episode.” 

…and neither does the sea

“The crew are amazingly resilient and – whether it’s heights, heat, rains or big waves – stay focused on getting the shot they need. Frankly, any camera op who can endure using a viewfinder on the big ocean scenes during a particularly large swell deserves a medal. That’s a recipe for immediate seasickness.” 


Primal Survivor: Over the Andes premieres on the National Geographic Channel on 20 January at 6pm.


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