Colter Barnes reflects on days 'Alone'
Viewers didn't see his maggot farms, the long days hunting and trapping, or how much weight he gained after he got home.
Some choice tidbits didn't make it into the final cut as Madras High School graduate Colter Barnes competed on the HISTORY Channel survival series "Alone."
Season eight finished airing this summer and now Barns can tell all. (Or most. Producers want him to keep a few secrets.)
"In October, I deer hunted 12 days in a row until dark, six to 10 hours a day," says Barnes, who also set several traps, "and they didn't show any of that."
Last fall, show producers put Barnes and nine other contestants each in complete isolation on the shores of Chilko Lake, British Columbia.
Contestants had to build their own shelters, start their own fires, and find their own food.
"Physically, the hardest part was starvation," says Barnes, who lost 86 pounds in 67 days. That amounted to a third of his body weight.
"When you're living out there, every single day your only job is to get food. From day 28 to day 49, I didn't get any food, any protein or meat."
Barnes tried some ingenious things to get food.
"With my fish guts, I dug a hole and started farming maggots," says Barnes. "They would turn my (fish) guts into good fats."
Barnes boiled his maggots and put them in his soups and teas. The maggots died in the first snow before Barnes got good footage of his tiny prey.
Contestants were allowed to choose 10 gear items from a list. Planning to make a boat, Barnes opted for the tarp instead of the flint or ferro rod his mother wanted him to take.
"The first month it would take me an hour to start a fire with my bow drill. By the end, I could start a fire in about five minutes."
He's glad he opted for the tarp because his boat set Barnes apart from his competitors. He crafted a frame out of wood and wrapped the frame with a tarp. He designed outriggers that gave the boat enough stability for him to stand while fly fishing, or pull in gill nets, or lift a 50-pound fish trap.
When Barnes saw a grizzly, he worried more about the bear damaging his boat than his own safety.
The boat Barnes considered his triumph he believes became his stumbling block. After he caught a couple of voluptuous fish, he poured all his energies into fishing.
"And I didn't catch another fish for 13 days," says Barnes. He wishes he'd kept diversifying his efforts.
In addition to the survival challenge, contestants had to record their experience on video. The show gave him four cameras and professional training.
They wanted him to film eight hours a day with at least two cameras rolling at a time.
"Not only do you have to survive trying to hunt wild animals that need you to be quiet and sneak up on them," says Barnes, "but you're also trying to film it, and you're trying to narrate it. It was definitely a job."
People who watched the show couldn't help but notice Barnes developed a sheen of grime from head to toe.
"I had to be one of the filthiest contestants of all time, and I'm proud of that." Barnes built his shelter on a hill above the lake. He says if he was going to pack water up the hill and heat it, he wasn't going to waste that energy on bathing.
The isolation bothers some contestants. Barnes knows solitude.
"I've lived alone on an island for months at a time. I've been on trips that have been longer than this," says Barnes. "Sixty-seven days isn't even in the top 10 of my camping trips I've been on."
The psychological struggle for Barnes was "failing, failing, failing. Mentally, it was feeling like you're failing over and over again. Not catching animals in your snares, that you're not catching fish, that you're not seeing deer. That was hard."
Then Barnes kicks himself for using the word "failing." "I was constantly learning. Every day I was growing. But my body was not growing."
On day 67, the show's medical team came for his weekly check. They told Barnes he'd lost too much weight. The strain could cause permanent damage to his body. They took him home.
The winner, Clay Hayes of Idaho, lasted seven days longer.
Hayes won $500,000.
The show gave Barnes and other contestants an undisclosed daily stipend to make up for the lost wages while on the adventure.
Barnes made it home in time for Christmas with his family.
"So, it was cookies and chocolate and huge meals visiting family. I didn't have any discipline."
He lost 86 pounds on the show. He gained back 100 pounds.
"My shortcomings on the show are 100% my responsibility, and my shortcomings at the dinner table are 100% my responsibility," says Barnes.
Given the opportunity, Barnes says he'd do it again in a heartbeat. "Mentally and emotionally, I was loving it, loving being out there, hunting, fishing and trapping every day, and I was loving the ride."
Feedback from friends brought fond memories of his roots in Madras.
"I don't know sometimes where home is because I've split time between Montana and Alaska," says Barnes, "but I sure feel like it's Madras because I felt so much love and support. It was incredible, absolutely incredible."
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