Survivalist Jordan Jonas is no stranger to harrowing situations.
He’s survived a fall through ice and has pulled himself out of a mud bog after being trapped up to his shoulders.
He’s chopped a tendon is his knee and had his ribs broken by a reindeer while in the Siberian wilderness about 12 hours away from a hospital.
“A lot of those things probably had pretty steep learning curves,” said Jonas, 35, who now lives in Lynchburg with his wife and two children.
Jonas faced a new challenge with an entirely different learning curve as a participant on season six of the History series “Alone,” which premieres Thursday.
During the show, Jonas and nine other contestants attempted to survive in the Canadian Arctic with a limited number of tools and a video camera, which they used to document their experiences. The one who outlasts the others receives a prize of $500,000.
“The participants are truly left alone to document their own journey,” Ryan Pender, executive producer for Leftfield Pictures, which produces the show, wrote in an email to The News & Advance. “... We see the survivalists’ triumphs and defeats through their eyes and that is what connects them to the people at home.”
Raised on a farm in Idaho, Jonas was always interested in the outdoors, where he did a lot of camping and hiking.
“That’s pretty typical for a lot of people,” he said. “It mostly took a unique angle when I went to Russia and, over the years, ended up living with the nomads over there.”
Around 2010, Jonas spent several months living and working with nomadic Evenki reindeer herders in Siberia.
“Until I actually met the people, I didn’t even know people like that still lived, really,” he said. “They live in tepees, fully nomadic up in the North. I was totally fascinated.”
Jonas, who moved to Lynchburg in 2008 and renovates dilapidated houses downtown, would return to Siberia multiple times, spending a total of three years with the natives in several months-long increments.
These experiences made him feel like he could compete on “Alone.”
Unlike on other survival shows, there are no challenges to be faced or advantages to be earned. There isn’t even a camera crew tracking their journey.
Instead, contestants are dropped off in separate parts of the wilderness — previous locations have included Northern Vancouver Island, Patagonia and Mongolia — and left to survive on their own for as long as they can.
They have no human contact until they tap out, save for the occasional medical check. Previous winners have survived anywhere from 56 to 87 days.
Jonas’ application, which included YouTube videos of his time in Siberia, immediately stood out to the show’s producers.
“We knew right away that he was an intriguing character,” Pender wrote. “He had us glued to his stories of living with the Evenki people in Siberia, his tales of hopping freight trains with his brother and the injuries he recovered from during his years of adventures.”
They eventually chose him to participate in the show’s first excursion to the Arctic, where, Pender wrote, the participants camped out along the shores of Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories of Canada.
“It snowed the first week they were there,” Pender added, noting that temperatures can fall to minus 40.
Before the new season’s premiere, Jonas talked about living with reindeer herders in Siberia, preparing for the Arctic and the obstacles he faced while braving the cold.
How is the Evenki way of life different than ours?
“It’s like a pre-modern existence. You don’t have any schedules. All you do is directly connected to your existence. You wake up, and you go fish because you might be hungry or you go look for the reindeer or hunt. It’s very basic stuff, but it seems we’re very wired for that way of life.
“I was joking you get more joy out of catching a fish than you do buying a new Lamborghini or something — it’s so exciting, it’s like you’re made for it. It’s a whole different way of life ... just hunter-gatherer. Not many people do it anymore, but after having lived a little bit that way I can absolutely understand why the Native Americans didn’t want to give up that way of life back in the day.”
I imagine living in Siberia prepared you for living in the Canadian Arctic on “Alone.”
“It was definitely great preparation. I’ve never taken any bush craft classes, I haven’t started fires with sticks or things like that, but, on the other hand, I’ve lived with people who really, practically live [a] primitive way of life. And I know a lot of the things that are practical and necessary to live out there. It helped me a ton and it was interesting to get out to Canada and see how much those skills translated. It felt very familiar to Siberia.”
But not the same.
“Even in Siberia, you know winter’s coming and you prepare, store up some supplies, you have your tepee already made. It’s definitely different than getting dropped off with nothing. Not even knowing the terrain or where the fishing holes are. You have to learn all that really fast on the fly while you’re getting hungrier.”
“... You get flown out there by helicopter, just dropped off, and the helicopter flies away. There you are with your 10 items and a camera. It was pretty surreal.”
What kinds of challenges did you face up there?
“On a lot of prior seasons, it seemed like the top person with the highest BMI usually fared pretty well, so going in, being one that’s on the lower end of that spectrum, I was like ‘Oh man, I’ve got to really make it happen.’ I’m not going to be able to just sit there and outlast everybody else. I’m going to have to out-produce everybody else.
“My biggest obstacle always felt like it [was] providing enough food. I wasn’t actually concerned about the cold. In fact, I wanted it to get cold fast. I don’t know if they’ll put it on or not, but there’s definitely [footage] of me complaining that it wasn’t cold enough fast enough. I knew I could handle the cold. I thought maybe some of the other people hadn’t experienced that kind of cold outside.”
The season’s description mentions animals, including bears, moose and wolves. Did you encounter any of those?
“Those are all out there. You’re always encountering signs of them, and they’re a constant presence. ... I encountered multiple animals — large game, small game. It was pretty intense at times. It definitely makes for good TV.”