Reality TV hasn’t been around for all that long, although to many of us it seems as if it’s always been there as the trusty drama fueled sidekick to water cooler fodder. Skepticism aside, the whole point of the genre is that it’s filled with people who are not actors (unless they’re participating in a “celebrity edition” of the show); a show without a script and features drama-filled real-life scenarios.
These competition based shows skyrocketed into popularity in the late 1990’s with Survivor being the first reality television show to get everyone on their couch and rooting for their favorite contestant. In the time since, after numerous interviews and tell-alls from past contestants, people have become increasingly cynical about how genuine the moments on TV really are.
This is one of the things that made History TV’s show Alone so appealing. Contestants were dropped in a remote area with a handful of supplies and their own camera equipment to see who could last the longest surviving off of the land. The last person surviving, wins half a million dollars. Drama is provided by nature, not producers or jealous feuds. But how “real” are the scenarios? How starving are the contestants? Here are 15 things the creators of Alone don’t want you to know. Caution: Spoilers ahead!
15. They Aren’t Truly Isolated From Each Other
We are made to believe that contestants are separated from each other by barriers and distance that would make it impossible for them to run into their competition while they are in their camp or foraging and hunting for food. The entire point of the show is real people coping with isolation and survival, so two people running into each other while filming would absolutely defeat one of the main elements of the struggle. Rescue crews usually come in by boat or helicopter to retrieve people who are injured and tapped out, which truly gives viewers the feeling just how remote the location is. Fans of the show have utilized Google Maps to find extensive trails and other ways that contestants could reach each other if they really wanted to, since they really are only a few miles apart.
14. What Really Influences The Tap-Outs
Medical checks are serious considerations on the show, even though they’re very rarely shown, aside from indicating how much weight someone has lost since beginning their adventure as a tidbit for viewers, it is a deciding factor on whether or not people are tapping out. Executive Producer Shawn Witt has said, “When we set out to make this show, it was always about everyone’s safety first and the show second,” he said. “We don’t ever want to be in a situation where there’s a headline that says somebody died or almost died on our show. It doesn’t make sense for us; it doesn’t make sense for the network.” Witt admits that if a contestant says they aren’t feeling well, they check in on them more often, but to keep things fair they check in as frequently with other contestants who might not need it.
13. They’re Not All That Far From Civilization
One avid fan utilized their internet connection and the available data shown by History Channel with street view information to research how long it would take any season one contestant to reach some sort of civilization. The site Wood Trekker was quick to point out: “Did you know that every one of the contestants was less than an hour’s walk from a road, town, or clearing? Did you know that some of them were in actual campsites?” Although a lot of the maps provided are in areas with logging roads, they are rarely used, this is a reminder that the image of complete isolation that viewers are given is a little different than the realities of participation.
12. Season Five Spoilers
Fans are really excited about season 5 an all-star edition of the popular show. It’s fun to see people who had bad luck or were almost champions try and hack it again. While things are very hush-hush on History about who’s filming where, fans have already formulated theories. Rumor has it that both previous contestants and fan favorites Brooke and Nicole are currently “taking a break” from social media to go on adventures – this is leading a number of people to believe they’re currently filming season 5. It’s been confirmed that the show will not be held in Argentina or Vancouver for season 5 and producer Shawn Witt has said, “The series is doing well enough that we currently have boots on the ground scouting new locations that we’ve never been to before and significantly farther away than anywhere we’ve been before—some pretty dramatic foreign landscapes.”
11. The Real Story About Food
Much of the drama is created by hunger. Contestants often appear to be absolutely starving with feast or famine scenarios responsible for many calls from the brick phone to tap out and go home. Season one champion Allan Kay says that, while on the show, “I had a multifaceted diet. During my stay on the island, I ate various species of fish, mussels, limpets, bull kelp, bladderwrack, sea lettuce, crabs, slugs, the inner bark and needles of the western hemlock tree, and ducks.” When asked about food-related problems, Allan admits he had a few and would do things a little differently if he could, saying, “I would have trapped in the woods more, not just in the intertidal zone. I also wish I had dug clams.” This shows he wasn’t quite as hungry as we were often led to believe.
10. Sam’s Mouse Traps
Anyone who watched season one knows all about Sam and his elaborate traps to trap and eat mice. Here’s the thing, Sam wasn’t just living off of mice, even though edits to the show made viewers believe this. Sam says, “I lived mostly off of crabs. I got sick of crabs after a while and started adding mice for some variety. The mice tasted great after not having red meat for a few weeks.” Sam has also said that the traps were more of a hobby than a necessity, made out of his desire to bring more variety to his diet than what was being offered from the crabs. Although the editing process made the mouse traps look like a life or death scheme for Sam, this wasn’t the case.
9. Some Big Wins Were Never Shown
Drama is what keeps us watching. Sometimes it’s worth the story to show a big win, but other times it’s not. Viewers enjoy the ups and downs of the fish that got away or the fish that was stolen by a bear far more than watching someone thrive and survive off the land. Finalist Sam says, “There are a lot of things that I wish would have made the cut. I went on a multi-day fishing trip where I walked about a mile upriver to catch the spawning salmon. I found them, got one, and lived off of it for a few days. I remember being so proud of that salmon, and the effort I made to get it. Lots of other things as well, but the fishing trip was the big thing.”
8. The Frequency Of Medical Checks
In the early days of isolation, medical checks happen each week, but as the show goes on and the number of contestants goes down, the frequency of medical visits increases for the sake of safety. Executive Producer Shawn Witt says, “Once we get into the day 45, day 50, day 60, and in some past seasons, way beyond that, simply because there’s no medical precedent for that sort of survival situation with the lack of food, we cut it down to three or four days.” To keep things on the up and up, contestants aren’t allowed to talk to medical staff about anything beyond medical issues, this means no asking about how their favorite sports team is doing, or socializing, like wishing anyone Happy Birthday.
7. We Don’t See Everything They Find
One of the big rules of Alone is that contestants are allowed to use anything they find. This means if they find some trash while foraging or something floats up onto the bank of their camp it’s fair game to use for whatever they like, but we don’t always see what they find. Allan Kay says, “In my area, I found lots of rope, bits of netting, glass and plastic bottles intact with lids. I even found some tubing and a yellow hard hat, which I used to carry gravel from the seashore to line my fire pit.” Other items become more for comfort than of function. Sam says an item he found that sticks out in his head was a retro-looking float that he was able to use as a stool during his stay on the island.
6. Trends In The Winners Circle
Attitude seems to be a big factor in who makes it furthest in the game, along with some good luck. Champion Ted Baird says that the mental preparation is just as important as the physical aspect, “I would liken it to someone preparing for the Olympics or the triathlon — there’s a huge mental discipline as well as the physical. Your mental memory needs to be trained and exercised just as much, if not more, than your body.” This type of discipline and positivity isn’t something that people see as much in front of the camera when they’re trying to edit for a sense of greater drama. Sure there is friction, particularly on season four when people were teamed in groups of twos, but Jim Baird has affectionately said of his brother, “I have so much more respect and love for the guy after it all. Even though we almost killed each other a couple times out there.”
5. There Are A Lot Of Prohibited Items
While it’s clear that participants have much more than ten items they select from, there are some personal effects that are absolutely prohibited for contestants on the show. No one is allowed to bring fuel or matches, bug spray or repellent, sunscreen or Chap Stick (aside from what is provided with their regular winter gear), sunglasses, beauty products or maps on the show. Until season four, no one was allowed a compass, but since this season had one hiker finding their partner using only a compass bearing, it was allowed. Other items that remain on the banned list include maps, cell phones, ammunition, explosives or firearms, animal poison, professional fishing rods, lures, flies or bait kits, and fishing traps. People are also not allowed to bring animal calls or decoys to help them hunt for food.
4. Safety Items Are Allowed
Contestants quickly realize that they really are alone with nature when they’re dropped off to try and hack it on their own. While they do need to use their own wit and cunning to keep safe from the local wildlife, they are provided numerous safety items to help them. Previous contestants on the show have been provided the following items, many of which viewers have seen them use on the show, including: 1 air horn, 1 emergency flare, 1 canister wild animal repellent, 1 satellite phone (the brick phone they use to tap out of the contest), 1 first aid kit (which includes a tourniquet, wadding, ace bandage, alcohol, etc.), 1 personal emergency flotation device, 1 small mirror, a head lamp, a GPS tracking device, and 1 portion of emergency rations of water and food.
3. Camera Gear Must Be Considered Key
Obviously, the equipment used to film doesn’t count towards items for contestants, but it is plentiful. Contestants are responsible for their backpacks, camera packs, their camera equipment and keeping it safe. This means they are given a couple of tarps to be expressly used to protect the camera gear from the elements. Think about all of the rain that comes into Vancouver Island; it would be really hard on camera equipment. This is also why it’s assumed when the medics show up for the contestants’ weekly weigh-in and medical examinations they’re also inspecting their gear and giving everyone new battery packs to ensure they’re able to record every moment of their journey. In addition to these items, people are also granted some winter survival items like gloves, a sweater, and a trapper’s hat to help keep them a little toastier.
2. What’s On The Gear List, Anyway?
While History Channel allows fans to go online and take a look at the list of allowed items for participants to select from, they don’t exactly advertise it every episode. Contestants are allowed to select 10 items from a list of 50 total, which is divided into seven categories. Everyone is allowed only ten items from home, aside from their clothing (which is also restricted). People are allowed to bring ten items that relate to food, shelter, cooking, fishing, and hygiene. To provide an example, Season One Alone Survivalist Champion, Alan Kay selected the following ten items: saw, axe, sleeping bag, large 2-quart pot, Ferro rod, water bottle/canteen, 300 yards single filament line with 25 assorted hooks, small gauge gill net, 3.5 lb wire and a knife. Approved clothing items don’t count towards anyone’s ten items.
1. The Application Process
Alone comes from the same producers as Pawn Stars and American Restoration and the initial application for the show is fairly simple. People need to email the producers to learn more and provide information on their name, contact info, and provide detailed information on their relevant experience in terms of survival expertise along with their picture. It’s these applications that get people on the shortlist. When asked what made him want to sign up for this somewhat tortuous adventure former contestant, and champion, Ted Baird said, “We’ve become slowly accustomed to… subject to little bits of suffering over time that make it something we enjoy and look forward to. It gives it a sense of adventure and excitement.” Alone producers do consider fan feedback when it comes to future seasons – so if you have advice for them, send it in along with your application.
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