Survival Lessons From Alone

Michael Major
By Michael Major June 18, 2020 08:15

Survival Lessons From Alone

The History Channel series “Alone” puts ten participants, with ten survival items each, into a remote wilderness location in a last man or woman standing competition. The series is self-filmed by the participants and their only contact with the outside world are regular medical checkups from the production staff. As the show’s title suggests, they are alone in their efforts to outlast the other nine survivalists.

This series gives us a unique view into what it takes to be the lone wolf survivalist, stripped of all the technology that we take for granted. What we see in these episodes are survival lessons that become critical teaching points for prolonged survival in the wilderness. In this article I will be discussing Season 2 of the show.

The First Lesson

The most obvious of the survival lessons in Alone is the devastating power of isolation. One of the worst punishments that can be inflicted on a human is solitary confinement, and we saw the effects on the ten survivalists within days of them being dropped off.

As each of the survivalists establish camp with good shelter, fire, and a decent water source, they start finding themselves with too much free time in which to dwell on their situations. Since they are attempting to conserve calories, a lot of their food procurement is passive or very low impact.

In this season we saw the use of gill nets, deadfall traps, trotlines, snares, and shore fishing in order to attain the calories necessary to carry on. This however, did give them a little too much idle time.

There was one case where Justin had completed all his daily camp chores and it was only around 11 o’clock, to which he lamented “Now what?”

This idle time is the downfall of many of the participants and several took steps to keep busy on whatever projects that they can come up with to keep their minds off how utterly lonely they actually are.

What we can take away from the experiences of these men and women is that when faced with the crippling loneliness of isolation in the wild, it is critical to busy the body and the mind, have a routine, set short term attainable goals, and to develop and exercise mental fortitude.

Related: 26 Necessary Tools for Off-Grid Living

The Second Lesson

This can be defined as the ability to do what needs to be done in the face of adversity or uncertainty. What we saw throughout the season was multiple survivalists dropping out of the competition due to finally justifying the decision to tap out.

I won’t say that anyone who tapped out lacks mental fortitude, but what I will say is that the winner exhibited the highest degree of mental fortitude of the ten participants. He was able to outlast all his fellow survivalists by resisting the urge to tap out for 66 punishing days.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, this season’s first tap out came within hours of the participant being dropped off in his area. This was due to fear of predators that he had not had much experience with back home, and this fear triggered his fight or flight instincts.

It takes a lot to keep going when the food runs out, the weather turns bad, the woods are full of dark shadows that hide your deepest fears, and there is the uncertainty of when it will all end hanging over one’s head.

Mental fortitude is not easily developed or maintained. It takes pushing yourself beyond what you think you can do and exposing yourself to what scares you. Even then, when the chips are all down, and you’re cold, tired, hungry, and scared you will never be able to predict how you will react.

A side note on mental fortitude is that through all the challenges that the survivalists encounter, having the option to tap out is an added challenge that a real situation would never have. It would, in theory, be easier to push on if it were true life or death scenario, rather than for a TV show that you can quit anytime.

Related: Situational Awareness, The Key to Surviving Two-Legged Predators

The Third Lesson

No matter how good any of the survivalists are, they are but insignificant cogs in the machine that is the environment that they find themselves in. The bush will not adapt to one human so they need to adapt to it. Every one of the participants was at the mercy of the weather, food, water sources, and the terrain.

One of the survivalists had to move his entire camp because it got flooded out, others saw the cold weather drive the fish into deeper water and each and every one of them was forced to adapt to changing weather as winter descended upon them which, also caused a lot of food sources to disappear.

We can not change nature and if the food moves we must move, if the water source dries up we need to find another one, and if our shelter is insufficient or in a bad location we need to remedy that. It is us that need to submit to nature and not the other way around. Always be conscious of how the environment you are in is changing and do not resist but adjust your plan to be symbiotic to nature’s plan.

Throughout the multiple seasons and incarnations of History’s Alone, we see many lessons play out that we can learn from. These are what I noticed as being the three that stuck with me from the second season of the show.

There are also lessons to be learned in regards to gear, shelter, fire, food, and water but with this show in particular the Isolation, Mental Fortitude, and Adaptation seem to be some of the defining factors that separate the winner from everyone else.

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Michael Major
By Michael Major June 18, 2020 08:15
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  1. Mic June 18, 16:00

    The first “lesson” is , if you have time on your hands (and it is not dark out yet), then you are unprepared to survive.
    There is always more to do. Chop wood for a reserve supply, plant and tend a garden, pipe water to your shelter. etc.
    The problem is in not thinking about this, as a forever situation. There is always things you will need in the future to make things better.
    But one of your items should be a pack of cards, a book or something for the rare occasions when you have “free time” or need a break from the usual routines.

    Lesson two is more about whether a person is suited to being a loner. I suspect most of these contestants were not suited to it.
    Another factor is that most loners have an animal a mule, horse or dog, etc, with them for company.
    The old west prospectors and their mule or donkey are often made fun of, but it was their companion and friend to combat loneliness.

    Lesson Three is a lesson in unpreparedness.
    If you camp gets flooded out. you chose the camp site poorly. Which means your skills were lacking or you were unprepared for such an event.
    If you food moves you should be prepared for that. Knowing your surroundings and how nature works is critical for survival.
    Again this just shows their level of unpreparedness.

    These kinds of shows are mostly worthless and the “lessons” you can learn from them are few and far between. The reason being is that they do not follow real life or real survival.
    What you can learn from them, is that most of us are not anywhere near as prepared as we think we are.

    Reply to this comment
    • City Chick June 21, 22:17

      As for packing along a book, may I suggest the Bible so you can put on the armor of God.

      Reply to this comment
      • red June 22, 18:14

        City: Good point! In the old days, even agnostics packed two books, the Bible and Plutarch, to show they had some intelligence. The bible was, for them, their essential survival guide for mental health.
        Einstein bears this out, stating science without religion is lame. Creationists low in science was once less than 1 tenth of 1 percent. Today, it’s close to 12% and climbing. Science is rejecting not God, but atheism. for anyone who wants to argue that, yep, I do know. I’ve enough scientists in the family and know a great many others. niio

        Reply to this comment
  2. Bulldog06 June 18, 16:30

    Most of the shows like this I don’t like. This one is interesting. The opportunities personally to learn and adapt seem huge…and I have been doing this for a lifetime. OK, doing this at 62 would probably not be the smartest thing I could do. Oh well…

    Reply to this comment
  3. Ruben D Alfaro June 18, 17:02

    Nice article but it would have been nice to have listed the 10 survival items that they were given

    Reply to this comment
    • Tom June 19, 03:24

      The contestants could choose what 10 items they wanted to bring, within limits like no electrical items. 1st season(?) one person brought a bow + 6 arrows.

      Reply to this comment
  4. Dee June 18, 17:27

    The commercials look more interesting than Naked and Afraid. At least they get money in the end. I don’t know anyone who would volunteer for that show without getting anything besides bragging rights. Naked and Afraid you only get one item besides a knife. Even with 10 items in alone and clothes on, it looks like Alone is more realistic for a survival situation. I may watch it now.

    Reply to this comment
  5. Gallo Pazzesco June 18, 17:31

    The show Alone makes one understand a lot about the human psyche. Of course, look back at some of the most memorable legends and myths and literary works, from Robinson Crusoe to Jeremiah “Liver Eatin” Johnson to Papillon …. those men who have experienced it, fear isolation the most. Those who write about it have either experienced it or heard tell the horrific stories of descent into madness. And how many tales, and truths, of men escaping to the mountains only to realize they were missing one thing, a woman, and then come down out of the hills to kidnap a companion … which never ended well for any of them. I mean we are simply not meant to be alone. UNLESS it is for a relatively short period of time with a goal in mind and a pot of gold at the end of the tunnel, a light on the horizon, land ho yeeehaaa we reach the promised land. (Excuse the mixed parables). But were I still young and dumb and full of …. energy …… I wouldn’t mind giving it a try. It’s why that show works. Everyone wonders at some point in time how they might do if faced with a similar scenario.

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  6. Clergylady June 18, 20:27

    I spent 10 months alone in a partially wooded area hiding to save my life. Goal Survival.
    I had one Change of clothing, a half book of paper matches and a pocket knife. The first days were the worst. I found an old soup can the second day and I drank pollywogs and minnows to supplement the miners lettuce I’d been filling up on. My first fire started ok with one match but while I was busy it went out. That wasn’t ok. I now had 9 matches. I quickly learned to bank my fire and to keep a constant supply of fire wood. Since I didn’t have even a hatchet my wood was what I could carry and break. Had to keep piles of it to always have a fire going or coals saved when I was busy so I could easily come back and restart the fire. One day when I couldn’t find much I robbed a packrat nest of its cache of seeds. I washed them by the double handfuls in the little stream and chewed seeds till they were gone.
    It took a while to get into a routine of foraging and planning that worked. I prayed at night about how to do things that I didn’t know. Often I’d wake up knowing what to do or I’d see something and understanding was there to do things. I kept a long walking stick that I carefully peeled. It had a short fork at the top that could pin a rattle snake. That was handy in the open area where snakes were often sunning themselves near a group of large boulders or in the deeper woods where snakes announced their presence by rattling from under dense growth. I ate the first snake that struck at me. After that I sort of hunted them. I ate the remains of a rabbit from a large cats dinner hid under a life of leaves. I cooked it on a flat rock in the middle of my fire. I snared rabbits using braided elastic from panty tops and springy saplings. Later on I found a 1 lb coffee can. It became my cook pot and when I moved camp to let plants regrow before using more from them that can came along with peeled acorns that I cracked into tiny bit with a rock and soaked for a day or two in a sandy area along the stream. They were ready to make soup. Just cover with water and cook along the side of my fire. They looked and tasted like beans cooked with no salt. A real salt source would have been good.
    Later I made a small bow and arrows to pick apple from the top of a gnarled old tree by the remains of an old cabin near the stream in a deep wooded area. I sometime shot small birds. Gutted and skinned they added flavor to my cooking.
    I found a low waterfall had worn a bowl in the rock below it. It was just deep enough to sit in and shower. I could wash my long hair. Just the rinsing was cleaning and refreshing. Sometimes I’d scrub with a bit of sand.
    Nights around the fire, I carve little willow whistles like dad had made for me. I’d sing or recite scriptures memorized as a child. Later I made a large basket of long slender willow branches. I used it for foraging, holding acorns till they were peeled ready to break up and soak, and it held my clothing and cooking cans when I moved camp every few days. My coffee can often moved full of ready to cook acorns.
    I learned to carry coals from the old fire to start the new one.
    I watched as golden eyes stared at me from across the fire. I didn’t stare back. I learned on the nights I was going to be active during the night to not look at my fire. I could sit near and enjoy the glow and warmth. If I looked at the fire I was really night blind if I walked away from the fire. By looking off into the dark I was able to get around much better.
    I was always planning and figuring things out. Foods kept changing with the seasons. I had to adapt. I see no time to sit quiet and board.

    Reply to this comment
    • left coast chuck June 18, 21:11

      This is a real survivor’s tale by someone who has been there and done that. This lady wrote a full article about her experience living alone in the bush. I highly recommend finding it in the list of articles and reading it. If she says, “This is the way it is,” you can take that to the bank that she has been there and done it.

      She has True Grit.

      In my view she is one of the most valuable posters on this list.

      Reply to this comment
    • luckieduck June 19, 02:18

      WOW!!!!!!!!! all I can say is what a champion.So many questions. Can someone find this lady and if she doesn’t mind do a Q and A. We could all learn so much from someone that has done exactly what we are all preparing for.

      Reply to this comment
      • left coast chuck June 19, 04:36

        You can read her story here: “How I Survived Alone for 10 Months Living Off the Land/”

        She left with just the clothes on her back.

        Go to the search bar at the top of the page and put in the title. It will come up and you can read how she used an empty soup can she found as her primary and only tool for a long time.

        Reply to this comment
    • Tomk June 19, 04:57

      I read something very similar years ago. Did you write a book or magazine article about it? Fascinating. I wish I could remember when and where I read it.

      Reply to this comment
    • CAGal soon to be TXGal June 20, 15:08

      Interesting article! And even more interesting comments! Love clergy lady’s article, enjoyed reading more of her comments as well.
      Told y’all a while back I was planning to move to Texas from Cali…well, painted and repaired house, listed it and got multiple offers in 48 hours, it’s closing in two weeks, took everything to storage, will be leaving here in 10 days to make the big drive to Texas with the animals (2 dogs, 1 cat)
      Will be staying in an RV I am borrowing from my father in law while I search for my little homestead. Taking my 4 mos supply of prepper food, my seed bank and my survival books with me in the car along with emergency water, knives and my little shotgun.
      Am very excited and am making this a reality! Ready for the next phase! Thanks to all who have been an inspiration here!

      Reply to this comment
      • Clergylady June 20, 16:30

        CAGal good luck on the move. Its exciting to be nearing a long term goal. I settled in NM. High mountain desert. Best thing about my place is two good wells. Water flowing right out of the mountain above me.

        Reply to this comment
        • CAGal June 20, 18:37

          ClergyLady, your place in NM sounds beautiful! I seriously considered NM but decided to go close to my hometown of San Antonio, to the Texas Hill Country…so I could be close to friends and family…I am recently widowed and don’t have kids so I wanted to be near everyone.
          But, my dream is to find a little place in the mountains to spend my summers…semi permanent camping, fishing etc. so I will prob be heading to NM often!
          Thank you very much for your good wishes! Same to you, hope you are back to 100% soon!🥰🤞🏼

          Reply to this comment
      • red June 21, 03:24

        CA: Yi-haw! Glad you’re headed home. This is said to be one of the best hatcheries in the South.

        Reply to this comment
        • CAGal June 21, 13:53

          Red, Great! Will need to get a few from them! Thank you…and still have a honey mesquite on my list from when you suggested that a few months ago!
          I will wave to you as I drive through Arizona🙋🏼‍♀️

          Reply to this comment
          • red June 22, 16:54

            Better wave hard. some of the mountains are over 8,000 feet and just a tad hard to see thru 🙂 I hear only good things about the Hill country, but for the cedar pollen. Good folks there, Nice view, and it rains! Again, congratulations! niio

            Reply to this comment
  7. Clergylady June 19, 03:16

    Thanks guys. You humble me. I survived. No choice, I had two little boys with my parents that made any hardship worth while.
    Leave questions and as I can I’ll answer. I’ve been very sick for weeks. Started with an out of control sinus infection. Had a round of antibiotics. Waited a week and started another round with something different. BAD REACTION! Unable to eat anything or drink anything but cold water for over two weeks. Being a fluffy great grandma has some benefits. Now for almost two weeks I’m able to eat 8-12 oz once or twice a day. Too weak to stand to cook until three days ago. All I’ve had today is 8 oz fruit and 12 oz juice and lots of water. Becoming much less fluffy. 🙂
    Not sure about doing a real Q&A session. But ask and I’ll answer as quickly as I can.
    I care that folks learn how to survive. Best advice– learn wild plants of your area and learn firstaid.
    My parents made sure I learned survival skills, foods, simple medical care and basic campcraft and campcooking. I learned the 16 basic directions and could usually tell close to what direction we3w cb were going. I learned to mark a trail or obliterate a trail. I earned all the badges available in our church based youth program. It was much like scouting.
    They made sure I memorized scriptures and every Saturday afternoon Dad and I sang to every one of the 350 beds in the hospital where he worked. Mom played accordion for us. Dad carried the accordion from room to room. I learned almost every song in two songbooks. I carried the books and folding music stand.
    Songs expressed my feeling and cheered me up. Sometimes the joy of a sunny day with pleanty of food for that day and I’d just find myself singing. Never too loud but with pure joy.
    Can you imagine life, where your most prized possession is a thrown away used can? I felt that way about that old soup can. When I found the coffee can I was ecstatic. Your priorities change. Gratitude and joy help make life happier. Honestly I was happy most of the time. I didn’t allow myself to think about the boys too much. I concentrated on surviving. When my Dad found a way to tell me my enemy was dead and I was free it was pure joy! Sorry my boys wouldn’t know their Dad and sorry for his parent loss.. But joy that I could go home to my parents and be with my sons.
    The article is here but it’s pretty far up the list. Maybe Claude can repost it.

    Reply to this comment
  8. Clergylady June 19, 03:25

    How I Survived Alone for 10 Months Living Off the Land
    By Mary Calder
    June 24, 2019 10:31

    Reply to this comment
    • Tomk June 26, 19:02

      That was only a year ago? I could have sworn I read it about ten years ago. As my wife used to say, getting old is not for sissies. Sometimes I’m amazed that I can remember my name.

      Reply to this comment
      • red June 27, 05:49

        Tomk: Watch Oh, God, with George Burns. When he (as God) was asked how older were Adam and Eve when he created them, he said, 17. It’s the perfect age. He went on to explain why. So, stay 17 in the heart, at least. I don’t care if they’re 99 years between my birth and the day the body quits, let my epitaph be, Died At Age 17 (and still holding on). niio

        Reply to this comment
  9. red June 19, 05:57

    I’m one-up on most. We were taught each man is an island. Adapt, adopt, survive. Scars from learning are beauty marks. Failures are lessons to taker to heart and learn from. Silence is golden.How and why there are times to give up independence to merge with a group: Marriage, children, elders, neighbors in need.A merger is a contract and must be written in stone. A good teacher is a good student. If you keep peace in your heart, then you never walk alone, even when alone. Respect is earned. Keep shut they mouth, junger, lest the fist of correction helps you to earn another lesson in human psychology 🙂 niio

    Reply to this comment
    • Clergylady June 19, 13:24

      Your statement: “If you keep peace in your heart, then you never walk alone, even when alone.” Nails it exactly. I’d add a spirit of gratitude. Be thankful for even the smallest things.
      If the folks going into those survival challenges were in touch enough to have peaceful hearts and a greatful spirit the challenges wouldn’t seen so overwhelming. Failure is the best teacher. Now you know what to look for or what not to do. Each test either strengthens you or tears you down. Only you can decide that outcome. You think better when you’re calm. The shows wouldn’t be so dramatic but you’d see more winners.

      Reply to this comment
      • red June 19, 15:09

        Yes, the spirit if gratitude is humbleness. A fool is arrogant and gets innocent people killed, often himself among them.First sign of a braggart loser is his bragging and arrogance. “For the cocky young rooster, the ax. For the crowing hen, the stew pot.”

        Reply to this comment
  10. FLAPrepper1 June 20, 00:51

    I’ve seen another great tip……….NEVER eat anything RAW. When in doubt……cook the shit out of anything you’re planning on eating. Chances are it has something that will make you puke.

    Reply to this comment
  11. red June 20, 03:04

    Good info in this Prepper article.
    How I Survived Alone for 10 Months Living Off the Land
    By Mary Calder
    June 24, 2019 10:31

    Reply to this comment
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