Created by Gretchen Palek, Shawn Witt, David George, and Brent Montgomery (History Channel, 2015–present)
In 2015, the History Channel aired Alone, a survival show that drops 10 contestants into a remote wilderness to see who can survive alone the longest. The participants competing for the $500,000 prize document the solitary endurance challenge with just a GoPro for company.
The show is as honest as it is extreme, and the contestants are like nothing ever seen on television. The latest season introduces Wyatt Black, a mystic of a man from Ontario who allows the land and isolation to heal old wounds from years of alcoholism, and Mikey Helton, a young father from Georgia who works through loneliness by carving toys for his autistic son. These are rough men who have known poverty. Their struggles merit respect rather than fear or dismissiveness. These are people who know how to endure because they’ve had to.
In addition to giving voice to this poorly represented population, Alone reveals the absolute necessity of community. The contestants are survival experts and master hunters. They know how to cure meat, cast a gill net, and forage for reindeer moss. While they suffer from hunger and cold, it’s missing family and friends that forces them to tap out of the competition. Many of them report dreaming of their mothers or fathers telling them it’s time to go or hearing their children crying. Ultimately, it is being alone that makes surviving Alone impossible.
And yet, when Wyatt says, “I’m leaving here a different person,” he is lit up with a peace all of us want. Alone points to the inherent value of temporary isolation while reminding us of our need for one another and our universality. It is reality television that shows humanity at its realest.
This article also appears in the November 2023 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 88, No. 11, page 38). Click here to subscribe to the magazine.
Header Image: Courtesy of History Channel/A+E Networks