Pastor Sylvia Peterson

Former Co-Pastor Sylvia Peterson

Husband and I have been watching “Alone” on the Discovery Channel. The first two seasons were on Vancouver Island in Canada. We are now watching contestants in Patagonia, the southernmost point of South America.

In case you aren’t familiar with it, the show’s premise is this: 

There are 10 contestants, all chosen because they have wilderness skills. Each one can take 10 personal items with them, plus a life jacket, one picture of their loved one(s) and video equipment.

I’ve watched enough episodes to know they better also have a cooking pot, fire starter, and a really-sharp cutting tool if they are to survive. 

Each person is taken to a remote wilderness area and left there. Alone. The person who lasts the longest wins $500,000. Even if you are the first runner-up, you don’t win any money.

Initially, each one builds a sustainable hut of some kind, finds a source of fresh water and ignites a fire. The people who stay the longest also make other conveniences: chairs, cutlery, trotline for catching fish and comfortable beds. It appears to me that all of them find a long stick and mark it with tallies to note how long they’ve been there.

Gathering firewood and harvesting food are never-ending chores. Sometimes life enrichment activities fill the time. One guy made a bowling alley and a fantasy football field. Two men made canoes. The woman from Lopez Island made a sauna. 

At first, there is gratitude for this amazing opportunity. The survivalists think they’d like some alone time until they actually have lots of it. In complete solitude, the demons of their past failures come to the surface. They weep. They scream. They feel change occurring, but can’t quite name it and aren’t sure they really want it.

Watching contestants tap out, I’ve identified five causes.

The first people to push the button and summons a removal team are those who succumb to fear. The dense underbrush creates eerie music in the night. Add black bears, Puma’s, and wild boar; sleeping alone under a thin tarp is terrifying.

The second group exits because they experience a catastrophic “moron moment:” falls, deep cuts, and nearly-drowning in frigid water.

The third cause of tapping out is boredom. After setting up a camp that can be sustained, there isn’t much left to do.

This is when I start talking to the television. “Catch more fish and smoke them in case the weather gets really bad in the future.” “Firewood! You are going to need more.” “Carve, whittle, create something that engages your problem-solving skills and imagination.”

They can’t hear me; they never take my advice.

Fourth, extreme homesickness fills the empty places that appear in isolation. Anyone who stays longer than six weeks realizes the importance of family. Spouses and children—once taken for granted—become priceless treasures when you are completely alone. Money cannot compete with relationship. This experience always heightens the awareness that those they love are more precious than they ever knew.

Slowly, the combination of starvation, suffering, and mental despair whittles each man and woman down to a shadow of the person they were on arrival. One by one they leave, until only one remains.

Why are husband and I watching this series? Because it is easy to forget that our closest family members are precious gifts from God when we are forced into isolation. He designed us to be in relationship with one another. We are not randomly assembled.

If we take our loved ones for granted we deny the absolute proof that God really loves us.

•••

Sylvia Peterson is a former co-pastor for Bald Hill Community Church and an author. She and her husband are chaplains for the Bald Hills Fire Department. You can email her at sylviap7@comcast.net. She is the author of the new book, "The Red Door: Where Hurt and Holiness Collide," which can be purchased at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. 

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