Alone Australia captures humans at their absolute limit

There’s an image of Tasmania that’s been cultivated through years and years of clever tourism marketing.

Mainlanders considering a Tassie sojourn conjure up pictures of bucolic walks through quaint towns, shucking oysters in Coles Bay, the sun dappling through towering trees. Maybe even some provocative art in MOMA.

Unless it’s Dark Mofo time, holiday-seekers tend to forget that Tasmania has a shadowy past marked by colonial violence, and an unforgiving landscape that gives the island an eerie vibe.

Filmmakers have taken great advantage of this with the burgeoning genre of Tassie noir. The works, including writer Victoria Madden’s TV shows The Kettering Incident and The Gloaming, and director Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale, explore darkness on the island, and in men’s souls.

The ghostly atmosphere of Tasmania’s old growth forests seem alive with their secrets and dangers.

Which makes it the perfect setting for the Australian version of wilderness survival series Alone.

Part reality competition show and part documentary, Alone is an American franchise that’s been running since 2015. In many ways, the challenge is more purist than strategy-based series such as Survivor.

This is truly about surviving the wilderness. Ten contestants are left in the Tasmanian forest with only a small amount of clothing, a limited choice of essentials such as an axe, fishing line or sleeping bag, and camera equipment.

Every person is left alone (hence the title), needing to survive both the elements as well as what is often the most challenging aspect – the isolation.

There is no producer, cameraman or sound person to tail them, to frame shots, pick the moments and steer or coach them – or provide any human companionship.

The contestants film everything about their experience themselves, after undergoing a short training course. They drop the footage in a pre-determined spot every few days, while maintaining a no-contact rule with the production.

Needing to outlast your rivals is made more complicated when you don’t know how many of your competitors are still remaining. They can tap out at any time, but the person who lasts longest takes the $250,000 prize, the richest in SBS history.

That self-captured vision is raw and it’s emotional. The challenges of trapping food sources, of staying warm in the chill, staying dry in the wet is enough to push anyone to the edge.

But the real brutality is the loneliness. Humans are pack animals, we’re not built to be alone.

Watching the contestants – among them are a school teacher, an engineering student, a wildlife biologist and a vet – fight those dual spectres of physical and mental survival is compelling TV if the genre is your bag. There is never any reprieve.

Obviously, the footage is still edited and packaged by a TV production crew but the more unfiltered format gives authenticity and weight to Alone Australia.

And even though the contestants have backgrounds that support their ambitions – these are not once-a-year campers – you’re still watching people push themselves to the absolute limit when there’s no one else around.

Early assumptions about themselves will be tested – and that’s where the drama is, not just what happens to them, but what happens to them compared to what they had expected of themselves. It is, ultimately, a journey of self discovery.

That insight into human nature at its limit is the gem in this series.

Alone Australia is streaming now on SBS On Demand with new episodes available on Wednesdays

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