Look, I’ll level with you: there’s a part of me that’s going to miss lockdown.
Yes, it’s going to be nice to get back to the cinema and the pub, and hopefully both on the same day, and to see people other than the ones we’ve been cooped up with lo, these many months.
It’ll be so nice…
Well, maybe. For some. Probably most. I don’t know about you, though, but I’ve been… well, not thriving, per se, but certainly enjoying some aspects of the iso life. The solitude, the self-reliance, the whole “being your own master” thing. Run out of things to watch on streaming? Food delivery disappeared somewhere between “Your rider has left the restaurant” and “your order is arriving”? No worries; I am the captain of my soul. I have a library of unread books and pantry shelves that have not felt the touch of man in years; this will not end me.
Luckily, for those of us who crave spiritual solitude and the challenge of the lonely path, SBS has a fix for us: the reality series Alone, which is currently streaming at SBS On Demand.
The premise is simplicity itself: 10 people, rugged outdoors types all, are dropped into some remote fastness and left to their own devices with a limited amount of survival gear. Last person standing wins. However, unlike genre progenitor Survivor, whose DNA is all through this thing, these guys are really, as the title indicates, alone; each contestant is in their own patch of wilderness, self-recording their efforts to, well, not die (to be fair, nobody’s really in danger of actual death – everyone has a satellite phone they can use to call for evac, an act that feels like a Navy SEAL applicant ringing the washout bell during Hell Week). It’s a tough gig; competitors regularly lose around 30% of their body mass due to low caloric intake, and medical evacuations are common.
This season sees our mixed bag of would-be Jeremiah Johnsons deposited in Patagonia in the foothills of the Andes. But if you squint a bit, is a couple of months in the Andes really that different to a couple of months quarantined in Inner City Sydney? Compare the pair…
The nesting instinct
Faced with the prospect of being stuck at home for months on end, a lot of us looked at improving our domiciles. Me? I invested in some 2000 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets and new pyjamas. The Alone gang had to take it much further, hand-building shelter from the ever-threatening rain and, eventually, snow. Almost the same thing, right? Not every contestant approached the challenge so stoically; Carleigh Fairchild manages to throw together a functional sauna, which puts my efforts to re-attach a picture hook in my room to shame (eight weeks and counting).
Foraging for food
I currently have 12 different delivery and fast food apps on my phone and regularly spend an hour in the evening winnowing through my options looking for free delivery, $10 meal deals, or even just a kebab joint that understands the true meaning of extra garlic sauce. So, believe me when I say I empathise when the Alone gang are desperately building tidal traps to catch fish, trying to bullseye tiny birds with a slingshot, or even trying to hunt the wild boar endemic to the area.
One contestant, survivalist Dave Nessia, took four days to catch a single fish. I had a burrito disappear en route from the restaurant. The struggle is real.
While home improvement is an understandable endeavour while you’re stuck indoors, let’s be clear: anyone undertaking major renos while all their neighbours are working from home should be beaten with sticks. One sociopath on my block has been gutting their kitchen for weeks, and I’m thinking of calling in the U.N. The Alone gang face similar deprivations.
Bad enough is the dawn chorus that rouses 23-year-old Zachary Gault from his slumber, but you know what really leaves a noisy power drill in the shade? The sound of a puma stalking through the underbrush near your campfire, which happens with alarming regularity this season.
With the salons, barbers and gyms closed, we’ve all become our own stylists and lifestyle coaches, and it has not been easy, has it? I went the quest beard route and wound up an eyepatch away from a pretty good Odin cosplay. Other people have tried cutting their own hair to mixed results – chuck “iso haircut” into Google for a fun, if occasionally harrowing time. Still, did any of us go as far as contestant Greg Ovens, who deals with some errant nostril hair with an open flame? That’s commitment to an aesthetic.
But the big takeaway for many people over the past few months has been a heaping helping of self-knowledge. Character is what you are in the dark, the saying goes, and I think that holds true even if you’re posting pics of your iso life on Instagram, or filming your efforts to set a boar snare in deepest Patagonia. The key challenge of Alone – and of being alone – is finding out what you will actually do when left to your own devices; the difference is a matter of degree. The 10 would-be woodsfolk of this season find out under pretty harsh circumstances, and so have a lot of us, which makes Alone one of the most relevant series of 2020 2021.
All 7 seasons of Alone are available at SBS On Demand.