Doomsday Preppers: Tom Perez & Steve Vanasse

Be warned: this is a ridiculously long write-up. But it’s not my fault!—this episode (‘The Time of Reckoning’!) takes a detour from the show’s usual format to focus on just a single group of would-be survivors. I understand the film crew spent almost two weeks with these folks, which is staggering, when you consider that someone like Chris Nyegres from Season 1 was with the film crew for just three days.
TomPerez&SteveVanasseSo, this group is headed up by Dr. Tom Perez; he’s a retired chiropractor from Houston, TX with a wife and three kids between the ages of seventeen and six or so. Living in a sub/urban area, Tom is concerned about a terrorist ‘dirty bomb’, but as with most of the folks profiled, what he’s really afraid of is the potential chaos of terrified people taking to the streets (as the caption reminds us, a dirty bomb wouldn’t likely be a WMD but rather a weapon of mass panic).

As part of their preparations, the family does an all-out bugout drill twice a month, from their 6,800 square-foot home to their rural retreat 300 miles west. Channeling last week’s Johnny O and his focus on redundancy , Tom has three backup routes in place to ensure he reaches their 700-acre compound.
For what it’s worth, if you’re all about ‘operational security’ and keeping your location under wraps, perhaps showing a satellite image of your property with a clearly-labeled map later on is not the best idea. Anyone with GoogleEarth and too much time on their hands could probably zero in on it pretty easily.

So, about this compound. Dr. Tom calls it ‘the Alamo’, and according to our narrator, he has poured  TWO MILLION dollars into its two cinderblock houses, which are supposedly bulletproof.
TomPerezcompoundTheir pantry is full of buckets of food from the company whose ads get shown during commercial breaks. Meta product placement! Tom claims that of their food stockpile, ten percent has been purposefully contaminated, and he’s apparently the only one who knows which. I have to wonder at this—first off, what’s the point of poisoning food? Is this some kind of ‘nutrient denial system’ to intruders should they take the compound—a kind of “If I can’t have it, no one can!” sentiment? Seems selfish. Second, why doesn’t he let his family in on the secret too? What if something happens to him, and his family unknowingly eats a can of poisoned peas? Now they’re all dead.

Food aside, he has a nice water-getting setup, which uses a windmill to pump sweet, sweet H2O directly from his local aquifer. This water he stores in a couple of massive concrete tanks. Tom seems to think that in a disaster scenario, the roving bands of marauders who get through his seven-foot-high perimeter fence will make it their priority not to attack his home, but his concrete water tanks. Well, you can’t be sure until you test it, so he mixes up some homemade ‘molotov cocktails’ to lob at the tanks. Unlike last season’s Pat Brabble, Tom keeps it legal by getting supervision from some local law enforcement, but he also bases his half-assed firebombs on high-proof liquor. Granted, he does go one step beyond Mr Brabble and adds some laundry detergent, but it’s still pretty dumb: a gallon of only 80-proof Kentucky vodka will run you twenty dollars or so, while you could get five gallons of unleaded petrol for the same price, and the petrol would make his little Molotovs actually perform like he wants. For what it’s worth, I recommend diesel fuel with a quantity of Styrofoam melted in, or petrol and laundry soap (not detergent).

While he’s got the (Border Patrol?) officers around, Tom decides to spring an ambush scenario on his family, with the off-duty LEOs playing the role of marauding ‘bad guys’. Basically, he comes inside, gives the code word for ‘someone’s coming!’, and everybody take ups what I’m sure are supposed to be ‘defensive positions’.
Pop quiz time! If you knew there was trouble on the way and were  in a bulletproof house, where would you go for maximum defensive advantage? If you said Outside at ground-level out in the open, well, congratulations, you think like the Perez family. Because that’s honestly what they do. We’ve been told the house is bulletproof; people are not! Stay in the house, go upstairs(at least one of the Alamo houses has two stories), and sight in your targets from a window. Faulty tactics aside, while this ‘ambush’ is going on and everybody’s making themselves into easy targets, one of the cops sneaks up behind Tom’s teenage daughter and disarms her. Well, the youngest son is watching, with his gun trained on the officer who has a gun to his sister’s head. I can’t believe I actually wrote that. And supposedly “the kids don’t know” that it’s a drill. Which begs the question—what’s to stop the kid from shooting the officer? Either dad made sure to lock up all the ammo before this went down, or the kids really do know it’s a drill. Because if not, that could’ve ended really badly.

Now, when you have 700 acres and a six-mile perimeter to defend, it’s a lot for just five people. That’s why Tom has joined forces with another Houston family to share  the work of running a prepper fortress. Help comes in the form of Steve Vanasse and his wife and daughter. Because he does radiation contamination testing for a living (as a “Nuclear Assessment Officer”), he also shares Tom’s apprehension towards the possibility of a dirty bomb attack in Houston.
To help make his family a valuable addition to the Brackettville compound, Steve takes his daughter to the gun range to teach her to shoot. Excellent! As an NRA Range Safety Officer, I’m all about teaching younglings the essentials of safe gun handling. Steve is surprised that his timid daughter is apparently a naturally good shot, but I’m not: in my own experiences and those of folks I’ve talked to, women are generally better shooters than men.

Back on the ranch, the Perez family is playing poker, with bullets as currency. Haha! Nice to see they keep themselves occupied while they’re practicing survival living, instead of just like, staring at the wall until it’s time to go home, though it’d be better if they were engaged in some sustainable, long-term activities like gardening. Anyway, dad decides it’s time to learn the boys how to butcher livestock. Wonder why his daughter misses out on all the fun?—hopefully because she already knows how. Tom thinks the sound of a shot will be too noticeable (or something) in his postapocalyptic wasteland, so he’s making the boys dispatch a goat with a knife. For what it’s worth (quite a lot actually), I’d personally risk the bullet and do it proper-like, and shoot Brother Goat from the back of the head (with such thick butting foreheads it’s not much use stunning sheep and goats from the front like you do with cattle). Regardless, that’s not as TV-dramatic as having your boy slit the trussed-up goat’s throat while it’s still alive, so that’s what he does. Afterwards, Tom dabs some of the fresh blood on his boys’ faces, as a kind of rite-of-passage. Which is good, because that’s something sorely lacking in this culture.

The Vanasse family decides they’re going to come out to the compound too, so they break out the Tyvek suits and Geiger counter, and bug out. And because they’re so concerned with simulating a dirty bomb attack, they seal up the car’s vents with Duct Tape…which means they can’t run the air conditioner!—which was probably the scariest thing yet for most of the folks watching. When they reach the gates of the ‘Alamo’, Tom uses it as an opportunity to test his family’s friend-or-foe training, or something. Even though I assume they’ve seen each other before, the Perezs train their guns on the Vanasses and treat them like they’re a pack of wild raiders. It’s dramatic and stuff.

At some point, the wide-eyed Steve quips something about how in a disaster, their families could “form the basis of a whole new society—maybe a better society!?” So that’s why these two families joined up?—so that someday they’d have two breeding pairs of youngsters to repopulate the earth? (Which means somebody’s winding up with his sister. Ewww.)

Tom and Steve go out in the bush and test out some more ‘defensive’ devilry. This time, Exploding Targets!!!1! (I’m guessing this is some of that Tannerite/Sure Shot mix I see in Sportsman’s Guide.)
The guys take it up a notch and strap their exploding target on a coupla bottles of petrol for a nice big fireball, which they observe from their hunting-shack-on-stilts. Well, Tom shot the first one, so it’s Steve’s turn next. Steve is armed with some kinda high-dollar black plastic short-barreled rifle with a 100-round magazine(!), skeleton buttstock, big honkin’ scope, and (as our narrator reminds us) a muzzle brake.
Apparently when he takes the shot, the muzzle was well inside their phonebooth-sized shack, and so the report is amplified so much that (even with fancy hearing protections) it knocks Tom onto the ground. Well, he’s stunned and dizzy and vomiting and generally concussed; of course he’s not bleeding out of his ears or anything, so it can’t have been that bad. Then there’s some friend drama when Tom threatens to cut Steve out of the group for being so safety lax, but eventually he comes around, and they barbecue the goat and Steve sucks out the eyes. Yum!

Whew. So, the experts assess them and say that their “food resupply plan is impressive”. Which is weird, because I didn’t see any gardening going on, nor did I see a huge pen full of goats. So what’s that all about?
The experts suggest that they should  “build a bunker under the Alamo, in case they come under attack”. Y’know, because it’s not enough to have two million dollars’ worth of bulletproof houses. Early on in the segment, Tom talks about how he likely spends five to six hours a day just “determining what [he] [has] prepped…to have the most current MREs, rifles, ammo &c.” That combined with the experts’ bunker recommendation just proves what I’ve always thought—that the Type I survival model (of which these guys are perfect examples) has little to do with actual survival and is just the latest iteration of Keeping Up With the Joneses. Look folks, if you have discretionary income, there’s always gonna be someone out there with something bigger, newer, or shinier than yours, so maybe take a big step back and ask yourself if more purchases will really help fill that empty place inside.
The experts give them 77 points (a new high!), which is supposed to equal fifteen months survival time.
And in the post-filming update, we learn that Steve’s daughter is taking defensive driving training (now, I know Tejas is pretty wild, but isn’t she like, eleven?), while he and his wife are learning fencing (not sure what good that’ll do in defending the Alamo), and HAM radio. Tom’s update reveals that he’s started homeschooling his kids (he calls it “Doomsday Academy”), and to my dismay, they’ve taken the expert’s advice and started building a bunker. Oh boy.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Ninja on 8 April, 2013 at 09:22

    This episode was hilarious, I’m sure it was meant as a mockumentary, there was too many ridiculous situations for it to be real.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Albert on 3 October, 2014 at 23:37

    I’ve actually located where their little alamo is. It’s real lol. (To the East of Bracketville Texas, off of the highway.). Either way, I don’t get why some preppers try and build forts for their families. If the end of days come, Mr. Perez will never be able to protect his family from a gang of plus 10 men with guns who might decide to raid them at night. Waste of time and money.

    Reply

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