Survivalist Sam Larson was 18 years old when he went through training to become a wilderness guide. That same summer, a hurricane pounded northern Maine, while Larson was living in a teepee in the forest.
The now 23-year-old speaks nonchalantly about the time he’s spent in the wilderness, or as he calls it, “playing in the woods.” He laughs as he describes seeing cougar tracks outside of his tent in Arizona and having wolves and black bears walk through his camp while he was sleeping.
Larson spent 50 days last year completely isolated on Vancouver Island, as part of a History Channel reality show, “Alone,” which aired in June. He and nine other contestants were dropped off on different areas of the island and cut off from the outside world and each other. The last person who decided to leave the island, won $500,000.
Preparing for the show was more of a mental game than anything, Larson said, as contestants would be completely alone and reliant on themselves for an unknown amount of time.
“Getting ready for the show, probably the scariest thing were the unknowns, (like) how I’m going to react under extreme isolation,” Larson said. “No one knows that right away; you’ve never done it before. It’s a crazy long amount of time to be alone. I didn’t know how challenging it would be to adjust and become comfortable with that.”
Even though he prepared as best he could, Larson said the remoteness and sudden solitude of his situation took a while to adjust to.
“The first five minutes were when it really hit me, being alone,” Larson said. “They were really vital in understanding the situation. Before that, you’re playing with cameras and producers, learning stuff like that, and then it’s reality. It’s not hypotheticals anymore. I just sat there for 20-30 minutes observing what was around me after the plane left.”
Larson found that one of his happiest moments was when he finally keyed into being alone and was comfortable and in control of the situation.
Larson said he was prepared for isolation, encounters with predators and surviving on his own, but in the end, the weather proved his downfall.
About 10 days into the show, he set a goal for himself — stay on the island for 50 days. Shortly after the 50 day mark, a massive storm hit Vancouver Island, larger than any storm he’d seen before. These storms were what scared Larson the most, more than any bear or cougar. That storm was the moment he knew he had to leave.
“When that storm hit, I said well, I reached my goal. I stuck it out through 95 percent of that storm. I did what I came here to do. I met my goal, and there’s nothing else for me,” he said. “And at that point, you’re really looking for an excuse to go home, and I had a bunch of great excuses that I’d come up with.”
Larson ended up coming in second on “Alone,” but he said the experience doesn’t feel like a failure.
“Tapping out was definitely the happiest moment,” Larson said, “I was really, really happy. It might feel a little depressed on the show, but it doesn’t feel like a failure. It really isn’t a failure. I felt like (I was) finally done with the big achievement.”
Larson is now back home in Lincoln with his wife and his 7-month-old son. When he isn’t out on adventures, Larson is an outdoor writer, a public speaker and survival course teacher. His son, born two months after he arrived home, will begin learning survival skills from his father in the coming years.
“Oh yeah, he’ll learn it at a young age,” he said. “I had to wait until I was 18 years old to start learning, but he’s going to start learning in the next couple years.”