This year, ‘alone’ competitors will be roughing it in polar bear country

This article originally appeared on Outside

Chances are you know a sports-loving couple. They scream on TV during Lakers games or argue over the Yankees’ latest trade, and their, uh, passion helps their relationship thrive.

My wife and I are like that, only our bigotry is focused on the History Channel’s survivalist reality show. Only, where ten wilderness experts are dropped off deep in the woods and left to build shelter, grab their own food, and stave off loneliness for as long as possible, all while filming themselves for television. The last one standing wins $500,000.

Only is far more important to us than the Olympics or the Super Bowl, and the bushcraft experts and “primitive skills” instructors who play there are our versions of Michael Phelps or Tom Brady. Each season, we pick a new contestant to cheer on, and then we take a look at the ten survival tools they’ve chosen to bring into the woods, per the rules. (You left the gillnet at home – come on!). We cheer when a contestant eats boiled tree bark or chokes on a belly full of leeches. We develop hot takes on their ramshackle shelters and discuss how best to trap the delicious regional creatures.

We do all of this despite our own aversion to camping or hunting or going more than a day without a hot shower.

I suspect we are not alone. The show gained popularity after the sixth season was added to Netflix in 2020. Then, in 2021, the eighth season generated 18 million online streaming views, a 136% jump from season seven. , which aired in the fall of 2020. Only was something of a media darling amid the pandemic, generating stories in The New York Times, the new yorker, and even this publication. These articles described how the show was helping viewers cope with the lockdown and living in isolation by watching people endure a life of loneliness in the outback.

“Many viewers, myself included, seemed to be searching for something deeper while watching the show: a roadmap for navigating the loneliness and hardships of an unprecedented time,” wrote Phillip Dwight Morgan in an essay for Outside.

I echo Morgan’s take and have one of my own: Only boosts my confidence to take on challenges in my own life that seem insignificant compared to what’s happening on the show. After watching season seven contestant Keilyn Marrone walk through mattress-thick patches of ice on Canada’s Great Slave Lake in order to land a salmon, I found the strength to dig up all the weeds in my yard. before.

Superfans like my wife and I are eagerly awaiting the show’s ninth season, which premieres tonight at 9 p.m. on the History Channel. Those who intend to watch: keep an eye out Outside website, as I will be writing a handful of updates throughout the series, supplemented by interviews with past contestants and producers. And if you have Only topics you would like me to discuss, please let me know.

This is the first season to air with lockdowns and pandemic life somewhat in the background, so I asked the show’s executive producer, Ryan Pender, if he expected to lose viewers. He doesn’t, and he thinks the wave of those who ventured outside amid the pandemic will continue to experience the show.

“I hope what’s here to stay is that moms and dads still take their kids outside to go camping, make Paiute death traps, or just get out more,” Pender said. “In this current climate of getting back to our backyard for the past two years, hopefully that will stay.”

The easing of pandemic rules had no impact on how producers shot or edited the upcoming season, Pender says. What is new is the location. After staging season eight along Chilko Lake in southwestern British Columbia, the show heads into the Canadian subarctic, all the way to the northeast coast of Labrador, which holds a terrifying reputation. habitat for polar bears. And bears aren’t the only danger.

“We knew the northeast coast would bring storms and bad weather and be really wet, and the constant wind and rain is a big obstacle for these people,” Pender said. “In this area there are also 2,500 polar bears, 10,000 black bears and lots of wolves. We know they will most likely run into predators at some point.”

Pender says this season’s contestants may be the most experienced in the show’s history. Two examples include Karie Lee Knoke, a 57-year-old woman from Sandpoint, Idaho, who spent several decades living off-grid, and Juan Pablo Quinonez, 30, from Pinawa, Manitoba, who recently completed an unassisted solo hike. of 100 days. in the Canadian boreal. “We have competitors with a lot of past survival experience,” Pender said. “There are people who spent time with the Masai, a guy who crossed the Pacific alone.”

Only fans are used to the typical ebb and flow of a season. In the opening episode, we meet the cast as they’re dropped off in late summer or early fall, when temperatures are still warm and food is plentiful. We begin to understand each other’s story, then watch as they rush to build shelter and stockpile food before the weather turns bad. Wheelchair quarterbacks like me also try to determine if any competitors stand out as being particularly good at surviving enough to become the possible winner.

It turns out that former contestants also watch the show for clues, and they have a keen eye on how the producers edit each contestant. I spoke to three elders Only contestants on what they are looking for in early episodes, and all three had a similar response:

“We know 99% of what we film doesn’t make it into the show, so what we see is an edited version, so I try not to jump to harsh conclusions about them,” Nicole Apelian said. , which was on seasons two and five. “I know if someone is crying, well, maybe they only cried three times. But when you look at them, it might seem like they were crying all the time.”

Only, like other reality shows, is a constructed story told by the show’s producers and editors. Apelian noted, however, that everything you see on TV in one season really happened. “They do a good job of presenting who people really are, and they get to the root of your personality,” she added.

Apelian and others said that, like my wife and I, they scoured the early episodes for clues of strong or weak contestants. They analyze everyone’s choice of equipment and examine how they manage the first days in the bush. Season six contestant Woniya Thibaut said she focused on specific details of a contestant’s bushcraft, such as whether a person cooks an animal in a pan or on a stick over a fire. (The latter method wastes valuable fat.)

“I try to assess their resources: how is the fishing going? How far are they from fresh water? ” she says. “Does their choice of gear specifically relate to the environment? Those are things that add up over time.”

Thibaut and Apelian agreed that choosing the eventual Only winning based on early episodes is difficult even for them. Instead, they just enjoy discovery segments with each contestant and choose their own favorites. Jordan Jonas, who won season six, said he was always drawn to contestants who pursued a similar strategy to his own, which prioritized hunting and gathering food over hunting. construction of a shelter.

“I usually shoot for people who don’t build shelters for a month, but instead hunt and fish and really dive in there,” he said. “Of course, I also try to figure out who wins based on how they’re edited. Because I know how they edited me.”

Jonas didn’t divulge any clues as to how it was edited, or what to look for in the show’s early episodes if you’re trying to decide on the eventual winner. Alas, you will only have to look Only and prognosticate like the rest of us. To be honest, I’m glad Jonas didn’t ruin the season telling me how to spot a winner. It’s a type of sport, and not knowing the outcome is part of being a fan. Throughout this season, I want to lie on the couch with my wife, listen and scream in front of the TV.

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