With five different iterations of the survival series now available on SBS on Demand, what is it that draws us to this competitive reality show?
By
Travis Johnson

9 Feb 2022 - 3:02 PM  UPDATED 5 Apr 2022 - 10:46 AM

There is just something about Alone.

On the surface the series isn’t a million miles away from any other “last person standing” competitive reality show going all the way back to the granddaddy of them all, Survivor. Originally produced by The History Channel in 2015, Alone sees a disparate group of competitors shuttled off to some remote corner of the wilderness and pretty much left there until only one emerges the victor.

The wrinkle is that, as the title indicates, there are no engineered physical challenges, no interpersonal rivalries, no tribes: each competitor is alone, geographically isolated from their rivals (although they’re all in the same general area). They’re given a bare minimum of tools and equipment, a crash course in wilderness survival (although by its very nature, the series attracts people with outdoors skills), a camera with which to self-record their efforts, and that’s it: the only way out is by using a GPS transponder to call for a rescue, and the competition lasts as long as it has to – although filming in late Autumn means that the onset of Winter is an ever-present threat.

And that’s it! You could be forgiven for thinking such a simple conceit has limited utility, but while the odd new twist has been tried – season 4 threw pairs of family members into the bush, while the shooting location has varied from Canada to Patagonia to Mongolia – the basic model remains unchanged.

And with that basic model, Alone has lasted eight seasons and counting, and has spawned several spin-offs around the world, including the newest, Alone: The BeastAlone Norway, Alone Denmark, and Alone Sweden. Alone: Denmark is already up to season five, a strong indication that the Scandinavians, at least, enjoy a good survival show.

In the wild with nothing but the clothes on your back: welcome to 'Alone: The Beast'
This American spin-off of 'Alone' just might be the toughest version yet.

And clearly so do a lot of people around the world. Every version of Alone has proved hugely popular with SBS audiences over the course of the Covid pandemic, for reasons I go into here. But looking at it from a broader perspective, there are a few key reasons for its appeal.

One is that, even with the competitive factor in play, Alone is low key slow television. It takes its time. There’s a pleasingly procedural element to Alone, and a lot of the enjoyment comes from watching people tackle known, quantifiable problems and tasks, be it catching a fish, starting a fire, erecting a shelter, or whatever. The attention to detail, to process, is deeply engrossing, and Alone allows time and space for us to get caught up in the many daily challenges that surviving in the wild offers.

There’s also the sense of novelty, along with vicarious achievement. It’s safe to say that most of us will never spend a sleepless night under a South American sky wondering if that noise is the underbrush is something that wants to eat us, but Alone lets us have that experience and more, mediated through our screens. And let’s face it; digging into frozen ground looking for edible roots is much more enjoyable when you’re watching someone else do it from the comfort of your couch.

But for the veteran Alone fan who has hacked their way through multiple seasons, what’s really interesting are the commonalities. No matter what the season, or even which country any given series originates from, there are a few things you can rely on. At least one person is going to make a Blair Witch-style monologue direct to camera while something rustles around in the undergrowth outside their tent. There is almost always one overconfident guy in his 20s who won’t make it a week, having grossly underestimated the nature of the challenge. There will be a couple of weathered, rugged quite achievers – normally in their 50s or so – who quietly go about the job at hand, and make you hope someone like them is around come the apocalypse. There will be someone who channels a lot of cottagecore or crystal woo energy and gives the impression that they are absolutely doomed out there, but absolutely thrives when left to their own devices – one Season 3 competitor built a sauna out of rocks. And as the numbers dwindle and the season goes on, there will be a number of triers for whom sheer willpower gets them by even when their actual bushcraft lets them down (a lot of these guys eventually need to be medically evacuated, but you must admire their moxie).

Ultimately, though, Alone makes us ask ourselves: could I do that? Alone is addictive TV not because it reflects our own lives and experiences back at us, but because it offers a stressful scenario and asks us to imagine what we’d do. Even when we’re kibbitzing someone’s feeble attempts at building a fish trap or starting a fire, most of us know that we’d be hammered the rescue button in mere hours, our sedentary and suburban life experiences no match for the uncaring wilderness. More than any other reality show, Alone offers an opportunity for self-reflection, and its global popularity indicates that’s quite welcome in the current clime.

Alone: The Beast premieres at SBS On Demand and SBS VICELAND on 5 April. The full season will arrive at On Demand on Tuesday April 5. Double episodes will also air weekly 8.30 pm Tuesday nights on SBS VICELAND from the same day.

Alone seasons 1 - 7 are now streaming on SBS On Demand. Start at the beginning:

Alone Denmark season 1 is now streaming on SBS On Demand:

Alone Norway season 1 is now streaming on SBS On Demand:

Alone Sweden season 1 is now streaming on SBS On Demand:

 

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