Lucas Miller doesn't watch much reality TV; he doesn't even own a television. But he knows his stuff when it comes to surviving in the wild. He has worked for years as a wilderness therapist, taking youth on 40-day outings where they live off the land and work on personal issues.
So when he was approached about trying out for a new reality TV series that would involve an indefinite, isolated test of survival in remote northwestern Vancouver Island, he was on board. Sure, Arizona (where he had been working) and the Pacific Northwest are completely different landscapes, and no, he had never even been to Canada (other than perhaps stepping across the border in the wilds of northern Minnesota), and okay, there was the fact that he was a vegetarian when he agreed to do it – but the idea appealed to him.
Miller, 32, is one of 10 men who were dropped off in remote British Columbia late last October to compete in Alone, which has just started airing on History. Each arrived with 10 items of gear – some mandatory, some of their choosing (such as a sleeping bag, axe, bear spray, bow and arrows). Plus there was camera equipment that they would operate themselves – there were no film crews tagging along.
They were deposited by air or sea within a few kilometres of each other, but separated by water or impassable mountains. They were to stick it out as long as they could in the dense, rainy woods, with the last man standing awarded $500,000 (U.S.).
"It really was about us and ourselves in the wilderness, and there wasn't any of that cutthroat nasty stuff," Miller says during an interview from Albuquerque, N.M., where he was living until he moved to Hawaii last week (to a small place, he stressed, perhaps concerned people would take this as a clue that he won the competition).
"Some of these shows really pitted people against people and you didn't really see the best of humanity surface. … People stabbing each other in the back to survive [on shows like Survivor] – that doesn't impress me and that's why I chose to do this, too. Because I knew that it wasn't going to have that element of people trying to tear down each other."
Unlike Survivor, there are no teams or contrived competitions. Unlike Survivorman, the show features a cast of competitors and an indefinite timeline.
The idea emerged after producers read about a man who tried living in the wilderness for a year. "We started to say I wonder if we could make a show out of it," says Russ McCarroll, History's vice-president of programming and development, during a phone interview from his office in New York. "And then Dirk Hoogstra, [History's] general manager, was like, 'Could you make it a competition where you sent more people out and basically just saw who could last the longest?'"
Quatsino First Nation land on northwestern Vancouver Island was selected as the location because its waterways provided a naturally occurring separation between the contestants, so they probably wouldn't run into each other. Each contestant had a satellite phone – which they could use to "tap out" when they had had enough – and a GPS locator. A team nearby on the island was on standby, monitoring the contestants' locations and ready to pick them up if they received a call.
The contestants, who ranged in age from 22 to 47, were all men. One woman made it to the shortlist, but producers were unable to get in touch with her for weeks; her voice mail simply said, "I'm in the woods and I'll call you back," but she never did, according to McCarroll. He says if the show is picked up for a second season, he's determined it will include a female contestant (they've already put out a casting call, and the first episode was History's highest-rated non-scripted premiere of the year, which bodes well for a second season).
There are two Canadians competitors – Saint John carpenter Wayne Russell and Windsor, Ont., research assistant Joe Robinet – as well as Massachusetts apprentice butcher Mitch Mitchell, whose family has First Nations roots in Canada. Among the other contestants: a gun-loving Floridian ("at my house I'm never more than an arm's reach from a firearm, ever") who writes postapocalyptic fiction and remains emotionally scarred from a dog attack as a child; and a 22-year-old from Nebraska with a great sense of humour and adventure – at 14, he sold most of his belongings so he could go on a canoe expedition in Northern Ontario.
Miller spent his last night before heading out to the wild dining on steak, in an effort to get his body ready for a non-vegetarian diet – he knew he would need to eat meat and fish out there. "I thought I better fire this thing up," he says, referring to his carnivorous-for-the-sake-of-competition self.
"This program features trained survival experts," the preshow warning begins. "Do not attempt this yourself." (It then launches into a quote from Thoreau.)
In the first episode, which aired last week (spoiler alert), it didn't take long for one promising contestant to be eliminated. After spending his first night in the wild being "stalked" by bears (terrifying images of bears lurking by his tarp were caught on a motion-activated night-vision camera), Josh Chavez, an Ohio law-enforcement officer, made the call triggering his rescue – and his exit from the show. "I didn't come here to compete with bears and cougars over territory," he said.
Asked about contestants' safety, McCarroll (whose other shows include Pawn Stars and Mountain Men) says the producers felt "very comfortable" in that regard.
"We're always very diligent about working with our insurers and our production companies to make sure that we're not putting anyone in a life-threatening situation. That being said, there was a rather large waiver sheet that all the contestants signed before this one that was much more substantial than the Pawn Stars one, for example."
Alone airs Thursdays on History at 10 p.m. ET/PT.