Whilst very much a minority there are still plenty of people worldwide who lead solitary lives, either full or part time and often not by choice. Isolation could mean an elderly pensioner in Australia holed up in a tiny bedsit with hardly a visitor in sight. It could also mean a prisoner in jail, confined to the ‘hole’ for a month or more, a consequence of breaking the rules of incarceration. Whether you are a hermit shacked up in the bush or a lighthouse keeper on some remote bluff there are many instances where the only company you will be keeping is yourself.
We celebrate sailors, both men and women, when they face the wrath of the oceans in circumnavigating the globe – solo! Likewise any similar act of endurance is lauded when it’s achieved by a person all by themselves. Even when it backfires as in the case of British yachtsman Tony Bullimore, whom the Australian Navy rescued at considerable cost from the Southern Ocean in 1997, the plaudits for daring seem to outnumber the cries of foolishness.
Not surprisingly television has exploited the scenario of men and women battling against the environment, particularly as a solo survivalist experience. The trendsetter here was clearly British adventurer Bear Grylls, no relation to Australian actor and comedian Lucky Grills or the George Foreman Grills. Parachuted into some of the planet’s most remote locations, Grylls put his SAS training to work, living on fried scorpions and turning the carcass of a deer into a sleeping bag. Such was his enthusiasm for repurposing innocent critters that the Discovery Channel was hit with a number of petitions asking them to stop showing him killing “bats, crocodiles and snakes in the name of so called entertainment.”
Since Grylls there have been a number of similar, ‘Man V Nature’, reality shows, the most notable of them being the US produced Alone which SBS is currently screening. Now in its eighth season it features a number of contestants, armed with only a basic supply of survivalist tools, let loose in the wilds of North Mongolia or Patagonia. There’s no camera crew or surprise deliveries of pizza like in the Survivor franchise and the big cash prize goes to the player who roughs it out the longest.
One of the series’ slogans is “In The Wild Nobody Can Hear You Scream” but if you are on the either side of the TV set, you might want to let out an almighty screech of ‘bollocks’. Here’s the same old personality based reality formula, pushed to a kind of heroised extreme, bristling with angst and self realisation. Women and men at their most primal with only their innate sense of survival to keep them alive. Once again the native animals are both the enemy (oooh, look out for those killer bears), as well as the menu. Oh no, not musk ox for dinner again!
When the natural environment no longer holds any attraction perhaps the producers of shows like Alone will look to other settings to explore the trauma that continued isolation can bring. In ‘Buried Alive’, ten contestants are placed in caskets six foot under with only an air supply, tins of spam and bottles of water to keep them sustained. The one connection with the outside world is a televised link to the Home Shopping Channel and $50 to spend each day. Last one to crack wins a $50,000 Walmart Voucher plus a free funeral and embalming.
Long before Netflix, ‘pole sitting’ was once a popular competitive pastime in Australia and the concept is ripe for resurrection in 2022. In ‘Who’s Up The Pole’ contestants battle the elements, 20 metres up, somewhere in the Great Sandy Desert or along Parramatta Road. No animals are killed during the making of the show and product placed sustenance is supplied entirely by Uber Eats. Let’s put the joy back into isolation!