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In the summer of 2016, Carleigh Fairchild of Edna Bay carved a notch into the handle of her spoon for each day spent in the wilds of Patagonia, Argentina, during the beginning of South America’s winter. With her survival skills and 10 carefully selected tools, she lived off the land, a contestant on the History Channel’s reality TV show “Alone.”
Edna Bay woman spends 86 days alone in Patagonia wilds for TV show 030117 AE 1 Capital City Weekly In the summer of 2016, Carleigh Fairchild of Edna Bay carved a notch into the handle of her spoon for each day spent in the wilds of Patagonia, Argentina, during the beginning of South America’s winter. With her survival skills and 10 carefully selected tools, she lived off the land, a contestant on the History Channel’s reality TV show “Alone.”

Carleigh Fairchild. Photo courtesy of HISTORY and Leftfield Entertainment.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Story last updated at 3/1/2017 - 2:58 pm

Edna Bay woman spends 86 days alone in Patagonia wilds for TV show

In the summer of 2016, Carleigh Fairchild of Edna Bay carved a notch into the handle of her spoon for each day spent in thewilds of Patagonia, Argentina, during the beginning of South America’s winter. With her survival skills and 10 carefully selected tools, she lived off the land, a contestant on the History Channel’s reality TV show “Alone.” 

“I would [make notches] in groups of seven because I could easily feel out what it would be like to stay one week longer atany given point. One week was an attainable feeling because there were so many unknowns. Someone could fall and get injured or someone could get sick,” Fairchild said.

She managed to carve 86 marks before she was pulled due to her low body mass index by the show’s medical team. Out of the 10 other participants, she came in second. Zachary Fowler placed first at 87 days because he was the sole remaining competitor.

“I felt like I could go to 90 days, and felt like it was possible to go to 100 days,” Fairchild said. On the final episode, when the doctors measured her BMI on one of their routine visits, she dropped under 17 to 16.8, which show organizers wrote in an onscreen message that remaining would put her health at risk. When she was informed, she visibly broke down, a moment she described as “heartbreaking and really disappointing.”

Fairchild wanted to use the $500,000 prize to buy her mother land in Edna Bay. Her mother had previously funded her survival skill classes, and even went into debt doing so, Fairchild said, so she wanted to give back to her and “help her have a little better of a life.” With the extra money, she hoped to buy herself land in Edna Bay that she could build a cabin on with her boyfriend Tyler. Contestants received a stipend for every week they were on the show, but the amount was nowhere near comparable to the prize money, she said.

Due to her fans’ disappointment at her loss, one of Fairchild’s friends, Shaun M. Sullivan, started a GoFundMe campaign to celebrate her achievement with a modest prize for her efforts. As of print time, it has $4,295.

One donator commented: “Just wanted to tell you that although you were alone in the woods you succeeded in your goal tolive in the wild and in the end you are not Alone.” Another said they hoped the show would rethink its format to at least ensure the runner-up got a prize.

Despite her disappointment of coming so close to her goal, Fairchild said it was amazing to come back to civilization and to be surrounded by loved ones, friends, and family since she was “craving people.”

The journey begins

Fairchild watched the first season of “Alone” and knew she wanted to give it a go.

“Having been into survival skills for a long time, I had actually thought about trying to get onto a survival show,” she explained. “I was kind of waiting for the right one to come about cause I don’t like excessive drama, and a lot of the survival shows out there have that. But “Alone” seemed really genuine and real so I wanted to be part of that.”

She applied online and was told that season two was already full and her application would be archived. She later got contacted for season three and had to submit photos and video of her survival skills.

In Edna Bay, with a population of less than 50, and where the only access is by floatplane and boat, people don’t worry about survival skills so much as “self-reliance skills.” Fairchild’s home is powered by a generator, and heated by a wood stove, which requires routine maintenance and firewood. She grows her vegetables in her greenhouse. She cares for her chickens and ducks, and hunting and fishing are regular parts of her life.

As young as 13, while growing up in Ohio, she became intrigued with survival skills and enrolled in programs put on by organizations such as the nonprofit Children of the Earth. She even learned basketry, a skill she displayed in her application video. She also would take trips with friends out into the wild and survive off the land for days or a week at a time.

At the show’s “bootcamp,” participants underwent medical and psychological tests to ensure their readiness as well as being placed in the field for two days to display their survival skills, like how to make a fire, build a shelter, etc.; that way, organizers weeded out anyone not up for the show. In the meantime, everyone was shown how to operate the cameras since the competitors film themselves.

“A lot of time and energy went into me trying to film myself,” Fairchild said. “If I want to film myself walking down a trail I have to set up the camera, walk down the trail, and then come back for the camera. Sometimes I would set up the camera, walk away, and make my way back foraging to try to do two things at once so I wasn’t just wasting energy for the filming.”

When in Patagonia, each competitor was designated several miles. There was a lake in the center and woods and mountains surrounding. She built her shelter and lived off the land either through fishing or eating local plants like plantains, clover,dandelion greens, stinging nettles, and chickweed; since it was a warm winter, not all the plants died off, and she could harvest from sheltered spots that received lots of sun. From her life in Edna Bay, she had a sense of how much and how often to gather firewood.

Fishing was the only thing that she had any difficulty with.

“…it’s hard to say if there just wasn’t much fish in the area or if I wasn’t trying the right thing,” she said. “I made a fishing pole and tried casting. I tried reeling it in. I tried bobbers. I tried having it sink to ground. I got insects and worms to use as bait. I tried just setting hooks in the water making trap lines and that didn’t work for me … more knowledge and experience in that area could have been helpful.”

The 10 items she brought with her from the preapproved list were: a -30 degrees synthetic sleeping bag, a full tang bushcraft knife, a medium axe with a two pound head, a pruning saw, a 64 oz. metal water bottle, 300 yards of 100 lb. fishing line, 100 yards 20 lb. fishing line and 25 hooks, a ferro rod (to start fires), and two sets of emergency food rations. She wouldn’t have changed her items, she said, though if she did something like this in Alaska, she’d exchange her knife or axe for a machete, she considered. If she had no list to choose from, she would like to have a kayak to travel around the islands. If she could practice her skills outside of Alaska, she’d want to try Australia.

For some competitors, she said it seemed like their main focus would be to conserve energy and just wait the days away, but for her, she wanted to live. When she wasn’t gathering supplies, she soaked up the sun, watched the birds, and appreciated the natural wonder around her. Sometimes, she’d look over the rocks on the beach, and if she found some “neat ones,” she’d bring them back to decorate her shelter.

“I spent a fair amount of time contemplating my life — looking back on my life and looking forward on my life — how can I live a happier, more enjoyable life? There’s always negatives in life but I feel like it’s more beneficial to focus on the positive things and what we can do in life.”

Fairchild said she has a sense of calm in life now, and gets less sucked into social drama. She’s gained a new appreciation for meaningful interaction between people, and also a strong sense that whatever she sets her mind to, she can do it.

“It was a really personal adventure out there, but I hope by sharing it with the world it can inspire people to seek out their own dreams, and be the positive change we all want to see in the world, and hope that we can all be stewards of the earth, and leave it a better place for future generations,” she said.

For more information on the show, go to history.com/shows/alone.

Contact Capital City Weekly staff writer Clara Miller at clara.miller@capweek.com.