Let’s be honest: the Australian summer can be a lot to take. If it’s not searingly hot, then the humidity is drenching. Thunderstorms? Hailstones the size of golf balls? A sun so lethal ten minutes’ exposure leaves you with skin like a lobster? Why not try all at once? The beaches are crowded and windy, and turning the fan on is only making things worse from a global warming perspective.
With Alone Denmark, SBS On Demand has come up with the perfect escape. Well, not for the contestants – they’re stuck in the frozen wilderness of Norway, battling to see just how long they can survive. But for those of us sweltering away, this series is the closest thing we’ll get to a nice cooling dip in an Arctic Circle Lake. Think of it as the visual equivalent of air conditioning; watching their soggy, shivering suffering as they struggle to put up a rain tarp is like running an ice cube across the back of your neck.
Alone Denmark is a Scandinavian spin-off from The History Channel’s hit Alone (the first seven seasons are available at SBS On Demand). In a perfect example of ‘if it ain’t broke…’, the format for this Danish-language version remains the same: ten contestants are plucked from their regular lives, given a quick once-over to make sure they have some basic skills, then dropped in the middle of a vast untamed wilderness. Alone and isolated, their only way out is to push the button on their emergency GPS transmitter and summon a rescue team. Given a handful of tools and the bare minimum of gear, they have only one goal: to stick it out as long as possible.
In the American series, contestants have lasted as long as two months in the wild – but they weren’t trying to survive in the barren wilderness of Norway’s remote north. Deep inside the Arctic Circle lies Lake Altevatn. Forty-five kilometres long, it’s one of the most isolated parts of Norway. Previous series of Alone have dropped contestants in rugged but picturesque parts of the world where the backdrop seems like a nice hiking spot (aside from the occasional predator). Lake Altevatn just looks grim.
It has on average 207 days of rain per year; in autumn the temperature can drop to minus 22 degrees. The sky is grey, the wind-chill is constant, the contestants arrive damp and dripping and it’s all downhill from there. When 23-year-old Rune asks, “What should I say before hypothermia sets in?” right after he’s been dropped off – the boat that brought him to the lake shore is still visible in the background – even he doesn’t know if he’s joking or not.
Often, this kind of reality television works because (let’s be honest) we’re watching other people suffer for our enjoyment. Watching Alone Denmark in the middle of summer is a very different experience. The contestants are struggling, their ordeals are testing them to the limit, and as the episodes go on, you might find yourself urging people to push the button and escape the damp, muddy nightmare they’ve found themselves in… and yet, it’s hard not to feel just a little envious of them too.
Even filmed by amateurs – each contestant is responsible for filming their own story, which at times results in some endearingly clumsy footage – Lake Altevatn looks cold. Constant droplets on the lens gives many scenes the feel of looking through a window on a chilly rainy day. Alone Denmark is never cosy (some contestants can’t quite master the whole “lighting a fire” thing), but each episode leaves you feeling like it’s time to wrap yourself up in a big sheepskin rug no matter what the temperature is at home.
This is a series where it’s perfectly understandable for contestants to ask questions like “I love nature, but can I survive in it for longer than a week?” When you’re trapped in a hellish winter wasteland surrounded by lichen, moss and wet rocks, the one thing you want in life is to be warm and dry. But in Australia, where we currently have a summer surplus of both “warm” and “dry”? Ten episodes struggling to survive in a land of ice and snow starts to look pretty good.
Alone Denmark is now streaming at SBS On Demand.
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