J.W. Holland asks The History Channel’s Season One ALONE winner not only about his quest for survival, but what insights he gained about men in today’s society.
For those of you unfamiliar with Alan Kay, he was the season one winner of ALONE on The History Channel. The premise of the show was dropping ten contestants on northern Vancouver Island, British Columbia with very limited basic equipment, and seeing who could survive the longest without any outside influence. The participants even recorded their own video, so there was absolutely no contact with other humans.
Kay outlasted the other ten and made it a total of 56 days, surviving only on skills he had acquired growing up in Georgia. He lost 60 pounds and gained half a million dollars in the process. As a fan of the show, I grew to become a fan of Alan’s—not only because of his skills, but his approach. His balance and focus were admirable to me—from his knowledge of rich southern philosophy to his ability to quote great works of literature from memory. Alan Kay is a true renaissance man.
I wanted to get Kay’s take on the state of modern men and where we were going as a society. When I first called him to conduct the interview he didn’t hear his phone because he was out running a chainsaw. That fact alone emphasized to me how little the grand prize had changed him.
Why did you decide to do it? “It just kind of fell into my lap, it wasn’t anything I was really looking for, the opportunity just presented itself,” he said, “I wanted to test myself, and it was a good opportunity to do that”. When asked about anything new he may have discovered about himself during the process he said that it was the glaring contrast of living at the base of existence and coming out realizing that our pace of life is just too fast. He also pointed to how wasteful we are as a society, “I go through a bag of trash every day at my house!”
Being away from family, friends and every creature comfort we know would be tough for most of us for even a couple of days. Add the fact that basically at the snap of a finger the contestants could be “rescued” and returned to civilization, I was curious to how close he may have come to actually quitting at any given point. “Not really, I just tried to stay in the present moment, and not try to eat the whole cow in one bite,” he said, “I just tried to stay focused on the most pressing task and do just what was right in front of me.”
He said that the process of adapting back to our society was still going on because he was trying to adapt back to the world that is severely out of balance. Using the example of how hunter-gatherers lived he says, “They were very efficient and there was no waste because they had to be.” He went on to say “if they lived the way we live today, we would not be here”. He believes our own lifestyles must change in order for us to continue on as a species long term.
He doesn’t believe we really have a definition of what it means to be a man in today’s culture. “Most cultures have a rite of passage, where they explain to children what it means to be an adult”. Pointing to those cultures that use rituals and tasks to help those entering adulthood develop new tasks, insight and acceptance he said: “In our culture we really don’t have that, we kind of leave it up to the individual.”
He sees a lack of involvement from society in general that is leaving us more dependent on government help than the local community, “It seems more and more that government is taking the role of what used to be the realm of the family, the local village or in some societies the church”. He believes we have lost the involvement of the community for handling these types of issues locally “Neighbors would take care of neighbors.” Part of the decay of our society he says is because “True freedom and liberty come with responsibility, and a lot of people don’t want that responsibility” he continued to say “they don’t want to have to show up and take an active part in what their world is gonna look like.”
Masculinity in modern times, he believes, is a pretty loose concept but he defined it as, “being able to take care of yourself.” Noting that mankind is now a creature that can’t survive in its environment apart from all of the artificiality we’ve created for ourselves Kay says “I think first things first, you’ve got to be able to stay alive, and sustain your own existence.” Then he said you have to be able to help those who can’t help themselves and “ultimately be able to protect them if it comes to that.” For those of us who may be living in suburbia that wants to become more self-reliant, he says “Baby steps, look at all the things we rely on to enable our existence then ask yourself how you acquire the knowledge to live without it.” He added, “It’s really just a shift in consciousness, it’s how you see your world around you, I don’t see it as something foreign that has to be conquered, it’s just something that I am a part of.”
Modern man is “devolving,” and Kay notes that just because we have it easier doesn’t mean we have it better. “I think people yearn for something that is more real than the way we live now.” He said deep down we desire to be more connected to the earth, each other and the world around us “the quality is missing.”
Getting his take on what I consider an epidemic of depression and other mental health issues in our society, especially among men “I think the fact we’re so out of balance is that the heart of it” he continued “on some level we know the way we are living is not the way we were designed to do it.” He said it wasn’t wholesome, sustainable or in the best interest of ourselves or the planet “It’s not healthy and it just doesn’t feel right, and I think we all know it, we never reach a point of contentment.” Kay also added, “Life is very basic, it’s water, shelter, fire and food that’s it, if you can meet those needs you should be content.”
Kay, today spends his time teaching survival skills to individuals and groups all around the country. From what I have seen, I would say his classes are worth the price of admission. For men in today’s society my belief is we are at a crossroads. Forgetting our roots and history are very detrimental not only to ourselves personally but to future generations. Living in a cave in a desolate forest probably isn’t the answer for everyone, but maybe we should be able to last a few hours when the power goes out. Survival is a basic principle that many of us no longer comprehend.
Kay concluded by saying “In the end all that you’ve really got is your mind, hands, and spirit when you get boiled down to your essence that’s it.”
Can this guy run for president?