Ever wonder if you could survive in the wild all on your own? Live off the land or go toe-to-toe with the forces of nature? Have you ever considered going through with it? Me neither. I (like many others) have no desire to abandon my lifestyle, let alone my cellphone, in the near or far future. But that doesn’t stop me from watching others do it for my own enjoyment. The History Channel’s “Alone” has quickly become my guilty pleasure and it’s going to be yours soon as well.
“Alone” is a reality television series that sends 10 people out into the remote wilderness with limited equipment to see who will survive the longest. Each contestant is completely isolated by geographical barriers with no contact with the outside world (apart from the occasional medical check-in). Each contestant is provided with a satellite telephone to leave the competition at any point and may be removed from the competition if they fail a medical examination.
But if the survivors are truly isolated, how is the show filmed? Each person receives several cameras and must document the day-to-day struggles of their time in the wilderness. There is no camera crew, no one available at a moment’s notice. Each contestant is, truly, alone.
The series has gone strong since 2015 and is now in its seventh season as of early June 2020. As the series continues, each season brings unique challenges. In the first season the participants survive the intense conditions of Northern Vancouver Island in the northeastern Pacific Ocean, and later Patagonia, Northern Mongolia and the Great Slave Lake. The series eventually introduces teams of two and in Season 7, entrants take on the harsh Arctic, where those who survive 100 days win $1 million. In the rest of the series, however, the goal is to outlast everyone else in the wilderness.
Season 1 immediately drags you toward the edge of your seat, with each episode unveiling new information about how the competition works and giving insight into each challenger’s past. Each participant chooses 10 items from an approved list of 40 to take with them on the journey — oftentimes prompting a debate with your friends and family on the most efficient items you would carry to tackle the wilderness.
Each cast member sucks you in as well. Early on, you pick your favorites based on the initial scarce information you have obtained. But as each episode unfolds and more people drop out of the competition, you begin to have a remarkably intimate connection with certain participants. Their woe and wisdom keep you engaged, but it also keeps you appreciative of your own living circumstances.
I found myself not only invested in who would win, but how each competitor’s life will change after their journey. You’ll start to care for them on a deeper level as contestants evolve or devolve thanks to the vulnerability you see from the self-documented footage. The camera is the only company these contestants have.
The masterful editing is another highlight of the show that never fails to maintain the viewer’s interest. Often the show will confuse its audience into thinking one person is going home, only to reveal someone else is instead. The show also provides educational notes about surviving the wilderness, including details regarding how much protein one can get from a single mouse, and how quickly one can perish from hypothermia.
The psychology of the show also does wonders for the series’s overall value. Contestants learn what’s vital to each of them: their safety, their lifestyle and, most notably, their loved ones. Even with a $500,000 prize weighing over their heads, the only thing on their minds while in isolation are the people they left behind — which is currently very topical with everything occurring in the world because of COVID-19.
On a separate note: bears. There is a heavy presence of predators that scour the northern part of Vancouver Island, including bears, wolves and a highly concentrated cougar population — the largest in North America in fact. Oh yes, they make an appearance, and the entrants are in real danger. Dangerous predators won’t be the only thing sending folks home, though, as the survivors must also endure the hardships of a harsh climate and cruel winter.
I’ve always loved the idea of a survival reality series, but the shows available fail to keep me invested. Sure, shows like “Survivor” have some interesting challenges, and the cast members always seem to have unique dynamics with one another much like any other reality television series. But “Alone” puts the “reality” in reality television. These contestants are truly surviving on their own, and to be a contestant you need to want something greater than money or a quick minute in the spotlight. Those who aren’t in it for something grander often don’t make it far or at least they mature as the days grow colder.
This show is for those who want something extra from reality TV. “Alone” offers something a little more moving, inspiring and impactful. Oftentimes, some of my favorite participants thus far have made me ask questions about my own life, my choices and how I want to live. I’ve grown more appreciative of my loved ones and increasingly aware of my privileges. I learned a lot while watching: not just a bunch of cool survival knowledge, but insight on people and my own psyche.
If you are looking for an awe-inspiring, psychologically insightful and authentic survival television series then this is a must-watch. Give it a try and you won’t be disappointed. Some of these people will make you laugh, cry and cheer at your television screen.
Looking to give “Alone” a try? You can start with the very beginning of the series now with Amazon Prime, or on Thursdays on the History Channel. Some episodes are currently on Netflix as well. Just be sure to avoid any major spoilers regarding who wins. Grab a friend or a family member and watch as these brave challengers not only survive the wilderness, but thrive in it!