Lately, I have been binge-watching the television series Alone.
Ironically, I am not watching it alone. Jenn likes it too.
The show pits survival experts in a competition, in which they are allowed to bring ten survival tools other than their clothes. Then, they’re dropped off to survive alone in a remote, rugged wilderness, for as long as they can. They don’t know when the others tap out, but they do know that the last person there gets $500,000. And the other people get an insincere, “It’s OK, you did your best,” from their families.
Though most have excellent bushcraft skills, the term survival expert essentially boils down to two things. First, you must be able to eat anything. These people have been known to consume mice, insects, leeches and even slugs – and that’s before they get there. Next, you must be so antisocial that you can live alone for up to 100 days, which is probably something you get a lot of practice at, if you have been known to consume mice, insects, leeches and even slugs.
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The show eventually makes you think that you too could survive at least 50 days alone in the wilderness in a desolate and unforgiving landscape, devoid of creature comforts and human contact, in the company of bears, cougars, and bitter cold, while slowly starving on a sustenance diet. And you think this, even though you are sprawled out on the couch under a blanket, sipping hot chocolate, and complaining about the dryness of the banana bread.
The most interesting thing to me is the fire-making strategy the contestants settled on.
Most choose a ferro rod as their fire-making tool. These things throw a very hot spark when you scrape metal across them. Once the spark lands on your tinder, you then have to blow gently on it until the tinder erupts into a flame and then, while you are holding it in your hands and chanting “Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!” you carry your burning tinder to your fire pit and hope that you can quickly build a fire atop it.
On the plus side, at least your hands are warm.
A good fire is needed so the contestants can stay warm, boil water so it is safe, and burn the creatures they gather beyond recognition, so they taste like charcoal, which is preferable to tasting like inedible. Also, if a big dangerous animal like a grizzly bear is close, a good fire acts as a deterrent more effective than bear spray, but only if you burn the socks and underwear you have been wearing for weeks on end.
Even so, if it were me, I would leave the ferro rod at home and just take two Bic lighters. One would probably be enough to last the 70 or 80 days it generally takes to win.
Why take the second one?
Well, because as anyone who owns a lighter knows, no matter how remote you are, at one point, one of your chain-smoking friends is going to show up unexpectedly and ask to borrow your lighter for a second, and then walk off with it.
I suspect that is why not one contestant decided to take one.
But, you know, I think this would add some humour to a basically humourless show.
And that would be good. Sometimes, even on a survival show, people just want to see the lighter side.