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'Can of yams' key to isolation strategy, Michigan 'Alone' winner says

Dave McIntyre spent 66 days on Vancouver Island, BC, winning Season 2 of History Channel's, "Alone." His isolation skills can be used during COVID-19 isolation.

KENTWOOD, Mich. — In 2016, Kentwood, Mi. native, Dave McIntyre won Season 2 of the History Channel's reality survival show, 'Alone,' taking home $500,000.

To survive in isolation as long as he did, he had to navigate the new normal he was dropped into, which is something all of us continue to do today as we deal with this worldwide pandemic.

Many of the survival skills McIntyre used in the wilderness can be applied to civilian life, as the world continues to deal with the unwelcomed form of isolation COVID-19 has forced upon it.

"I've been involved in wilderness survival all my life," said McIntyre, who lasted 66 days on the island. "Once I became one of the ten contestants, they said, 'We'll be sending you to a wilderness area somewhere in the world; it can last up to a year; you'll have no contact with the outside world."

McIntyre says he couldn't resist the extreme challenge that the experience would provide. 

He wound up on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, where he was completely alone. He was given a satellite phone, which gave him the option to 'tap-out' (quit the competition, be rescued, and returned to reality) at anytime, a backpack with a few tools, and a camera so he could document his struggle.

Show producers would send a medical team every 7 to 10 days to take McIntyre's vitals, ask a few questions, then leave.

There was no social interaction.

"The challenge is always how much can you get out of your environment before you starve-out," said McIntyre. "Sometimes I'd just go off for a couple days and listen to the silence.

"That often restored me, then I started wondering how long it would take for that to become the thing that was tearing me apart."

McIntyre lived off the land, making his own shelter and eating fish and wildlife for food.

"The first month was the hardest month out there," said McIntyre. "I lost 35 pounds in the first five-and-a-half weeks.

"You had no communication with any real human beings. No TV; no internet; no words, only your own and your own thoughts."

Credit: Dave McIntyre
Knowing that the survival skills Dave McIntyre used during 'Alone' could help those dealing with COVID-19 isolation, a friend made him this meme.

McIntyre experienced extreme social distancing, compared to the level most of the world is enduring while navigating COVID-19, though, many of his survival skills are similar.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs says the lowest unmet need motivates," said McIntyre. "If you're starving to death, you don't feel the lack of companionship."

One of his many suggestions for people being worn down by COVID-19 isolation is, "for anybody out there who's feeling the lack of human connection, be thankful that your other needs are met right now. The things in your life that allow you to experience those emotional needs, if you didn't have those, you wouldn't be feeling lonely."

During the show, McIntyre says he could quit at anytime. 

"The satellite phone they provided me had a tap-out button on it," added McIntyre. "But, I never considered using it no matter how rough things got."

COVID-19 doesn't provide anybody with a 'tap-out' button. 

Nobody can quit. 

McIntyre says on the days he felt extremely lonely on the island, battling starvation, he always, "stressed the importance of now. What you do with your now is the only time you get to do anything. What can you do right now to make tomorrow easier."

McIntyre says he also drew motivation from thinking about his kitchen cabinet at home, and one particular food item that was inside.

"I remember opening the cabinet and seeing this can of yams and thinking, 'Yea, I got nothing to eat; I have to go shopping.'

Credit: Dave McIntyre
Dave McIntyre says he was haunted by this can of yams while he was winning Season 2 of 'Alone.' It continues to be a source of strength for him today.

"That can of yams haunted me. I would have given anything to just eat that can of yams. I didn't even need a can opener out there; I would have been hitting it with a rock to open it."

When McIntyre returned home, the can of yams was still in his cabinet. He decided to keep it because of what it represents to him.

Credit: Dave McIntyre
"Best by September, 2013," Dave McIntyre's can of yams remains unopened, and serves as a metaphorical prop whenever he does speaking engagements.

"[The can of yams] passed it's expiration date long before I was out there on the island," McIntyre joked. "That's the thing that keeps me grateful for the things in my life today."

McIntyre is challenging everybody who is feeling anxious or depressed from the isolation caused by COVID-19, to find their "can if yams" - the one thing that brings them joy, paramount to anything else.

"How many dads would run into a burning building for their children, but they don't put down the remote," said McIntyre, in a sobering tone. "Use this time to take inventory on and invest in the people and relationships that truly matter to you and back away from the ones that are toxic. 

"Learn the lessons that this has forced upon us."

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