North Vancouver Island Forester/Biologist Megan Hanacek survived in the wilderness for 78 days before tapping out in the finale episode of the History Channel’s hit reality TV show Alone.
Hanacek was one of the early favourites to win the third season of the popular show, which featured 10 participants taking 10 survival items to the Patagonia, a wild and remote region of South America known simply as the ‘Edge of the World.’
In what turned out to be an incredible test of will and human endurance, Hanacek created her own shelters, foraged food from the land, overcame harsh weather conditions like the bitter cold, and dealt with a few pesky predators sniffing around her living quarters.
She finished in the top three out of 10 contestants.
“The thing I love about the show is that it extracts you from the pressures of regular society,” said Hanacek. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re male or female, 20 years old or 50 years old, it’s all about what you bring to the table with your skills, knowledge, and internal fortitude.”
Now that the season of Alone has officially ended, Hanacek has been doing the media rounds talking about her incredible journey.
When asked what it’s like to be featured extensively on a hit reality TV show, she laughed and said “it’s a bit mind-blowing considering we don’t even have cable.”
She added while she does get recognized out in public, “it’s a different type of fame. I think the viewers can relate to the realness of the show and I’ve had lots of positive feedback about how I’ve inspired people and made them reconnect with nature.”
Hanacek felt the editing of the show was “pretty true to the story. I was out there 1,900 hours and filmed about 700 hours on camera, and the tricky thing about editing it all together is they have to play stories against each other while not creating unnecessary drama and being accurate to your journey.”
She grew up on the North Island (moved to Port Alice when she was one years old and then to Port McNeill when she was eight), and it was her father who was her biggest inspiration when it came to developing a true passion for the outdoors.
“He was a biologist, a photographer and a scuba diving instructor, so I grew up with a lot of trips into the wild and it just became second nature to me. He really helped connect me to nature and showed me that if you understand it, you will value it, and in turn, you will protect it.”
Hanacek had her first encounter with a cougar when she was 13 in Port McNeill, and she still remembers it vividly to this day.
“I was putting the garbage out (late at night) and the cougar came out of the bushes 10 feet across from me on Beach Drive. It was a beautiful, yet scary moment in my childhood.”
Growing up on the North Island before there were distractions like high speed internet, iPhones and satellite TV, Hanacek was lucky enough to spend her youth out in the local woods having Tom Sawyer/Huckleberry Finn type adventures.
Her passion for the outdoors continued to grow after graduating from North Island Secondary School, and it eventually blossomed into a full-time career out in the field.
She currently works as a professional forester and biologist here in B.C. (like father like daughter) and she stated she absolutely loves her work.
“I have my dream job and incrementally, it took me 20 years to get it,” she said. “I think it’s a very amazing career to have, and I think it’s even more important with the way the world is changing due to issues like climate change and demands on natural resources from a growing population and multiple industries.”
One of Hanacek’s main reasons for wanting to compete on Alone was to help get people more interested in nature.
“I’ve had a lot of kids say they were inspired by watching me on Alone,” she said. “My biggest concern with society today is the growing divide between people and the outdoors. The average amount of screen time by the average North American is six hours a day, and the stats show that people check their phones every four minutes. I worry that our youth may not have the opportunities to see the value in ensuring healthy ecosystems and wildlife.”
When asked what it was like to film her epic 78 day journey in the Patagonia, she replied it was “extremely mentally and physically challenging. I was working 12 hours a day making traps (she made 200 traps while on the show and caught close to 40 fish), trying to figure out how to get nutrition, and filming everything from multiple camera angles added a whole other physical component to it.”
She was burning calories at a very fast rate, which ultimately gave her a new found sense of appreciation for body fat after the show ended.
Hanacek took only one food ration in her 10 survival items, which calorie wise equals out to about one fast food meal a week, meaning she had to seriously forage for every little bit of food she could find.
“I foraged rose hips and they have really hard seeds in the middle, and occasionally they would slip into my food,” she said.
Hanacek cracked and broke the inside of her back molar and chipped the cusp off her other back molar, causing her to seriously reflect on whether the $500,000 prize money ($250,000 after taxes) was worth risking her health for.
She also missed her family, which was weighing on her conscience.
“The biggest thing for me was coming back as a healthy wife and mom,” she said, adding “the family obligations and my health became more important than any monetary incentive.”
After lasting for an incredible 78 days in the wild, Hanacek became the longest surviving Canadian (and mother) cast member to be featured on Alone, handily besting the previous Canadian record for days spent on the show, which was 58.
She added she was the only mother on the show this year, “and I think it’s a real testament to how much family support I have around me that I was able to extract myself from life and go do this kind of challenge.”
When asked if she would ever go on another survival type show, she replied she wasn’t sure, but would be keeping her options open. “It’s a huge sacrifice for my family – so in the end it would have to be a family decision.”
All told, Hanacek felt any of the cast members this season could have taken home the grand prize (contestant Zachary Fowler ended up winning), and she loved the fact the women “did very well this year.”
Near the end of the interview, this reporter asked Hanacek what she had taken away from the gruelling 78 day experience, and she was quick to say that Alone was “the most mentally, physically, and spiritually emotional challenge you can possibly have in the wild. You have to film it all yourself and expose who you really are for the whole world to see.”
While she may have spent 78 days surviving in the harsh wilds of the Patagonia, her heart will always remain with the beauty of the North Island outdoors.
“We are so lucky to live in this area of the world with all the large tracts of wilderness still here,” she said. “All you have to do is go outside, look around and take a deep breath – we really do live in an amazing area of the world. I always tell people the North Island is like the undiscovered diamond in the wild, we are all so incredibly fortunate.”
Hanacek will be doing several local talks and courses with other Alone contestants in 2017, these will be advertised on her Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/megan.hanacek) and her Instagram account (www.instagram.com/meganhanacek).