As a mother who works inside and outside of the home, I am often complaining about time – needing time, losing time, wasting time. I certainly don’t get very much uninterrupted time to watch television. If I do, it’s probably playing on a mobile device so I can multitask while half-attending to it, or in the background on the kitchen TV while I’m cooking, cleaning, or doing paperwork. My Netflix watch list is full of series abandoned mid-episode, or the “in” shows from years ago that I swear I’m going to get to someday.
So I was surprised to find an entire Sunday passed me recently as I sat glued to the television in full binge-watch mode. The culprit is a show called “Alone” which airs on the History channel, and I am currently nearing the end of Season 5, so I probably have to admit it’s been more than just one rainy Sunday.
The premise of this show is that 10 people are left alone at different sites around a remote location (so far Vancouver Island, Patagonia, and Mongolia) to endure for as long as possible. The contestants work to survive one day at a time, not knowing how many other contestants are still in the game, until eventually only one is left. This sole survivor wins $500,000.
The contestants are well-trained in wilderness survival and most have had experience enduring hardship, constructing shelters, and hunting and gathering food in nature before. Many even teach such skills for a living (who knew?!). But the added twist to basic survival here is that they have to do it completely Alone. They are trained on how to use video cameras, both static and mobile, to film their own footage throughout their adventure which is later edited into the final piece. It’s fascinating to see how far these individuals challenge themselves; their creative ideas for shelters, traps, and some primitive-style replications of home comforts (beds, fireplace mantels, even a sink!); and what eventually leads them to “tap out”, which is what it is called when they use their emergency GPS phone to call for rescue.
Personally, I have no interest in camping overnight, much less enduring this type of outdoor challenge, but the idea of being alone for any length of time, never mind the weeks and months that these individuals eventually last, sounded enticing to me. I’ve written here before about my introverted nature and the difficulty that personality characteristic poses to parenting when the opportunities for alone time to recharge my batteries are few and far between. I am pretty certain that the isolation would not be my downfall.
But I have also studied and shared the direct association between mental health, happiness, and social connection, so I was curious as to how the alone time would affect the contestants, even the more introverted among them. No spoilers here, but suffice it to say that some of the most prepared survivalists end up leaving solely because they miss their families (probably also their beds and meals, but they SAY it’s mostly their families). In their personal conversations with the camera (itself becoming a kind of companion, a la Castaway’s Wilson), viewers often see a contestant weighing the benefit of winning the financial support for their family versus the loss of time together. Some come to question their life choices overall, recognize the relationships they may be taking for granted, and ponder how they will make changes for the better upon their return home.
In one season, they change it up a bit and drop people off in family pairs. Interestingly, the loneliness factor is certainly less, but there is a dynamic of watching out for the other team member that reduces the usual tendency of a solo survivor to push themselves to their limits. Alone, they may take chances and push themselves a bit too hard, but they don’t want to watch or cause such suffering to their family member.
I’ve realized that a major reason for my ongoing interest in “Alone” is that my husband and I watch it together. While we used to hang out “watching our shows” regularly in our early married days, the family demand on our time, rapid expansion of programming options, and shift from a “community” television to individual viewing devices has resulted in a vast reduction of our joint viewing time — and by “vast reduction” I mean basically total elimination. But with its combination of survival skills and psychological content, “Alone” has something for both of us. Looking ahead, it’s likely that we may even finish this season (the last) on our anniversary later this week (I know, we dream big). Is it ironic that so much of the appeal of “Alone” is that we watch it together?
Maybe I wouldn’t last that long all alone after all. Would you?