By Steve Hubrecht

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Invermere resident Alan Tenta is better at being ‘Alone’ than anyone else, but like everyone else, when he is alone he misses his family. 

Alan was the talk of the Columbia Valley in late August after the final episode of season 10 of the History Channel’s hit survival reality television series ‘Alone’ aired, and he emerged as the winner. 

The Pioneer finally had a chance to catch up with Alan last week and chat with him about his success. Of course Alan, an outdoor education teacher at David Thompson Secondary School (DTSS), has considerable bushcraft skills, but he also emphasized the importance of staying fit mentally. To help with that, he stuck to a strategy he had formulated well ahead of time.

“I always had a plan. I committed myself that I was not going to tap out as long as I had food,” Alan told the Pioneer. 

The 10th season of ‘Alone’, like the nine seasons before it, features 10 people. They are dropped off, each by themselves, in a remote wilderness location. This season’s location was Reindeer Lake in northern Saskatchewan — which (depending on how you count) is the world’s 24th largest lake. The contestants could bring only 10 items (aside from the clothes they are wearing). They then film themselves trying to survive, alone, for as long as possible. Aside from occasional medical checkups, they have no contact with other humans.It’s a gruelling slog, and contestants encounter physical, mental and emotional pitfalls during their time. Some participants last just a few days, and only a hardy few each season make it past the 50-day mark.  

One particular survivor lasted 100 days (in season seven), but usually surviving alone for 70 days is enough to win a season (the average of show winners, across 10 seasons, is 73.9 days).

Contestants can opt to ‘tap out’ (i.e. voluntarily leave) at any time, or they can be ‘pulled out’ for not passing a medical checkup. Each season’s winner gets $500,000.

“Alone” winner Alan Tenta is overcome with emotion during a surprise meeting with his wife on the last day of filming.
(Photo by The HISTORY Channel/Leftfield Pictures)

Season 10 was filmed last fall and winter, but Alan and his wife Lisa, who is principal of distributed learning at Rocky Mountain School District 6, and their kids have held fast to the secret ever since. Other family, friends and students here in the Columbia Valley have had to watch the season unfold episode by episode to find out what happens.

When season 10’s final episode, ‘By Any Means’ opens, three contestants are left: Alan, Wyatt Black (from Ontario), and Mikey Helton (from Georgia). After starting out in mid-fall the remaining contestants are now more than 50 days into their survival ordeal and winter is setting in, with temperatures well below freezing, snow blanketing the landscape and ice beginning to form on Reindeer Lake. This presents a challenge for all three, since the ice on the lake is not yet frozen enough to allow for ice fishing and that leaves the contestants doing their best to subsist on food (primarily fish) they have previously cached and to build up their firewood supplies. 

By day 55 Mikey is overcome by cold and taps out. Alan and Wyatt push on, with Wyatt confessing to the camera about his 30 years of drinking. Both are visibly much skinnier than when they started. Alan confesses his mental game is being chipped away, bit by bit, and that the boredom that comes from being forced to spend a lot of time inside his shelter (owing to the cold temperatures) is playing a role in that.

As Alan and Wyatt near and pass day 60, simple physical tasks begin to become very difficult as neither has much energy left. Alan admits even bending over to get into and out of his shelter gives him a head rush, and worries that his weight loss will result in him failing a medical check.

On the morning of day 64 Wyatt taps out, saying the experience has been a type of therapy for him and that he’s leaving a different person. This makes Alan the winner, but Alan has no idea. A team of medics arrives at Alan’s shelter on day 66 for what he thinks is a medical checkup.

Grimly he tells them “I’m definitely diminishing,” later adding, “I think physically I’m almost at the end of my rope.” Asked what he misses most, Alan’s eyes become red-rimmed with tears as he concedes he misses Lisa and his kids, Davis and Mackenzie. Then he only half-jokingly admits to food fantasies and tells the team that if they have a bag of Doritos, their lives may be in danger.

Unbeknownst to Alan, the Alone team has contacted Lisa, who has travelled from the Columbia Valley to northern Saskatchewan and has flown in with the medics to her husband’s camp on Reindeer Lake. She sneaks up behind Alan while he is answering the medic’s questions, then peeks around his shoulder. Alan is shocked and overcome with emotion, as he realizes this means he is the season 10 winner. He and Lisa laugh, cry and hug. Alan tells Lisa that he is more excited to see her than he is about winning.

Despite Alan’s gaunt and weakened state, Lisa tells him he looks good. “It’s the fish,” he quips, before taking her on a tour of his shelter, and then telling her how he saw an owl early on in his time at the camp and how it made him think of his late father. The season finale closes with Alan and Lisa flying out in a helicopter and Alan saying he hopes his efforts will inspire his outdoor education students just as his students inspire him.

Alan Tenta ponders his odds on The HISTORY Channel’s reality TV show “Alone.”
(Photo by The HISTORY Channel/Leftfield Pictures)

“I was ecstatic (upon seeing Lisa),” Alan told the Pioneer. “Everything was becoming more difficult, and I was getting weaker. “I didn’t have much food left, maybe enough to get to day 68 or day 70 . . . I was already quite thin and I didn’t want to risk any long-term health damage . . . I had two large pieces of food left, and if I didn’t get any more food, I would probably have tapped out somewhere on day 68 to day 70.”

Alan had bulked up, putting on extra weight, prior to the show, but even so he lost 78 pounds over the 66 days he was at Reindeer Lake.

“It really was a big mind game, not knowing who was left, how they were doing, how much food they had,” he said, adding the only thing he knew for certain was that the wintry conditions would be miserable for everyone.

“You get to the point where you are almost pushing hour by hour,” Alan told the Pioneer. He knew he was declining, but knew that the other competitors were likely in the same state and that they might tap out at any moment.

“I was in there for the experience. Winning was just a bonus, what I really wanted was to see how far I could push myself, and I got that,” said Alan. “It was a really incredible experience, positive and I loved it.”

Of course $500,000 is nice, even if it’s just a bonus. Alan hasn’t made any big plans for his winnings so far, other than that he’ll use some of it to help his kids with their post secondary education.

And the owl that reminded Alan of his father?

When Alan was growing up his family had a number of interesting experiences with owls. Before Alan left for Reindeer Lake, his mother told him to keep an eye out for owls, suggesting that if he did, it might represent his father, who had passed away.

Sure enough, in the first few days at the lake, Alan spotted an owl. The bird stayed for a long time — maybe 10 minutes — and circled around Alan several times.

“It was very unusual behaviour for an owl. It was all just very, very interesting,” Alan said, adding, “I did get all emotional.” 

Wife Lisa gives her husband Alan a big hug at the end of the show.
(Photo by The HISTORY Channel/Leftfield Pictures)

What was it all like for Alan’s wife and kids?

Lisa was very excited to be able to fly up and surprise her husband at his campsite. 

“I recall waiting by the water’s edge while the Alone team was completing Al’s medical check. My heart was racing so fast because I could not wait to see him. The moment I saw him I was overwhelmed with emotion. I missed him dearly. He looked good – his eyes beautiful and blue. I felt so lucky to be able to see his site, teepee, smoker, and fishing spot – his home away from home for 66 days,” she said.

It wasn’t easy for Lisa to have her husband gone for months at a time while she stayed behind in Invermere, but she said, “my excitement for Al to embark on this adventure trumped everything. We had several conversations prior to his departure about being grateful for each day, and putting his best forward, but not at the compromise of his health. The first thing I did every morning while he was away was check the weather at Reindeer Lake, and give him a shout for being out there one more day. At times, the most difficult part was not being able to share this experience with friends and family.”

“Seeing my dad on the show felt surreal. It was hard not being able to call him when he was away whenever I had a question or needed advice,” said Davis. “Him winning the show was incredible and didn’t feel real until I saw it on television. Him coming back home has brought a deeper family connection and brought us closer together.”

Mackenzie also used the word “surreal” to describe the experience. “Since we live in such a small town, the possibility of him being on the show created quite the buzz in our community. I was showered with questions at school, on the street, and in the grocery store. I couldn’t tell anyone he was appearing on the show before the cast was released, and had to keep the fact that he won a secret for a long time. This wasn’t always easy due to the constant questioning,” said Mackenzie.

She added she’s not surprised her dad won, noting that, “When I was younger, my friends and I would ask each other who would you bring with you on a deserted island?” I would always answer with ‘my dad,’ and after hearing my answer, they would agree to bring him too.”

Yep, standing on Reindeer Lake in northern Saskatchewan is as “Alone” as you’re going to get.
(Screenshot from Alone/History Channel, Season 10)