By Kate Durham
March 25, 2013. Within three years, Spencer Bolejack, 35, of Canton, N.C., has gone from small town middle school teacher to co-host of a new TV show available to millions on DIRECTV. The show, “Hillbilly Blood,” first aired on 3net channel in August 2012, and is the first survival reality show filmed in 3-D. Filming for season two concluded in early February, and is expected to air April, 13.
The new fame and exposure Bolejack is currently experiencing hasn’t been an overnight success. He has spent his life studying and mastering outdoor survival and martial arts, and his passion is educating others in those skills, especially young adults. He operates an outdoor wilderness school called Land of the Sky Wilderness, LLC, and his summer course gives students the opportunity to “track, build, sail, hike, camp, pack” over a five-day session, according to the school’s website. He also operates a martial arts studio, teaching a variety of styles and techniques including Ninjutsu, Tang Soo Do and Integrated Martial Arts (IMA).
Until recently, Bolejack has taught on a small scale, but the platform of the show allows him to potentially reach and educate millions—an educator’s dream. The cable channel 3net is available in 19 million homes across America. Bolejack said he’s excited about the possible influence the show could have with such a broad reach. In addition to showing on DIRECTV, “Hillbilly Blood” is now available on Destination America cable channel in regular format.
In 1998 and 1999, Bolejack apprenticed with Eustace Conway, a naturalist featured on The History Channel show, “Mountain Men.” After graduating from the University of North Carolina-Asheville in 2003 with an education degree, Bolejack taught seventh and eighth grade social studies from 2006 until 2009, when he was laid off due to budget cuts during the 2008 economic crisis.
After his layoff, Bolejack focused on creating educational videos on YouTube that drew attention from all over the world. It was through the extensive collection of videos that TV producers discovered Bolejack and took an interest in his skills. His co-host, Eugene Runkis, a Michigan native, was also discovered through his own series of videos.
Bolejack said he thought the whole thing was a scam when he was first contacted for the show. “I was really skeptical … the executive producer of Superfine Films flew down … and I was amazed that someone would put that much money into whatever this project was,” Bolejack said.
“I got to blab on quite a bit about how proud I am of my own Appalachian heritage, North Carolina ancestry, the resourcefulness and diversity of the mountains, wariness of outsiders, strong minds and bodies, economic conditions and the like,” he said. “The guy (the producer) left with hours of footage. I didn’t hear from them for months. I figured the whole thing was over.”
But things were just getting started. The producers called Bolejack and told him to prepare to start shooting in October of 2011.
“[The producers] didn’t know for sure there was a green light from Discovery Channel until mere days before the advance team arrived,” Bolejack said. Advance check in hand, Bolejack said he finally began to realize, “Holy cow, this is real.” Soon after, “two barns worth” of hi-tech gear was shipped in to rural western North Carolina, and filming began immediately.
The show has been a hit with some who praise its educational aspects and criticized by others who accuse the show of being deceptive. A viewer’s comment from the show’s official Facebook page reads, “You two are NOT hillbillies at all! You are fake!”
Another reads, “I am beyond offended at this. Is it possible to make us look more backwards?” in reference to the locals of the region.
Another comment was critical of the snared deer episode, saying, “The [two] so called mountain men supposedly snared a deer, but when they where skinning it, it had the biggest bullet hole going through its backbone!”
Brian Forbes, from Bradenton, Fla., enjoys the show but said he was disappointed at first. “We all know that they didn’t catch that deer in the snare, but the producers want us to [believe it],” Forbes said, referencing a controversial part of the show. However, “it is a made for TV show and I understand that,” he said.
Bolejack acknowledges reality was altered. “We didn’t actually snare a deer, but the lesson is there. The bow I carved was real enough to make me lose sleep over its potential failure on camera, but it worked great, as did the crossbow, and so on,” Bolejack said. “And with time constraints as low as two days to film a one hour episode, things were fudged.”
To assist with those time constraint issues, a team of professionals—many of who work on other shows such as Storm Chasers, Swamp Loggers, Robot Wars, Ice Road Truckers and Home Makeover—worked behind the scenes of the filming to help bring together each segment by solving problems on the fly using physics, experience and “a lot of duct tape,” Bolejack said.
The show has affected Bolejack’s personal life in ways he was not prepared for. “People attack me as being a fake, or being this or that or send hate mail,” Bolejack said. “Other people idolize you and think ‘you are what made this country great,’ and project on to you their own hopes and dreams and aspirations … how do you say ‘no’ when an old lady kindly asks for an autograph?” He said he’s also now more protective of his family and friends who appear in the show.
Ironically, Bolejack is not a fan of reality TV culture or how it affects society. To Bolejack, people are so disconnected from reality themselves that they “vicariously live through characters on the screen.” He sees reality TV as a teaching tool, but says it’s also like a “porthole of indoctrination and brainwashing piped right into the home, defining and homogenizing culture.”
“The danger of reality TV is the danger of anything on TV: people think it’s reality. What’s around you is reality. Open your eyes,” Bolejack said.
Besides the obvious entertainment value of the show, his main concern is that viewers will ultimately get something educational from it, which is why he agreed to the show in the first place. He hopes to educate people through this media platform and show them how to apply the skills to their own life. Bolejack says it’s important for people to learn to prepare for “potential disasters or economic shocks that will require ingenuity.” His goal is to teach both the solid skills and the information needed, but he also wants everyone to develop the attitude of “I can make it,” he said.
Bolejack’s faith is important to him and helps keep him grounded, but he acknowledged that it can be a struggle to keep God his focal point. “My church family and amazing pastor are critical. My wife is unerring in her faith often to my own frustration,” he said.
He is a teacher first and foremost, but said he still considers himself just as much the student. “I have a passion and curiosity for learning, and can pass that on to kids,” Bolejack said. His philosophy of education is important and appealing to him on a deeper level, for reasons that most might not realize. It’s about history and learning from the past to create a better future—fitting reasons for a history major and social studies teacher.
“I think our country cannot endure a populace whose education lacks critical thinking and analysis of media. Without knowing history, and feeling excitement for the grand story that it is, and learning from past lessons, we repeat the same mistakes again and again,” Bolejack said.
But Bolejack is more than a teacher and a student. He’s a role model, especially to boys, and one of his missions is to lead and influence young boys to be capable, confident young men—young men who are able to think for themselves in a society that often encourages conformity, he said. “I love offering young boys some kind of better character than what they are usually fed through that infernal machine. It’s like heading a guerrilla-style attack against the drug and video game dependent youth who are apathetic and unable to pick their chin up in the modern world,” Bolejack said.
One of his female martial arts students, Nina Linton, of Black Mountain N.C., said Bolejack and his wife, Melody, have been positive influences for her since she first began martial arts with him eight years ago at 14 years old. “My role models in my own household were not always the best,” she said.
“Mr. B isn’t perfect but his worldview is such that he is just a small piece in God’s plan, a sinful failing piece that God still loves. Mr. B wants the best for his students and wants them all to be better at martial arts or wilderness skills than he is, someday,” Linton said.
If Bolejack could teach the world one thing, he said it would be that “human nature is flawed and without God there is no hope.”
Hillbilly Blood is a joint venture of Discovery, Sony and IMAX for 3net channel and Superfine Films. Season one airs on Destination America. To find out when the show airs on 3net, visit www.3net.com; for showings on Destination America, visit www.destinationamerica.com.
To learn more about Bolejack’s summer camps, the show, outdoor programs and clinics, visit www.lotswild.com.
- Completed combat engineer basic training for the U.S. Army reserves
- Tiger Cub, Cub Scout, Webelo and Boy Scout honors
- Professional musician (drums and guitar)
- Doesn’t own a TV
- Married six years, with three children under the age of five
- Second degree black belt in Ninjutsu
About the show
- In the first season, the daily expenditure for the show was $25,000
- Season two wrapped filming in western North Carolina in early February
- The show had 3.2 million viewers at once over Christmas, 2012
- Was the highest rated show in the history of 3-D programming
- View a commercial for the show
About Eustace Conway
Eustace Conway was the subject of a biographical book, The Last American Man, by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the New York Times Best Seller, Eat, Pray, Love. The memoir was adapted for a film starring Julia Roberts.