History Channel’s Alone premieres its 10th season tonight. Watching the premiere, what was remarkable to me is how little the show has changed, and how well that’s worked.
Alone did experiment with pairs in season four, and a fixed-length challenge in season five.
But then it reverted back to its core: just individuals, surviving, filming themselves, for as long as they can, completely isolated from each other and the world. (Cast members are able to contact the production in emergencies, and get regular health checks, but otherwise are actually left alone.)
I talked with executive producers Shawn Witt, president of Leftfield Pictures, and Ryan Pender, who supervises the show day-to-day, about Alone’s new season (History, Thursdays at 9), and how the show has—and has not—changed since it premiered in 2015.
As president of Alone’s production company, Witt said that his “role now that we’re so far along in the history of the show is to really just work with the network before each season, to come up with ways to push creative as far as we can while still staying within the kind of authentic parameters that our fans love so much.”
Many competition shows change up their formats and add twists—just look at Survivor!—and Alone faced similar pressure.
Witt told me that, in conversations with the History Channel, holding to the show’s core “never been a fight. History has been an amazing partner.”
However, he explained that, “early on, like I’d say the first couple of seasons—just because it’s the knee-jerk reaction every network has—they were like, How are we going to reinvent this so people keep coming back?”
“We started by just changing locations, and to your point, season four we did pairs. I won’t say viewers revolted, but they’re very vocal,” Witt added. “When we do things like that, we get comments that are like, What the fuck! They’re not alone!“
Those “comments online just consistently push us and the network back to the fundamentals of the show, which honestly, when it was developed, were make the producers go away,” he said.
Alone’s locations and cast
The two major things that change every season are, of course, its location and cast.
“We work really hard with the network to try to find backdrops that have some sort of superlative: the coldest, the wettest, the darkest, the scariest,” Witt told me.
Production on each season takes about a year, with nine months from filming to editing of the final episode. Season 10 began filming in mid-September 2022 in Canada.
The location for season 10, Pender told me, is “very, very flat. And basically everybody was on an island more or less of their own. Navigation became an issue” because there wasn’t anything to use to orient themselves. “It’s really easy to get turned around for sure. And the wind was just basically unimpeded. It just came blasting down out of the north, and just would knock these folks around, knock our boats around, white caps on the lake.
“It was a rugged, beautiful area—but was also pretty brutal,” Pender added. “One of our boats got blown into into one of the islands … and we’ve got beefy boats.”
Alone has brought back cast members for Alone: Frozen, Alone: The Skills Challenge, and season five. Otherwise, it casts new survivalists every season.
Over that time, the casting pool has “gotten bigger,” Pender told me, but “because of that it’s not everybody who’s applying has the skills required.”
The potential cast members are quickly narrowed to just “highly skilled folks … because you don’t want, like, a weekend warrior coming in saying Well, I’ve done two weeks on the AT and I feel like I’m qualified,” he said.
While producers are casting for people with actual survival skills, Pender told me the thinks “Alone isn’t a survival competition show, and at least in my eyes, it never has been.”
Witt said that’s evident in the people who are cast: “One attribute that almost everyone who’s participated in the show shares is that they’re not competitive people by nature. They’re not looking to beat anyone. … They want to beat themselves. That’s what it’s about; they need to prove something to themselves.”
It turns out that the why someone is applying is critical to Alone. “The difference-maker from season to season is finding people who have different whys; that is how the series evolves,” Witt said. “You find people with different life experiences, different things to prove. … Yes, we like to pepper in different skillsets, but it really comes down to who’s doing it and why.”
Pender pointed out that, on Alone, “there’s never a villain. There’s nobody we ever put on that you love to hate. It’s not it’s not that show.”
He also said that “the things that we’re looking for” are “when we can veer off and tell a story about somebody’s relationship with their mother or father or kids, or something traumatic that they went through, or some sort of topic in the current world at that time.”
“I think Alone resonates with viewers because it’s not just about survival, it’s also about things everyone can relate to,” he said. “It almost always comes down to: What secrets are you hiding about yourself?”
Alone isn’t looking to keep secrets from its participants.
Witt said that “this series is so dependent on trust. In season one, it was really hard for us to find people who wanted to do this, and it took a lot of convincing that we weren’t going to pull shenanigans, and have marauders steal stuff from them.”
That reminded me of Netflix’s Outlast, which was about surviving in the wilderness in teams, and had no rules, leading to some predictable yet shocking behavior.
Witt said that he welcomes shows like Outlast, even when they’re completely different. “I don’t see it as competition. I don’t see Naked and Afraid as competition. They’re very different shows,” he said.
“The best thing for all of us is for shows to be successful. A show like Outlast, it may not be for everyone. It’s actually the polar opposite kind of show compared to Alone. Alone is the best of people; Outlast is the worst of people.”
“As long as both of those shows continue to succeed, that means there’s an audience for wilderness survival-based programming, which will keep all of us employed for many years to come,” he added. “We have enough shiny floor stuff, so it’s nice to have some gritty stuff, regardless of what the game is.”
With such a simple game for its cast, Alone itself has kept itself at the top of the gritty game, and seems capable of surviving for at least another 10 seasons.