"Where I was, and what I was doing, was my life and there was nothing else."
What would you do if you had been left alone in the wilderness for even a fraction of as many days as the contestants on History's hit show, Alone, are subjected to?
Would you prioritize shelter or food? Would you seek to cure boredom or work towards physical comfort, appeasing the mind or the body first? Would you be quick to tap out or would you grind on until, like in some cases, you start closing in on an entire season in the wild?
Zachary Fowler won the third season of Alone and he did it with apparent ease. Not that anything's easy about the situation - as even the most fortified, tried-and-tested minds crumble after a handful of weeks, some after mere days. Not Zach.
Privileged to pick his mind, I wanted to know what fueled him to win, what motivated him and how he grounded himself along the treacherous journey towards such a monumental achievement.
I was quick to learn that this went far beyond circumstance and well beyond competitive spirit. This was about a man, his faith, and his brilliant state of mind that carried him through.
Q: You mentioned previously that you weren’t just planning to just survive, that you were going to create a homestead as comfortable of an environment for yourself as possible. So you carved out 150 steps into the hillside, you made a fire pit that you resourcefully and cleverly kept going for 50 consecutive days without having to restart. How and why do you think the mental aspect of comfort meant as much as it did towards your victory?
A: Comfort plays no little part in what I did, but I think the bigger issue is the sense of achievement and the boon that you get to your psyche when you achieve something. So the comfort thing is more of the cherry on the top of the sundae, as it were. Every time you achieve something you set out to do, it affirms to yourself that you can do whatever you imagine and, well, that just spurs you on to imagine greater and achieve all the more each and every time.
Q. Food wise, you did ridiculously good for yourself. You caught 63 fish over your 87 days! You had fish head soup between catches, ate grubs, dandelion roots and plantain leaves for nutrients. How do you think you would have fared if the fishing wasn’t as bountiful?
A: A much thinner man would have been leaving after 87 days! No, all joking aside, that probably would have meant that I got yanked before the others since I didn't bring any food rations to supplement the lean times.. And as much as I'd like to say that I wouldn't have quit if I didn't have food, I felt well-fed enough so that I had the energy every day to do fun and creative projects. Without that food, I really can't say how long it would have taken me to hit the wall as so many others had before me.
Q. You also mentioned the importance of keeping yourself busy – ingenious contraptions like the Duckhunter 3000 and a double-walled shelter as well as your wizard staff, which had acted as a journal reflecting your time there and a symbol of your dedication towards keeping track of your mental state throughout the experience. Hoping you can elaborate more on why you found your mental state to be so important and why such self-awareness was (and is) vital to you?
A: I get asked that a lot as if there was some deep answer as to why I prioritized the things I did in order to keep myself busy mentally so that I didn't lose focus.. But the clarity to the importance of my decisions didn't come till later, when I had reflected on all that I did.
I was bored - and I didn't want to be - so I engaged my mind in tasks to entertain myself. I would lay there at night and keep myself busy thinking of what went wrong and how to fix it. Out there, it didn't matter if that kept me up till the wee hours of the morning, I'd just sleep in and be even more prepared for the next day.
I never gave myself the option to quit - so I didn't even entertain the thought - I didn't waste time on those lines of thought that would make things more difficult by wishing my situation was anything but what it was. Where I was, and what I was doing, was my life and there was nothing else.
Q: You had been placed in an exceptionally harsh environment compared to your contestants, but a beautiful one nonetheless. You said so yourself that it had been the most amazing place you’ve been next to, of course, your current hometown of Maine. How do you think this reverence for your surroundings played into your experience?
A: I think I'd find beauty in any location that they sent me to just because I see how wonderful all of God's creations are. And the chance to get to know another part of it on such an intimate level was just awesome. I'm jealous of every following season of the show and the locations they're sent to. I didn't have a big urge to explore much before Alone; I love my home and the surrounding areas, but now I have to rein in on that wanderlust! [Check out Zach's upcoming adventure at the bottom of this page].
Q. Your family played a key role in your win as your primary motivator. In an odd situation whereby you’re completely alone, having to get adjusted to this ridiculously long time away from such a tight-knit family unit, did you find any companionship in the wilderness? All the life, animated or not, vegetation or wildlife, flora and fauna – did anything out there or around you make you feel less alone?
A: I was very alone that first day or so - then the camera became my Wilson. I would talk myself hoarse just talking to the camera to keep myself from loneliness those first couple days. But as time went on, I started to cry out to God again. It had been about 6 years since I did anything more than beg God to rescue me on the odd occasion from some poor decision on my own part. And so, naturally, that's what I did here: "God, Jesus give me a fish to eat, pleeeeeeasssseeeee". I even had a song that was to the tune of Janis Joplin's song [Mercedes-Benz] about her friends all driving Porsches.. I would sing "O Lord, won't you give me a fish for dinner, my friends all have burgers and I'd like a trout... O Lord, won't you give me a fish for dinner." As time went on, the meals become more elaborate: "My friends all have steaks with a rosemary compound butter and sauteed shiitake mushrooms and grilled garlic sesame green beans served with a ....." - you get the point. But as time went on, my prayers became less shallow and needy and more of a song of praise to the Lord for all that he had blessed me with in my situation; by the end, I had determined to go home and seek God more then just a passing fancy, to wake and seek God first every day. I haven't always managed to achieve that, but that is still my daily goal and it's definitely the best thing I took away from my 87 days out there.
Q: Until the 12th day, you remained on a slope with virtually no sun. Upon realizing that you had to migrate a bit and find yourself some sunshine, you eventually pushed on, got into a sunnier area and reset a bit. What do you think it was, with respect to your psyche, that made it so crucial to feel that warmth on your skin?
A: We are designed and created to need light in every aspect of our physical and mental state. Being deprived of that is just painful. Without some form of light, we just can't survive without breaking. Whether it be from above or even further above.
Q: You left a lot in Patagonia.. Your will, you're instinct, you're victory and that tremendous accomplishment. What do you think you took out of it and brought back with you as a souvenir? What did you learn most about yourself?
A: There were a million micro-lessons. One that I appreciate the most is C.P.E.: Consistent Persistent Effort. No matter how much there is to be done, if you want to keep surviving, you just keep going and doing the next thing.
Not catching any fish - who cares, you dig worms every day, re-bait the hook and keep putting in that persistent effort and you will catch fish. The minute you put off until tomorrow what you could have done today, you start to lose ground. That ground can be recovered but some times there's a price to pay, one that you may have avoided if you had just remained consistent.
Q: What grounds your respect towards the wilderness? Why do you love to be out there, away from the comfortable luxuries of modern living? What do you think can be gained from the wild that can't be ordered off Amazon or watched on Netflix nowadays?
A: For me, it's more about doing something real. You're never going to feel satisfied that you accomplished something great after binge-watching an entire season of Stranger Things (trust me - I'm guilty of this so I can speak form experience). You can only get that sense of achievement if you get up and achieve something.
Q: Lastly, what have you got going on next that your fans can take in?
A: My latest venture is going to is the 30 Day Survival Challenge, Season 2. This time I’m doing it in the Canadian Rockies with fellow Alone alumni, Greg Ovens.