What We Might Learn About Success from Alone: Season 1

I have taken a bit of a break the last two nights to watch all of Alone: Season 1.

Wikipedia describes it as: “Alone is an American reality television series on History…filmed on northern Vancouver Island, British Columbia… It follows the self-documented daily struggles of 10 individuals … as they survive in the wilderness for as long as possible using a limited amount of survival equipment. With the exception of medical check-ins, the participants are isolated from each other and all other humans. They may ‘tap out’ at any time, or be removed due to failing a medical check-in.”

What did I learn from the series? I thought it was an interesting analysis of the elements of success in life. Certainly the sample size of 10 people’s experience is not enough to state conclusively about such things, but it is interesting to consider if there is some applicability.


And what were those conclusions? That a large portion of the success of the participants was simply about where they happen to be dropped off; those near animals—which means they were competing for resources—quit early.  That was 3 of the 10.  One other was fearful of being injured by a falling tree in a large storm, a similar type of circumstance perhaps. Perhaps 40 percent of our success happens to be circumstances outside our control.

Two others made mistakes, one not boiling water and the other losing his fire stick.  Making mistakes is not hard.  So that might account for 20 percent of how people succeed or fail in life.

All of those dropped out within 8 days.  The animal ones were within 4 days.


The remaining four went beyond a month, a month and a half.  And they all could have gone longer.  They all made the choice that the cost was more than they wanted, even the winner nearly made this choice.  The first of those four decided he had learned what he wanted to learn.  The next two had people at home with conditions that pulled at them to be there; pregnancy and illness of loved ones. 

The winner simply had the most stable home life; he also had some of the greater experience in life, being older.  He managed his mental status effectively, simply staying in his bed and not using his energy when the weather was very bad, and finding ways of thinking about things that were not home, or negative thoughts. 


My experience in life says there is quite a bit of truth about success in this sample.

Financial success is a small motivating factor, even for the successful. Perhaps 1 in 10 people in life succeed in some larger financial measure; but three others simply chose that financial success is not that important; other types of successes mattered more to them.  Even the one who wins financially often finds that the financial success is not the meaningful part of success; that other things matter more.  The winner was not motivated financially at all.

Our Physical needs are pretty small, but matter, and matter early. Safety, shelter, water, food, health, all these things had to be overcome very early in the process, and these needs are not just mental points. The winner said something at the end that was sort of a common statement, that the whole thing hinged on mental success; that’s not really as true as we sometimes would like. Physical things, circumstances, our environment matter.

Our Emotions and our Social needs are the energy behind success. Once beyond the basic physical needs, the emotional and social needs of the participants became the biggest challenge. The emotionality of the participants was interesting, and very clear. As I have quoted elsewhere, Sterling W. Sill has said: “At President Eisenhower’s first inaugural he said, ‘The great driving forces of the world are not intellectual, but emotional.’ That is, how we feel about things.” (May 01, 1977, BYU Fireside, Bottles and Books, Sterling W. Sill as quoted in my blog entry Emotions vs. Intellect). Emotional and social needs can be suppressed for the physical needs, but the physical needs do not propel us to high achievement; once satiated, we become content, and stop trying to achieve. Social and emotional needs are the energy behind real high achievement.

Controlling how and what we Think about gets us to the finish line. The winner of the season, Alan Kay, seemed to have significant control over his thinking. One could sense how he was willing himself to think about certain things, to occupy his time with any kind of thoughts that were not negative, in order to continue. He managed his energy levels consciously. He didn’t take risks that weren’t clearly related to his objective of continuing to survive in the wilderness. His experience informed him about how to manage his mental processes.

I’m not quite sure why I’ve taken the time to write all this; I hope it’s useful to someone out there. I guess in some sense it increases the knowledge in the world. Let me know if it matters to you in some way.

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