He’s got wilderness survival down cold. But was the Mainer good enough to win the $500,000 prize? He tells us what he can . . . for now.

Zachary Fowler is a self-employed boat builder who lives in a remote Maine yurt with his wife and two daughters and he’s getting ready to meet America.

Or rather, have America meet him.

Fowler, 37, is one of 10 contestants on the new season of History Channel’s hit show “Alone,” debuting Thursday at 9 p.m.

The season was filmed last summer, in Patagonia. Armed with just 10 survival items and a camera to document the experience, contestants were dropped off at different remote locations to assure there would be no contact among them.

On this reality show, there are no challenges or game play, just the elements. The last man or woman standing wins $500,000.

The kicker, as fans know: Each survivalist doesn’t know when anyone else has dropped out of the competition, so they’re simply trying to make it as long as possible.

No small challenge, biding their time at the southern tip of South America during Patagonia’s winter. 

“(No other survival show) has ever done . . . a true winter situation,” said Fowler. “That’s one of the things I found the most exciting being a New Englander and loving the snow in Maine.”

Last season’s winner lasted 66 days on Vancouver Island before being told he’d won. 

Fowler can’t talk any “Alone” specifics until the full season has aired. Reading between the lines, it sounds like the off-the-gridder, who lives in Appleton (outside of Camden), might have had some staying power in Patagonia.

Now back at home — with the season premiere slated for next Thursday and the big reveal of the winner still 10 weeks away — last week he carefully shared with the Sun Journal limited details about his experience, as well as why he’s laughed at other survival shows, what he brought with him on “Alone” and what we all need to know before heading into the woods.

Can you describe a bit of your survival background?

ZF: I grew up in Vermont with outdoorsy parents. When I was a kid, my dad taught me the foundation skills of survival, shelter and fire building. When I turned 21, I moved to Maine to build wooden boats, and after saving for a while bought land in the woods. Living off-grid rekindled my interest in those dormant outdoor survival skills. In my free time I would hunt through Maine’s numerous antique shops for old books on survival skills. I studied and collected hundreds of books seeking the knowledge that would give me the ability to be a more capable off-grid homesteader. Living in the woods gave me plenty of opportunities to try out all that I learned. I’d take long walks collecting wild edibles and come home to make myself feasts of purslane salad, young cattail shoots and frog legs sauteed with mushrooms I had harvested.

What are some of the more egregious “Oh, come on now!” moments that you’ve seen on other survival shows?

ZF: My wife, Jami, and I found a few survival shows a few years back and were hooked. We fastidiously picked apart the participants’ decisions from the safety of our couch. It was painful to watch as self-proclaimed survivors failed to keep their fires going and would wake in the night bemoaning their situation. (For instance, we’d say:) “There are two of them, why didn’t they collect more wood or sleep in shifts to keep the fire going?” “They were being eaten alive by bugs and all they did is lay there unable to sleep and whine about it. Stoke up the fire, make some smoke to keep the bugs away. Don’t just lay there.”

We watched as they became sick from bad water, and smacked our foreheads, befuddled, as to why they wouldn’t boil or purify it in some manner. It was the rare delight when we saw a “surthriver “(thriving survivor) make it through a wilderness challenge with some grace. And then my wife called me out: “If you know so much better than them, why don’t you apply to one of these shows.” And so I did.

What was the process like to get on “Alone”?

ZF: I sent the masterminds behind “Alone” a message simply saying I was interested in the show and thought I would be well suited for it, considering the way my family and I live was already half-way there. I gave them a link to my Facebook account so they could see the sort of stuff I’m up to, and within a day or two I received a message back; they wanted me to fill out the full application to the show and they were going to send me a camera to film myself showing off some of my skills. The camera arrived not too long after that.

I packed up some of my favorite tools and took the snowmobile out into the woods and made them a short film. I pretended like the snowmobile broke and all I had was my fire starter, knife and ax. I built a shelter and a fire and hammed it up a bit talking through why I was interested in doing History’s “Alone” show. They loved it, and out of the tens of thousands that applied to the show I was picked with 20 others to go to a boot camp where they would test our skills and narrow down the selection to the final 10 that would get to go on the show. It took a nail-biting week after boot camp to get the call that I had been chosen and I was to go on with the other nine finalists to Patagonia.

Did people know you were off filming or did you have to come up with an elaborate ruse for dropping off the planet?

ZF: Like a monk, I was placed under a vow of silence where the show was concerned. I left a vague message on my Facebook page saying that I was “Off on a top secret adventure, don’t know when I’ll be back, but when I am and I’m allowed to, I’ll tell you all about it.” And off I went to Patagonia. No one but my closest family members knew where I was going, and even then, just that I was going on a survival adventure.

What were two less-common items you brought with you for the challenge and why?

ZF: One of the foundational premises of the show was that we would get to take only 10 survival items. Most of my item choices were similar to everyone else’s except in three incidents. First, I was the only one that did not choose to bring a survival food ration for one of my items. Some contestants even chose to bring two survival food rations. One survival ration equals approximately five days’ worth of food. I just couldn’t imagine being without a tool for a couple days of food. Tools can provide food and I would rather rely on that.

So instead of the rations, I chose to bring two rather unusual items: my slingshot and a fixed blade Russian spetznaz military fighting shovel. I’ve seen people bring bow and arrows on survival shows before and then never find the chance to use it, whereas a slingshot could take numerous small game. With rocks almost always in abundant supply I surely wouldn’t run out of ammo. So I built a rugged slingshot laminated from Maine’s finest white oak and some mahogany and practiced daily in anticipation of my big adventure.

Many of the plans and preparations I made leading up to the show required earth work and a cutting tool smaller than my big ax, so when I found the spetznaz military shovel I knew it was the right tool for me. It is almost identical to a regular shovel except it’s only about a foot-and-a-half long with a sharpened blade that cuts like a machete. It was unique in so many ways: no folding parts to break, a really sturdy handle of wood that, should it break, I could theoretically make a new one, and as a bonus it could be thrown like a throwing knife. Throwing may not have had a lot of survival applications, but it would be fun should I get bored. So, the slingshot and shovel, although rarely chosen by others, fit my criteria as being useful, and even though I could not eat them like survival rations, I believed in the long run they would feed me better.

How did growing up in New England prep you for filming in the winter in Patagonia?

ZF: Before I left for Patagonia, I had not filmed a lot. In fact, the 12 YouTube videos I created for my channel “Makery and Mischief” were pretty much it for my personal filming experience. Never-the-less, I felt I had a knack for it. After all, making stuff was the strongest skill I was to bring with me. Growing up in Vermont and spending copious hours outdoors in the New England winter tends to toughen a fella up. So I felt I had an advantage that maybe not many others would enjoy when it came to filming our survival experiences in the harsh Patagonian winter. And living in Maine with an almost mile-long unplowable driveway with two kids and a wife in tow doesn’t make for a softening of one’s character, let me tell you.

Without any spoilers, what was “Alone” like?

ZF: Living off-grid in a 12-foot yurt with my wife and two daughters didn’t give me a lot of opportunities to prepare myself for the solitude I was to face when I went into the wild. It had been four years since I met my wife, so my former life of hermitage was well behind me. To make matters worse, when I am alone I usually listen to audio books, up to three or four a week. I was facing being woefully unprepared for the solitude I was to face out there. Outside of pulling a Tom Hanks and making myself a “Wilson,” I was unsure of how to proceed. My only plan was to stay busy with my hands and find stuff to think about to keep my mind busy in addition to my body. I think I can say that once I was there I managed to do just that.

Will you be making more “Makery and Mischief” videos now that you’re back?

ZF: I really enjoyed filming myself out there, and now that I’m back, I have a greater understanding of how I might apply my filming experience. I started the channel so I could share some of the unique things I “Make” in our day-to-day pursuit of off-grid self-sufficiency, as well as a bit of the “Mischief” I’m known for getting into. I’ve released two videos now since my return, both on the “Mischief” side of the channel. The first video is called “Man Shoots Down Plane with Slingshot” and the second, “Coffee Sniper.” Both of which are about some wild sharpshooting I have managed with the slingshot. On the “Making” side, I’m preparing to start a Vlog about the making of our off-grid life as soon as things settle down a bit. It will be premiering around the first of the New Year.

What’s one skill we should all know before going off into our next hike in the woods?

ZF: Learn to make a good fire. You don’t have to know how to start it by rubbing two sticks together. Growing up, my dad would challenge us to make a fire that would take only one match to light and remain going. It sounds simple enough, but can you do it? And can you do it in any weather situation, like after a rain? It’s a skill that may save your life someday. There is no telling when a simple hike may go wrong. A little bit of surprise rain on an otherwise nice day while hiking, with a sudden slip and a twisted or broke ankle, could leave you stranded while a friend goes for help. A damp cool day in Maine can quickly turn into an exposure situation without a source of warmth. Know your resources for tinder and kindling in your area. Remember: “The higher up, the drier up.” Meaning: The dead lower branches under an evergreen tree, snapped off up high, even in a rain storm can be dry enough to start a good fire with.

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