Nebraska man lives alone in the woods for 60 days, wins $500,000 www.omaha.com
Thursday night, 25-year-old Lincoln man Sam Larson won $500,000 on television. All he had to do was get dropped off in a remote stretch of northern Mongolia for 60 days — hunting for his own food and enduring subzero temps, extreme isolation and the threat of deadly predators. No big deal!
Larson became the longest-remaining contestant on the fifth season of the History Channel reality series “Alone,” in which competitors rough it in remote locations, going into the wild carrying only what they can fit into a backpack. The one who lasts the longest wins the prize.
The contestants are in true isolation. There is no camera crew or producers. The survivors are tasked with filming every moment.
The show was shot last summer, which, Larson said, felt like a "crummy Nebraska November" in Mongolia.
Larson had been on “Alone” previously, in the first season. For this season, he and his nine fellow contestants were previous competitors who came up short.
Mongolia was a second chance for Larson, a writer, speaker and wilderness skills instructor who lives with his wife, Sydney, and their two children in Lincoln. Their 3-year-old son is named Alaska. Their now 1-year-old daughter is named Everest. She was only seven days old when Sam left to rough it in Mongolia. His growing family ended up being his key motivation and biggest worry while he was in the woods.
“This was an opportunity for personal redemption for me,” Larson said on Thursday’s season finale. “Coming out here set the reset button on my life and gave me the chance to have my family look at me as a provider rather than someone who’s just barely getting by all the time.”
Larson — by day 60 hungry, cold, unable to have a bowel movement — was already in tears on Thursday’s finale when his wife, Sydney, snuck up behind him to reveal that he’d outlasted everyone else and won the show.
Sam fell into Sydney’s arms laugh-crying.
Sam: “I’m so happy to see you. Oh my gosh.”
Sydney: “You did it! How are you feeling?"
Sam: “Alright, who has food? Who has stinkin’ food? You have food?”
Sam told her that with the $500,000, he’s going to get a new car, one that doesn’t break down all the time.
Thursday night on his Facebook page, Larson said, “I honestly feel like ‘winner’ is a weird title. How do you ‘win’ against nature?
“You really don’t,” he continued. “You just have to live as much as you can and be thankful for the time you get to spend in the natural world.”
When he was dropped into the Mongolian wilderness, Larson brought with him a saw, an ax, a pot, ferro rod, multitool, food ration, sleeping bag, paracord and trapping wire. Larson, who is 6-foot-2, went into the woods last summer weighting 250 pounds. He lost about 50 pounds over the next 60 days.
In a Friday phone call with The World-Herald, Larson said the worst part of his 60 days in Mongolia was not knowing what was going on with his family.
"But being a dad really toughened me up," he said. "And surviving in Vancouver (on the first season of 'Alone') was a perfect warm-up for Mongolia."
He has yet to receive his prize money, Larson said. But in the meantime, thank God, his old car has yet to break down.
"It's been many, many months since I got home from Mongolia," he said. "That '98 Honda has been pulling through for us."
Larson has been “playing in the woods” for as long as he can remember.
He got the survival skills bug when he saw an arrowhead exhibit at a natural history museum. That led to trips to western Nebraska rivers like the Dismal and Middle Loup. When he couldn’t travel far, he escaped to his backyard, “playing around, lighting things on fire before my parents could find me.”
At 14, he sold a bunch of his possessions to fund a canoe expedition in northern Ontario. After high school, he studied wilderness skills in Maine, lived under an army poncho in Arizona and solo trekked the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico before coming back to Lincoln.
On Thursday’s finale, Larson said he felt angry after leaving his camp on the first season of "Alone."
“But in Mongolia,” he said, “every time I started my morning fire, I felt grateful for the fire. I was thankful for the trees and the resources I had. I was thankful for every little thing that came my way.”