LEWISTON, Maine — Moments before Prose Gallery’s Lisbon Street doors opened Thursday to a stream of autograph seekers — kicking off the third annual Lewiston Auburn Film Festival — TV’s “Survivorman” Les Stroud looked out the street-level window and threw up his hands.
“Send help!” he teased.
On the sidewalk, people waited with books and CDs, T-shirts, knives, a hatchet and a block of wood. Folks drove down from Mercer and up from York County. One woman, Jennifer Blocher, drove nearly three hours from Woonsocket, R.I., to spend two minutes with the reality TV star. She planned to drive home Thursday and return Saturday to see Stroud, who’s also a musician, perform a live concert.
“My whole family loves Les,” said Blocher, who was raised as a backwoods, minimal-gear camper. “The whole family loves picking up little tips we didn’t know already and watching him suffer the way we have suffered.”
Blocher also wanted to make her aunt jealous by getting a photo with the 51-year-old TV star.
“She has a massive crush on him,” she said. “I’ve got a crush on him, too.”
People began lining up at about 3:30 p.m. Thursday for the free 5 p.m. signing. By 5 p.m. the line stretched about 50 feet. Half an hour later, it stretched the length of the gallery and onto the street with at least 150 people waiting in line.
In all, about 400 people attended the two-hour signing. Stroud, looking fit, greeted each one with a smile and a handshake.
The Canadian survival expert has seen tougher times.
His show, which is run in the U.S. on the Discovery and Science channels, drops him into the world’s wild and remote places. Typically, he has a hand tool or two, only a morsel of food and no water.
His charge is to survive for six days and film the ordeal alone. Shows have taken him to dozens of locations, from the Alaskan coast and Papua, New Guinea, to southern Africa’s Kalahari Desert and a wintry fjord in Norway.
The show’s biggest asset is Stroud’s knowledge of the wild and his unvarnished honesty, said fans who lined up in the cold.
“It’s informational and it’s educational,” said Merle Shield of Waterville. “He doesn’t have all the bells and whistles. It’s him, and he’s alone.”
Shield grabbed a place in line behind his parents, Merle and Violet Shield of Mercer.
“I’ve been watching him for 10 years,” the elder Merle said. He’s seen every show he could, and will sit for hours when the Science Channel runs daylong marathons of the shows. He just wanted to see the guy he’d been watching all this time.
As folks filed into the gallery, Stroud told them exactly what they wanted to hear.
“In about five weeks, I’m heading out to begin filming a whole new season of ‘Survivorman,’” he said.
The room erupted with cheers.
Among the cheering fans was Eric Scribellito of Lewiston. The die-hard camper brought his wife, Trisha, and their 5-year-old son, Isaac.
He also brought a hatchet for Stroud to sign and a gift.
When the family reached Stroud, Eric Scribellito produced a handmade, palm-sized cook stove. He’d made the base from soda cans and welded the X-shaped grate from a pair of aluminium rods.
Stroud took photos with the family, signed the hatchet and accepted the tiny stove.
“Thank you so very much,” Stroud said. “I will use it. It might even end up in one of the shows.”