The new reality show “Alone,” debuting June 18 on History, scatters 10 contestants around a desolate stretch of northern Vancouver Island, where each man fends for himself in a bid to see who can last the longest.
No camera crews and no company, except for the black bears, wolves and cougars roaming this wild slice of British Columbia.
Survival series make up a booming segment of the reality TV business, but “Alone” benefits from the added twist of isolation. These contestants can’t interact with one another to form alliances, win challenges or throw someone under the bus to save their own skin. The result, at least in the hour-long premiere, is an oddly compelling, stripped-down drama of man versus nature.
Which brings me to the nature part of things. Sparsely populated and densely forested, Vancouver Island is a pretty perfect spot to set a survival series. With nothing but the Pacific Ocean separating it from Japan, this lush green welcome mat on the western edge of Canada is the kind of place where you can really get away from it all.
Unlike the guys on “Alone,” tourists don’t have to find their own food, build their own shelter and fend off predators to experience this rugged wilderness, home to some of the most elegantly rustic retreats in North America.
Guests arrive by either boat or seaplane at Clayoquot Wilderness Resort, a rainforest getaway on the west end of the island that’s become the poster child for glamorous camping, or glamping.
Clayoquot’s 20 safari-style canvas tents in the Bedwell River valley come tricked out with all the creature comforts. Most boast king-sized beds, flush toilets in bathrooms with heated floors, indoor-outdoor showers and antique furniture.
After a day of horseback riding, kayaking, bear-watching or fishing, guests can get a massage or soak in the hot tub before making their way down a candle-lit boardwalk to an intimate restaurant serving high-end cuisine and some of British Columbia’s finest wines. This is the very spot where I fell in love with raw oysters when I visited a few years back.
“When people step off that plane, they’re leaving a world they know and entering my world — and that’s a pretty magical place,” said John Caton, the resort’s charismatic, cowboy hat-wearing managing director.
Caton used to be a big wig in the music industry. A health scare in the form of a heart attack at age 39 prompted him to give up the rat race for a quieter life with his family on the island.
This avid outdoorsman has a gift for coaxing guests into a horse saddle, white-water kayak or whatever other adventure might kick the nervous system into overdrive.
“I’ll see people who are terrified of getting in a kayak because of the fear factor of rolling over,” Caton said. “By the time they leave, I’ll get them in that kayak. And then I’ll get a letter a few months later with a picture of them standing by the new kayaks they bought for Christmas.”
Added Caton: “We want to get you out of your comfort zone.”
One thing I learned during my four-day stay at Clayoquot: It’s a lot more fun getting out of your comfort zone when you can return to so much, well, comfort.
That comfort comes at a cost. All-inclusive rates start around $3,830 a person ($4,750 Canadian) for a three-night stay at the resort, open May through September.
Come winter, the region draws visitors wanting a front-row seat to the spectacular storms that buffet Chesterman Beach, located steps from the 75-room Wickaninnish estate.
Both Clayoquot and Wickaninnish belong to the exclusive Relais & Chateaux association of upscale, non-chain hotels and restaurants in 64 countries around the world.
Six-night packages include a stay at both properties. Overnight rates at Wickaninnish start around $300 (Canadian) during storm season (November through February) and $500 (Canadian) during high season, June through September.
Still not secluded enough for you?
Clayoquot has a new offering this year called Cloud Camp. A helicopter drops you off at your private tent atop Mount Ursus, some 4,500 feet above sea level, overlooking your own mountain lake.
Just like the contestants on “Alone,” you’re completely surrounded by nature without another soul in sight — except for your personal chef and guide, who spend the night at a discreet distance in their own accommodations.
As you probably guessed, Cloud Camp doesn’t come cheap. It costs $2,500 (Canadian) a person, based on double occupancy; $650 for kids.
That kind of price tag puts Cloud Camp out of reach for most of us. Not for the winner of “Alone.” The last man standing will walk away with a cool $500,000 in prize money.
My guess is he won’t want to spend it on a stay in a remote corner of Vancouver Island.
“Alone” airs at 9 p.m. Central/10 p.m. Eastern on Thursdays (starting June 18) on History.
Rating: (3 / 5)
Meet the 10 contestants: