Canada is an ideal country for people who want to be alone.
The 10 latest contestants in the hugely-popular History Channel reality TV series Alone certainly found what they were looking for last fall when they were dropped into total isolation last fall at Chilko Lake in the heart of Chilcotin grizzly country, a 4 1/2-hour drive southwest of Williams Lake.
For three months, from September to November, Chilko Lake (Tŝilhqox Biny) provided a spectacular backdrop as each of the contestants put their survival skills to the test to determine who could last the longest with no outside sources of food, shelter or protection from wildlife.
Billed as Alone: Grizzly Mountain, Season 8 is considered the most terrifying location yet in the history of the show. The mid-Chicotin area hosts one of the densest grizzly bear concentrations in North America with an estimated 200 grizzlies in the surrounding Chilko Valley/Ts’ilos Provincial Park. Each contestant is given a supply of bear mace along with their medical kits. As 43-year-old Pennsylvania contestant Rose Anna Moore says: “I’m used to being the hunter, not the hunted.”
The first episode was broadcast on Thursday and it didn’t take long for some of the predatory animals in the area to make their presence known. If you don’t want know what happens in that first episode, this is a spoiler alert and it’s best to skip the next two paragraphs.
Clay Hayes, 40, of Kendrick, Idaho has a cougar visit his campsite on the first day and records some close-up footage of the big cat watching him. Matt Corradino, a 42-year-old from the U.S. Virgin Islands, spots a mother grizzly and two cubs not far from his camp and after a loud snort the mother turns around and sends her family in the opposite direction, much to the man’s relief.
Tim Madsen, a 48-year-old from Laramie, Wyo., is the first Season 8 contestant to tap out. He chose to forego food gathering to focus instead on building his shelter and the situation turns extremely tense when Madsen, a father of five who suffered a heart attack years ago, develops a racing heart on Day 6 while hunting for food. His condition worsens when he returns to his camp and his anxiety climbs when he begins to feels intense chest pains and he’s forced to use his satellite phone to call for medical help, which ended his Alone experience.
Aside from nightly texts to the production crew to let them know they are OK, contestants’ only contact with other humans are the regular medical checks to determine if each is healthy enough to continue. They are in a constant battle to collect enough food to maintain healthy internal organ functions and stay warm with winter approaching. Starvation, loneliness, injuries and shelters being destroyed by campfires are the most common reasons Alone contestants are forced to tap out.
With the exception of one of the three women, who is from England, all the other Season 8 contestants are Americans and all bring varying strengths as outdoor survivalists trained in building shelters, hunting and fishing and foraging. They self-document their adventures carrying cameras on tripods, using trailcams and wearing GoPros which are continually refreshed with new memory cards and charged batteries.
Each contestant is allowed to select 10 items from a list of 50 in addition to their clothes and tarps. Most choose a ferro rod for fire-making as well as an axe, saw, bow and arrow, snare wire, paracord, multi-tool, sleeping bag, fishing line/hooks and a pot to cook on.
The last person standing walks away with a $500,000 US prize. Who that person is will remain a mystery for the next three months as the 11-episode season unfolds. The season finale is scheduled to be broadcast on Aug. 19.
Alone has been set in Canada five of the eight years. Seasons 1, 2 and 4 were filmed on Vancouver Island, while seasons 6 and 7 were set on the shores of Great Slave Lake in Northwest Territory. Alone also stopped in Argentina for Season 3 and was set in northern Mongolia for Season 5.
As the crow flies, Chilko Lake is only 306 kilometres southwest of Prince George but to drive there it takes about eight hours. The Alone base for the 18-person production crew (Bear Camp) was at Chilko Lodge on the Franklin Arm (Tud tl’oz) on the southwest part of the lake. Running mostly north to south and bordered by Mount Good Hope and Mount Queen Bess, two of the highest mountains in the province, Chilko, with its Caribbean-blue waters, is the largest high-elevation lake in Canada.
The three months of production generated an estimated $2 million for the region and several members of the Xeni Gwet’in (pronounced ‘honey-go-teen’) First Nation were employed by the Alone crew.
In Williams Lake, Cariboo Chilcotin Coast Tourism (CCCT) is hoping the buzz about the TV series will raise awareness and make Chilko Lake and the Chilcotin more of a tourist destination for owners of fishing camps and adventure tour businesses whose operations have been hampered the past year by the travel restrictions of the pandemic.
“The marketing campaign we’ve launched is meant to educate and show people the beautiful landscapes and the outdoor adventure and experiences of the Chilko Lake area and the Chicotin is in our backyards and people can experience it for themselves and, very different from the show, they can do it comfortably, regardless of your wilderness abilities,” said Sydney Redpath CCCT director of marketing.
CCCT is basing its tourism strategy around the show and is sponsoring two online contests to capitalize on the Alone spotlight. One of the contest prizes is an eight-day river-rafting, glamping adventure from Bear Camp, while the second prize is a three-day guest ranch helicopter tour experience. The entry deadline is Aug. 19.
Redpath, a UNBC business graduate from Prince George, is a big fan of the show and is looking forward to seeing who can last the longest and go home with a half-million dollars.
“Watching the first episode I was so geeked out at how entertaining and awesome the first season is turning out to look,” said Redpath. “I was thrilled at how beautifully they’ve captured the region in just the first episode and very much look forward to the rest of it.
“It’s been awesome to see how excited fans and residents are online to have their home showcased in such a cool way. For many people (the contest is) a once-in-a lifetime experience to go to the film location of such an iconic and popular show. For the businesses of the Chilcotin to have this level of exposure coming out of COVID-19, when they need the business and awareness that people can travel there, is coming at the perfect time.”