Ah, Shark Week. The Discovery Channel’s favorite time of year. The 20th anniversary of cable’s longest-running event kicks off July 29 with Survivorman Les Stroud (pictured), a self-proclaimed child of the Jacques Cousteau era and one of our recently-crowned EW 100, serving as master of ceremonies through August 4. He also hosts his own special, Shark Feeding Frenzy, a look at what’s really on various species’ menus, premiering July 31 at 9 p.m. ET.
I recently phoned Stroud at the Ritz-Carlton New York opposite Central Park — the man can’t rough it all the time — and since he’d been traveling all day, and I’d just accidentally left the notebook with my questions for him in the wilds of the Virgin Megastore where I’d been interviewing Hanson, we opted for the survival technique commonly referred to as "winging it."
Entertainment Weekly: Was there anything that you yourself wanted to do, but [producers] wouldn’t let you?
LS: Yeah. Be in the water without the cage with the Great Whites.
EW: Why would you want to do that?
LS: I don’t know. I just felt confident with the shark experts there. Mark Rackley, who was filming with me, he and I became brother-dudes. "Dude, did you see that shark?" "Oh, come on, when we go down we’ll go out of the cage. They won’t be able to say anything." We were conspiring. He’s been in the face of every shark, so he’s very highly-skilled and he saw that I was calm, cool, and collected about it. And then another time was with the hammerhead shark. We were waiting hours for a hammerhead shark to show up, and I’m the in water, and all of the sudden we get the call: "Shark! Hammerhead! Hammerhead!" (Laughs) So the producer starts yelling, "Get Stroud out of the water! Get Stroud out of the water right now!" And while he’s yelling that, I took a big, deep breath and dove down so I could pretend like I couldn’t hear him. I was with Manny Puig, who is the shark expert, and we worked together to get me to ride on the back of a hammerhead shark. So I was being a little of a bugger there for my producer.
EW: I’m silent because my mouth is hanging open.
LS: I’m so jazzed that I had that experience, and I did not feel any sense of fear. I felt very calm. I tell you where I’m scared. I’m scared with polar bears. Polar bears will chase you down and eat you. They definitely scare me. But the sharks are different. Predators like that don’t want to be hurt. They fear being injured because if a predator is injured, he’ll die. If a herbivore is injured, well he can sit and graze for awhile and hide. But a predator gets injured, that’s it, he can’t eat anymore. I saw a 16-foot Great White coming right toward me flinch and move away because I moved my arm. He got jittery and left — and he was 16-feet of Great White teeth, you know. It’s calculated risk. It’s still way riskier to drive on the freeway.
EW: Wait, so you did or did not get out of the cage with a Great White?
LS: (Laughs) Oh no, now my producers are gonna find out, huh? What happened was, we got this big square cage, right? Well this big cage had a big sliding door on the side. As soon as it got down in the water, Mark opens up the big door, and he’s hanging out the cage, and he’s goin’ "Come on, hang out here with me and we’ll get a great shot of the shark coming in for ya." So we kinda poked our heads out of that cage. But again, I’m with a guy who’s got so much shark experience. You’re still very careful and cautious about the interaction. You’re not reckless.
EW: Why don’t I recall seeing footage of this in the special? Did they use it?
LS: No, what you see is the footage Mark got leaning out, of the sharks coming in close. (Pauses) But you didn’t hear any of this from me. (Laughs) I’m not gonna be one of these guys who shows up and reads lines.
READ FULL STORY