When Sam Larson ventures into the woods, an Instagram account doesn't come with him. Though the Lincoln resident has been routinely blogging about his wilderness excursions and the pursuit of bushcraft skills since 2011, the limit-testing trips he took far off beaten paths in Canada, Maine, Minnesota and the scorching American Southwest were for the most part off-limits to cameras.

"I purposefully wasn't filming my expeditions because I was out there for me, just to have fun and to experience a new adventure on my own," Larson, 22 and a trained survivalist, said.

But in 2013, Larson's blog (woodsongwilderness.com) caught the attention of producers at Leftfield Pictures, the production company behind shows such as "Pawn Stars" and "Counting Cars" on History. There was another History show project on the horizon, and Larson was told he should audition for it.

It had nothing to do with automobiles or pawn shops. If he made it on, he'd be flown off into the middle of the Canadian woods with 10 things in a backpack, and he'd be forced to fend for himself. No food, shelter or bear spray would be provided. There wouldn't even be a camera crew. Each of the 10 survivalists picked to participate would set up some motion-detection cameras and would be instructed not to review the footage.

Their physical and emotional well-being would be tested for up to a year on the show, called "Alone." 

Last man to crack wins $500,000.

To Larson, this sounded incredible. So he sent an audition tape to the producers of "Alone." It featured him paddling along on a muddy waterway on a dreary-looking day.

"That's actually the scenic Salt Creek," said Larson, who was selected for the show, which premieres at 9 p.m. Thursday on History (Time Warner Cable channels 49 and 107).

Along with the canoeing, Larson filmed bits in Wilderness Park that highlighted some of the knowledge he's gained from attending Jack Mountain Bushcraft School in Maine and from extensive stretches of time in unforgiving places like the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico.

Fire-starting, water-purifying, he's learned those skills and more since he first took interest in the survivalist lifestyle. (He traces it back to sneaking away from his elementary school class on a field trip to the Nebraska History Museum to take an extended look at arrowheads.)

On the audition tape, he finds a piece of a trash bag in the park that, to a survivalist, doubles as shelter from the rain. He peeled back some tree bark to reveal a world of grubs and larvae -- suppertime.

"You're never gonna starve, if you find enough of them in an area like this," he tells the camera. "The bad thing is, you're never gonna be excited for dinner."

Actually, Larson said, he went to a friend's barbecue shortly after recording his audition footage. And he'll be at Lazlo's downtown Thursday night for a watch party to begin the show's run.

But during his time on the show, there was nary a cheeseburger to be found. "Alone" pits its contestants against the elements found in the Pacific Northwest. The survivalists were dropped into the woods around Vancouver Island, in Canada's British Columbia province, in late autumn.

"We were dropped there basically at the most difficult time to survive, which I think was late fall," Larson said. "And that's like the worst. Salmon run's over. Berries are not there. You're screwed. That is the most difficult time of year, and that's when we were dropped."

Larson, who left his pregnant wife, Sydney -- spoiler alert, she had a healthy baby boy named Alaska Thatcher Larson -- to participate in the show, said that the footage he's seen so far does as good a job as any he's seen in capturing the emotional rigors one goes through on a survivalist expedition.

"You're gonna come to that point where you're gonna get too cold or too wet or you're starving too much, and that's gonna be the most fun part of the show for the viewer to see where these survivalists reach that point, where they're just so uncomfortable where they're like, 'Holy cow, oh my goodness, this is a little bit more than I bargained for,'" Larson said.

"And a lot of the issues that a lot of the guys went through -- 'Ok, I'm in major emotional distress right now; do I film this?' It takes a lot of courage to turn on that camera when you're feeling down. That's what makes this show special, is that it's so authentic. And at a certain point, people are going to break. So it'll be fun to see when that point was for all these guys, and me."

Larson won't reveal how his time in Canada went, but he said he plans to post on his blog throughout his run on the show and provide any behind-the-scenes elaboration he can. There, those interested in the survivalist lifestyle can learn how to get started, and what you can take from it, even if it doesn't land you a reality show.

"You really learn to not take the simple things for granted," Larson said. "So being able to maybe have that boring lunch with your parents is actually a really, really cool thing that you shouldn't just write off as something you do throughout your day. Every experience with your family is so special and so important, no matter how insignificant it seems. Every bite of food, every drop of water is significant in the grand scheme of things. We're all very blessed as Americans to have as much access to these resources as we do. so that's what I take out of it."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7438 or cmatteson@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSMatteson.

Originally published on journalstar.com, part of the TownNews Content Exchange.

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