If you were given the opportunity to isolate yourself indefinitely for the chance to win $500,000, would you take it? More and more people nowadays are asking themselves this question.
The History Channel’s TV series “Alone” invites contestants to the wild—literally. For the first three seasons of the show, ten contestants were dropped into remote locations in the wilderness (past places include Vancouver Island in Canada and Patagonia) and told to survive for as long as they possibly can, alone. Each contestant is only allowed to bring ten tools with them, and is also given recording equipment (such as GoPros) to catalogue their experiences.
Each and every person’s reaction to the stark isolation they face is different, and they’re given a satellite phone to contact personnel to pick them up if they choose to tap out. Despite most of the contestants coming from backgrounds where they have to hunt and work with nature for a living, they find it tough to survive in more ways than one. Some barely last a few hours on the island, and sometimes contestants even have to be medically evacuated due to injuries. The winners, however, learn to make it in isolation for several months, determined to brave the wild for the long haul.
Season 4, however, has a slight twist to it. Titled “Alone: Lost and Found,” the current season of the History Channel series has two facets to it. Fourteen contestants compete in pairs, such as father/son, brother/brother or husband/wife duos. The pairs are subsequently separated ten miles apart from each other, one being the “hiker” and the other staying put, building a shelter. Hikers have to use their compass bearings to locate their partner, with only five tools per person. If the two are able to unite, then the second challenge is to survive as long as possible in the wild to win the cash prize.
With this season, the dynamics change slightly, as contestants can rely on their partner for moral support and an extra helping hand. However, this is as much a curse as it is a blessing, because the companionship may become a nuisance. The teams must learn to work together and cooperate if they want to succeed.
This History Channel series is not the first show of its kind, however. “Naked and Afraid” and any number of Bear Grylls’ shows have shown viewers that nature is a creature of its own, pitting man against wild. While these shows do make for thrilling entertainment, “Alone” sets itself apart from other shows of its nature (pun very much intended) because it pushes people to their limits.
“Alone” brings viewers to remote locations and even causes a bit of self-reflection. Each episode begins with a quote, usually alluding to the themes and issues that the contestants face in the episode. Although it’s mainly advertised as a gritty competition, it’s much more than that. It isn’t a staged reality show, where situations are forced upon the “characters” and they react in a hyperbolic fashion. With contestants filming themselves in total isolation, there aren’t any producers waiting to direct the next move in “Alone.”
The “Alone” series also challenges contestants to consider their mortality. Yes, the contestants that appear on the show do have some experience working with nature and all of its elements, but this show challenges them psychologically as well. Each day, the men and women face the realities of the wild: predators, bad weather and finding food and shelter.
There’s no omniscient narrator guiding the stories of the contestants. The daily vlogs are the only footage that’s played on screen from the people competing, and with this solitude, viewers get to take part in the decisions of the contestants as they consider every action they make. Do they stay in their current location and risk bears or wolves intruding, or do they move to a new spot where there’s more exposure to the elements?
Even when contestants know their ways around building a shelter or starting a fire, the ever-changing ways of nature force them to adapt, or else. Viewers watch contestants forage for food and on-screen stats will appear, showing how beneficial (or dangerous) something that the contestant’s doing is. Past episodes have shown some of the contestants starting to slowly lose their minds, as they begin to realize that they are truly alone in the wilderness and there’s no one to share their struggles with. Others take this solitude to reflect on their lives, oftentimes vowing to change their lifestyles when they return home to their families and friends.
Seeing that this show and similar survivalist series have steadily risen in popularity, could that possibly indicate a shift in American culture? This show, and shows like it, lead viewers to consider their own abilities. Sure, we have technology that can quickly give information on how to do particular things, but what happens once that technology is taken away? People are pretty useless, honestly. Which is exactly why these shows like “Alone” are a wake up call of sorts to viewers that basic survival skills, like starting a fire or recognizing particular plants, are still important.
Shows like “Alone” also feed on growing trends like survivalist culture, which has resurged to the forefront of society thanks to many apocalyptic TV shows. With survivalist culture, people look to prepare for the worst by stocking up on necessities for survival, like food and basic gear. It’s extreme, but shows like “Alone” bring these ideas to mind.
So, what can we take away from this TV show? People perhaps may be looking for some late-night entertainment, or they could be seeking to learn a little more about the world around them. Regardless of the reason, “Alone” is a show that gets viewers thinking about their decisions, and what it truly means to be on your own.