I cannot tell you how STOKED I am to be publishing this for y’all! You read the title correctly. This post is an in-depth interview/question and answer session with David McIntyre, winner of Alone, season 2. For those of you that don’t know, Alone is an awesome survival show on the History channel where 10 people are taken to the woods and left alone to film their experience surviving by themselves with minimal gear. David spent an astonishing 66 days on Vancouver Island by himself and won the cash prize – $500,000. Every response below is a direct, unedited quote from David himself. Instead of me jibber-jabbering further, I’m going to just go ahead and get this party started:
What inspired you to apply for the Alone Show?
“Natalie Sgro of Leftfield Pictures sent me personal message on Facebook inviting me to apply. My first reaction to reading the description of the show was, “I can do that.” The fact it was self-documented and there would be no drama with other cast members or direct involvement of the producers sealed the deal. It seemed like a Hail Mary pass at the time but I had nothing to lose. I filled out the online application and moved right through the casting process.”
Once you met your fellow contestants before the show started, were you intimidated by other people’s skill?
“I had a sinking feeling starting on the van ride to the hotel during Bootcamp. Justin was on the van along with several other guys who were former military and the discussion was all about where they had fought. It was intimidating. Hearing some of their stories I got the impression there was a very high level of skill in the room. I remember being very impressed with Jose, Nicole, and Larry, and it didn’t surprise me at all they they were in the top four. Of all of us, I think Mike Lowe had the most impressive credentials as an Air Force SERE instructor. There is no standard certification for wilderness survival instructors. It all comes down to personal experience and time in the wilderness and the group at Bootcamp had loads of that.”
What experience did you have coming into the show that helped you with your success?
“I spent my childhood hunting, fishing, and trapping in the forest behind my house and began studying wilderness survival at about 15 years old. My brother and I spent countless weekends survival camping in the Appalachians. In 1999 I moved to the Central Highlands of Brazil where I had access to jungle, desert, and tropical alpine ecosystems. There I founded the Per Ardua Wilderness Ministry in 2000 and co-founded the Mestre Do Mato (Bushmaster) Wilderness Survival School in 2008 with my friend Giuliano Toniolo. There is nothing written about Brazilian bushcraft and wilderness survival techniques. It was a huge benefit for me that I had spent years figuring out those ecosystems and developing survival techniques by trial and error.”
Besides being in it for the money for your family, what were your other reasons (if any) for being on the show?
“I wrote these reasons down between Bootcamp and leaving for the island…
- My life has uniquely qualified me to do this.
- I have won a full ride scholarship to an advanced degree in wilderness survival.
- Healing from the trauma of the past two years.
- This is your dream job.
- The school of suffering and the problem of pain. The greatest things you know, you learned in intense suffering.
- You are not leaving job security to go off on a lark. This is not a mid-life crisis.
- This opportunity is the stuff of good teaching, speaking, and writing.
- You love doing this type of thing.
- You have prepared for this, mentally, physically, and spiritually.
- All the people who know you best think you are a perfectly natural choice for this adventure.”
What was the biggest reason to smallest reason?
“The opportunity to help my kids was the number one reason. Personally, I wanted to fully understand the reality of long term survival and the effects of starvation and isolation. I saw this as a huge adventure and unique opportunity to experience the raw reality of long term survival and do all the things I had taught for years in real time.”
What was your favorite thing you created/project you worked on while on Alone?
“The most satisfying creation was my gill net. I had more fun than an adult should while making that. I also made a seafood box trap they never showed and a floating fishing line. The best thing I made was a 4×8 foot raised bed, 18 inches off the ground, topped with a thick Hemlock mattress. I loved my shelter and feel it got very little exposure. “
How often were medical checks or camera/equipment checks made?
“Approximately once a week. I see all sorts of criticism about the media/medical checks relieving the isolation and feel that is unjustified. The crew maintains professional distance. The visits are short and impersonal. A cameraman swaps the batteries and SD cards and by the time he’s done the Survival Consultant has done his brief medical evaluation and the Producer has asked what to look for in the footage. Every few weeks they arrived with an actual Doctor who did a more complete med check/weigh in. It would have been MUCH easier to maintain my emotional resolve to endure the isolation WITHOUT these brief contacts. In a way, it’s like a starving man having to pass through a restaurant kitchen once a week and not eat anything. As time wore on I found the visits highly irritating.”
How did you handle personal hygiene while on the show? Did you have “laundry” to do? What about cutting your toenails?
“In the early days while it was still warm enough I washed down by my little creek. I often stripped to my waist while fishing on the reef to get sun and expose my base layer to the UV rays. That happened less and less as it got cold. Wool is amazing in that it does not pick up body odor. I trimmed my toenails before departure and by the end could have used them to pluck fish from the water. My moustache irritated me a great deal as it had grown into my mouth. I should have burned it away like Greg did on season three.”
Before you knew you won, towards the end how many people did you think were still out there? Did you think about other contestants often?
“They asked a few times if I wanted to know how many were left and I never let them tell me. These were my friends and I didn’t want to think of them eliminated by hardship or injury. I often prayed for the others still out there that they would be safe and get out of the experience what they were looking for. By day 56, Alan’s last day, I knew there had to be only a few left and the adventure was winding down. That was just a logical assumption, but I also felt someone was doing very well and it was going to last a long time. I knew I was stable and holding my own and had no intention of tapping out, but felt the end would be around the 90-day point. I felt I could make it to Christmas and they pulled me out the day before Thanksgiving. I honestly didn’t dwell on the others and focused on what I had to do to remain.”
Did you have a daily routine? If so, what did it look like?
“Wake up after a solid night’s sleep dreading the chilly exit from my super comfortable, warm bed. Send pre-programmed “I’m OK” text to production crew via Yellowbrick. Put on clammy rain gear and muck boots. Attach wireless Mic to sending unit on belt. Change batteries in wireless mic units. Remove knife from Boreal shirt pouch pocket D-ring and transfer to belt. Check five or six Canon XA-25 camera batteries to ensure they had full 1.5 hour charges. Check camera memory level and swap SD cards. Perform sound check on wireless and on-board shotgun mic. Shoot morning report. Drink liter of water from rain catch. Plan my day and fill pockets with all mission critical gear so I never had to come home for something left behind. High Tide: (make movies of…) work on camp, cut wood, stock resources, work on projects, sharpen knives and hooks, tie net, repair net, dry Bull Kelp by the fire, sit in sun at beach and get warm making cordage, etc. Low Tide: (make movies of…) slosh through falling tide to first fishing spot on rocky point, search beach for stuff washed up, collect limpets for bait, try to catch fish, move to better fishing locations as water fell either to the reef or later along the northwest side of my cove, catch fish, put on stringer, search for Keyhole Limpets and Kelp Crabs, get forced back to the forest/camp by the rising tide, clean fish, collect ½ inch of seawater in pot from tide pool to flavor stew, rinse blood off hands and knife in surf, spilt evening cooking fire wood, make Cedar shavings, make fire, cook dinner, EAT A MEAL, strip off rain gear and muck boots, get in sleeping bag, send pre-programmed “I’m OK” text to Production crew via Yellowbrick, plug smaller JVC camera/SAT phone/Yellowbrick GPS tracker into battery chargers at head of bed, shoot evening report with IR setting in the dark, pray for my kids, listen to mice run amok in shelter, watch footage of the day on camera view screen, fall asleep with rain pounding on tarp roof.”
What did you dream about?
“At first I dreamed about people and food. I would be with my kids eating a meal, shopping for food, out with friends at a restaurant, walking in downtown Belo Horizonte Brazil, buying fish at a crowded Asian Market, always food and people. Later I stopped dreaming of the outside world and dreamed of fishing and catching crabs, the forest, the ocean, very rarely of people, wordless dreams of catching wildlife and eating it.”
How did you deal with going to the bathroom in the woods?
“When you are alone on the north end of Vancouver Island and need to take a leak, wherever you are, well…there you go. I had a great, mossy alcove near the beach for the daily dump. Sphagnum moss is nature’s wet-wipe.”
Did you experience problems with any predators? What about bugs?
“I did not have a Salmon run to attract bears and the wind blew the smell of my camp out over the water most of the time. I didn’t use a cook camp for that reason and because high tide closed access to my beach. I had nowhere to make a second camp without getting stuck there during high tide. There was no way for a bear to follow the beach into my cove as it ended in cliffs in both directions. I saw no bear scat or tracks, no animal trails in my forest. I did have a cougar killing something above my camp one night and heard wolves one morning but nothing came into my cove. I never carried my bear spray but kept it handy near my bed at night. Bugs were not an issue.”
Was there anything that was awesome/special that you did/saw that you wish they would have shown happening on the show?
“Things not filmed… Cougar woke me up ripping apart an animal above camp, wolves in forest above camp in the AM, two Bald Eagles chasing each other through the treetops while tying gill net, close encounter with a Harbor Seal while fishing, pod of Killer Whales passing the cove, Mink ran up 20 feet away, got bored, and fell asleep watching me make cordage.”
Would you change any of the ten items that you brought with you?
“No, everything served me well. My cove did not have favorable conditions for the gill net but it was the right thing to take not knowing that. When they pulled me out I had plans to lay it flat over a long tide pool and bait the pool to attract crabs. That would have paid well. I should have taken an assortment of hook sizes (some smaller ones) and one large Halibut hook to make into a gaff on the end of my fishing pole for snagging crabs.”
Did you like the clothes that you chose to wear and can you tell us some of your favorite clothing item brands?
“The Lester River Boreal Shirt is one serious piece of kit that I loved, expensive but worth every penny. My Tru-Spec rain gear worked perfectly. Muck Boots worked great allowing me to walk in water all day. Cabela’s Icebreaker base layer worked fantastic. If I had to go back I would take the same clothes.”
Were you ever worried about running into other contestants? What were the rules about that?
“They told me I had no limits on where I could go. We carried the Yellowbrick GPS tracker whenever away from camp. They said if I ever got close to someone they would send a tone and tell me to turn around. It was never an issue for me.”
Were there moments where you felt like you learned something important or unlocked a secret to staying longer?
“My ability to stay came as a result of small breakthroughs and discoveries that combined to form a sustainable lifestyle – getting onto the reef for fishing at low tide, learning how to locate and catch crabs, finding the mother lode of Sitka Spruce resin for Firestarter, learning to fire dry Bull Kelp fronds, discovering a way into the northwest side of my cove at dead low tide opened up a huge area of good fishing and foraging.”
Are there any skills that you wish you would have had or had practiced more going into the show?
“I should have studied the intertidal zone more before leaving for the island. Most of the passive fishing techniques I used there are illegal anywhere else. I had no real experience gill netting or running trotlines as they are illegal poaching techniques anywhere I have ever lived.”
Did you ever have times where you were close to tapping, or were you “in it to win it” the whole time?
“I never once hovered over “The Button” despite the way they edited some of my comments regarding how difficult it was to be there. There was one period that I went four days without food when I realized it was affecting my mental state. That was when I began eating a 1/6-pound portion on my emergency Pemmican if I hadn’t eaten in 48 hours. I decided two days of fasting constituted an emergency. I left the bush with 2 and 1/6 pounds of it in reserve, enough for 13 meals, two straight weeks eating once a day or 26 days of rationing. I wasn’t going anywhere.”
What was the silliest or funniest thing that happened while you were on the island?
“The pair of Mink that lived near my beach were a constant source of entertainment. They fought like an old married couple but still did everything together. After a few weeks, they totally accepted the fact I lived there and meant no harm. As I said earlier, one of them stopped 20 feet away to watch me make cordage and fell asleep for about a half hour. I also had a Stellar’s Jay that would cuss me out. He resented the fact I moved into his forest and let me know in the crudest of language on a regular basis.”
Were you disappointed that your time on Alone ended abruptly, or were you ready to leave when you saw your daughter?
- “Mentally I know I had another month in me. On day 66 I was in a sustainable lifestyle. My system was working, but it was a hard life and had stopped being fun. I had a great deal of pain in my neck and right shoulder due to two old injuries. Fishing was a daily agony, but it was paying off and I was eating well. I ended each day warm, dry, watered, and fed, and had no reason to leave. I fully expected an injury or illness to take me out and that forced me to control my anxiety. I had this mental image of the crew loading me into a boat on a back board. The low tide was moving later into the day and I knew I would have to soon rise early on very cold mornings to get out fishing. The bad tide cycle would have made fishing difficult for a few days until the low tide migrated into mid-morning allowing me to fish and crab all day.”
- “When the crew arrived on day 66 the cameraman got off the boat with a loaded dry bag of batteries and I figured they were planning on me filming another week. Nothing had changed, get it in your head you’re still doing this. The Producer, Zach Green, said he wanted to see how I had winterized my shelter and do a short interview. That irritated me as they had arrived at maximum high tide to pull the boat up to the beach. The water was now falling and I needed to get out fishing but I went along with it. It was during this interview that Erin walked up behind me. All the anxiety left the moment I saw her. I was fully prepared to stay but happy it was done.”
How much did your faith play into you winning? Did you pray often or hear God speak to you in some way out there? Has your faith changed since being on Alone?
“My faith is a huge part of my life and has carried me through darker days than anything I experienced on Alone. I prayed often, all day. Not in a formal sense, but as an open line. I knew I wasn’t “alone” and the presence of God was very real to me while isolated on the island. As traumas of the past came to the surface I knew I had to forgive and see those events from His perspective. That process came to a head about a month into my stay and I passed through a crisis of confronting many bad events and finding resolution. It left me very clean and clear emotionally, a true detox of the soul. During the last two weeks, the daily provision of food humbled me. I had to work hard for everything I ate. None of it came easy, but it came and left me truly grateful. My time on Vancouver Island strengthened and deepened my faith very much. Did God speak to me out there? In way’s too personal to explain in a public forum, YES, He had plenty to say.”
Did you feel that the editing of the show accurately represented your experience?
“Not a single second of my raw footage was scripted or faked for the camera. I lived out there for 66 days, and shot about 4.5 hours of footage a day. They had to edit that down to our individual segments in 13 episodes with 45 minutes of content each. The viewers see very little of the total experience. They try to keep the audience guessing up to the last half of the final episode. There were many indicators I was doing well at the end that they did not show. During the final two weeks Larry was really struggling with starvation but I was eating better than at any other point. Every evening I shot a clip of my catch of the day, fish and crabs, etc. I feel like my time was one of slow and steady progress and that they pulled me out at my peak efficiency. I feel they toned down the upward trend of my last two weeks to pump up the sense of suspense between me and Larry. He and I spoke about it and it was a relief to me that he had left it all on the field. It was very difficult for me to watch the hardship he endured at the end. It would have devastated me if he had been eating well and left due to an injury. I feel that way about Jose. He would have been there on day 66 if he hadn’t flipped his kayak. We both would have slogged it out longer and who knows how it would have ended.”
Is there anything that you would have done differently?
“That’s difficult to say. Even with 20/20 hindsight, winning produces its own blind spots. I won, so whatever it was I did, it worked well enough. I had never set foot in that ecosystem before orientation week and feel I did a good job of getting up to speed. I am not the end-all of wilderness survival and bushcraft and never pretended to be. I see the things the others did by their own knowledge and skill sets and admire their accomplishments and execution of solid ideas. Some of those, like Jose’s fire blower, would have helped. I’m not that smart. I should have abandoned the passive fishing systems earlier and not tried to secure the logs in my cove, but that was part of my learning curve and passive fishing is a solid strategy I wanted to get right. That may seem obvious to viewers but it was a slow process of understanding the month-long moon tide cycle and patterns of fish movement.”
Tell us about your weight loss on the island. How much did you lose and did you ever worry about starving to the point they’d take you off the show?
“I went through a rapid weight loss of about 20/25 pounds in my first few weeks. That leveled off at about 160, down from 195, and remained stable for two weigh-ins before I started to regain weight at my final med check. That rapid initial weight loss worried me, not realizing it would level off, but those fears dissolved when my weight became stable. I wasn’t worried because my energy level the second month was FAR higher than my first month. I was thin and had lost muscle mass, but my energy level was high enough to do everything I needed done. My blood pressure was stable at 110/70 the entire time, low for me (normally 120/80) but steady. I never feared they would pull me for starvation.”
What was your first meal after leaving Vancouver Island? Was there any process to adapt to eating normally again? (do you still like crab? haha!)
- “The crew gave me a roast beef sandwich and bag of BBQ chips on the beach. Later in the cabin I ate an entire jar of crunchy organic peanut butter in two days. The crew had a big wrap party in Port Hardy, with Erin and I sequestered in our cabins and out of sight. They asked me what I wanted and I told them sushi. They dropped off an obscene delivery of food for us and I ate most of it that night and for breakfast the next morning.”
- “I had been eating well for two weeks at the end and the MD told me I would not experience re-feeding syndrome. I never ravenously shoved food into my mouth like they always show in movies, quite the opposite. When faced with the sudden abundance of food, you relax and enjoy each bite. There’s no rush, you’re suddenly the wealthiest man in the world. The thing is, you can’t stop nibbling. You don’t eat in a frenzy until you burst, you just snack continuously… for weeks.”
- “I LOVE FISH AND CRABS. When you only eat one meal every 24 hours you don’t get tired of the menu. That said, I can’t bring myself to pay for crabs anymore. They’re supposed to be free for the picking in the kelp beds and tide pools.”
Do you have advice for those looking to be on the show? What about physical/mental/skills preparation?
- “If you think you have the skill set then apply, but don’t have any illusions that it’s easy or you’re going to snap your fingers and make it all happen without physical or emotional suffering. If you think you are Billy Badanus and want to show the world how cool you are… please apply and get selected so we can see your ego cut off at the knees.”
- “Don’t apply unless you want to make movies all day of the same things every day… day after day, until you want to wrap that $3000 camera around a tree. You will be ALONE and film everything yourself and endure the armchair critics that tell you a camera crew was there doing all the heavy lifting because you took the time to get it right and set up multiple camera angles or walked a hundred yards back to a camera you left filming as you attempted to get fed. You will work your tail off making world class video of excruciatingly real survival and some man-child living in his mother’s basement will call you a fraud because you framed the shot perfectly to catch not only the action but the astounding natural beauty that kept you motivated every morning.”
- “In terms of skills you need a well-rounded head knowledge and enough practical experience doing survival under real conditions to set good priorities and work a solid strategy. If you have never had your head handed to you in the bush, don’t apply for Alone, you don’t yet have the experience base of getting thrashed by nature. You WILL take a punch out there. This thing will expose every physical, emotional, educational, and experiential weakness you have and over a million people will see it happen. Check your ego at the door.”
- “Good overall mental and physical health is beneficial for life in general but especially so going into the Alone challenge. You should do a one week, water-only fast at some point to know the reality of what you will face.”
Was it hard to adjust to life back at home after being in the wilderness for so long?
“I didn’t like being inside or around large groups of people. Everything was so loud, way too much stimulation. Life out there is so simple.”
Would you ever consider doing this type of challenge again?
“Yes, I would love to take part in another show, but also feel like I don’t have to prove anything to anyone regarding my own capabilities or skills. Who’s the best? I honestly could not care less. I did the thing and after 66 days the production crew told me they were going home and offered me a free helicopter ride. Alone threw me against the wall and I stuck.”
What are you up to these days?
“I am currently living in Grand Rapids MI, speaking at various events, and writing both fiction and non-fiction. I will be a first-time grandfather in May. I am in a relationship with a lovely woman who is good to me out of all proportion to what I deserve in life.”
What are the best social media outlets to follow you on?
Is there anything you learned during your experience on Alone that you still think about or has affected your life to this day?
- “All that political opinionating I did all my life? Nobody cared and it influenced nothing. It’s like people can’t feel alive anymore unless they are feeling outrage at something new each week. Everyone lives fired up by the cause of the moment and selecting new enemies to demonize or attack. I see people who have never experienced a moment of true hardship living offended and outraged at “micro-aggressions” and triggered by minutia they can barely articulate. I don’t say anything. I just shake my head and walk away. I know what peace feels like and I seek it and surround myself with it.”
- “I appreciate people more, but I’m more selective about who I let in.”
- “I want material things less now that I can afford them, strange how that worked out. You spend two months learning how little you need and they pay you a load of money. Contentment is a counter-cultural mindset.”
- “God loves me and has a plan for my life. I knew that before but now I am rooted into that unshakable fact.”
Thank you SO much to David for taking the time to do this lengthy interview. I hope you enjoyed it! Feel free to comment below and discuss his answers!