Q&A: How Woniya Thibeault Overcame Extreme Cold to Win ‘Alone: Frozen’
‘Alone: Frozen’ wrapped up on Thursday, and the series crowned a female champion for the first time
Outside's long reads email newsletter features our strongest writing, most ambitious reporting, and award-winning storytelling about the outdoors. Sign up today.
In late July, producers of The History Channel’s hit survival/reality show Alone debuted a spinoff series that promised to be an even greater test of grit and wilderness skill than the original format. Called Alone: Frozen, the series handpicked six previous contestants and then dropped them onto a barren stretch of Labrador, Canada’s remote Atlantic coastline at the onset of winter. There, they would pursue a solitary survival lifestyle using ten survival tools, and anyone to last 50 days would split a $500,000 prize purse. Unlike a normal Alone season, where contestants enjoy weeks of warm temperatures before the first cold snap, Alone: Frozen would force cast members to endure the arctic freeze from day one.
“This is the most difficult and dangerous survival experience ever attempted,” the show’s intro proudly proclaimed.
Labrador did not disappoint, and once the show began, participants dropped quickly in the extreme environment. By day 50, just one cast member remained: Woniya Thibeault of Grass Valley, California. Thibeault earned the distinction of becoming the first female champion in Alone’s history.
We caught up with Thibeault—who was the runner-up during season six—to discuss her win.
OUTSIDE: What does it mean to you to be Alone’s first female champion?
WONIYA THIBEAULT: I have kind of mixed feelings about it, because on the one hand, it feels like a really big deal that we’ve had a woman win for the first time. And on the other hand, I like just being excited that I won as a person, and not that it’s a big deal because of my gender. Also, I’m not just the first woman to have won Alone, I’m also now the person who has had the most cumulative days spent in the wilderness in the show’s history. I think that world has, for a long time, seen survival skills as more as being for men, even though all of us had ancestors—men, women, children, elders—who used to live in the wild. And from that perspective, I don’t think it’s such a big deal for a woman to win. Plus, I think the lack of a female winner is more because we haven’t had as many women participate in the show, even though women have always been really strong on Alone. And the fact that it wasn’t just myself going the distance, but that three women were the last three participants standing on this season, is really cool. I’m proud to represent that.
What are some examples of survival wisdom or wilderness tricks that helped you win?
I knew I had to get a shelter going as soon as possible because weather was coming. So getting shelter up and then focusing on food was important—you will burn so many calories on food, and if you don’t have shelter, you’re going to burn even more in the cold. And then, it was about being really mindful with food, and looking ahead to the conditions I could expect. Knowing that the sea ice was coming in, I knew I would have to find a good way to store food, in this case mussels, after I harvested them. I knew I needed 25 days worth of dry tinder because soon it would be under the snow. So, taking things day-by-day—which you typically do on Alone—was helpful, but you also had to think much farther out due to the weather. I also put a lot of effort into becoming a better trapper. I took a trapping skills course beforehand.
Which setting was harder: the Great Slave Lake (from season six) or coastal Labrador?
I assumed that, since I had survived for two and a half months in the arctic, and Labrador was so much farther south, then how could it be harder? Oh my goodness, it was infinitely harder. We had our Base Camp inland, where Alone season nine took place, but we were deployed way out on the coast, and it was so much harder out there because it was so exposed to the weather. I was on this cliff top facing the Atlantic, and there was all of this wind coming straight across. There were almost no trees in my area. There were basically no fish, and the plants were dead. I thought the arctic was sparse until I got to coastal Labrador. And it was infinitely colder because of the wetness. Even though the temperatures were lower along Great Slave Lake, they were easier to deal with than in Labrador, where everything was always soaked.
What was the hardest moment for you?
The first week was the hardest, and by the second week I was over the hump. We were dropped in just before a big storm hit, which meant I was working on my shelter in the pouring rain. My spot was really stark, and I didn’t have forest that could offer any shelter. So it was day after day of working in the freezing rain, and I was hypothermic. I got intense tendinitis in my hands from building with rock and doing a lot of digging. Day six I was at my low point, and I really questioned whether or not I could physically stay out there. I couldn’t turn on my headlamp, and I felt like my body was giving up on me. I was so miserable that I began to look for excuses. And then that night is when I accidentally sprayed myself in the face with pepper spray.
How did you mentally work through that rough patch?
I have a practice of doing a lot of positive self-talk and looking for gifts in every challenge. Part of it was looking at my situation and realizing that I have an incredible opportunity, and telling myself that it may be one that I won’t get again in my lifetime. And reminding myself of how sad I would be if I went home and was not able to fully explore what it is to be in this wild and rugged place, using the skills that I’ve devoted my adult life to learning. I told myself, look, I know that times feel really hard right now. Let yourself experience that sadness—don’t stuff it down. But also realize that emotions come and go. If it’s just hard for a little while, you know you can pull through.
This was technically a spinoff show, and not a traditional season of Alone. Does that diminish the victory, or make you view it any differently?
No—quite the opposite. Most seasons of Alone feature untested people. For Alone: Frozen, they chose people who had a demonstrable track record of surviving for a long time in previous seasons. And then also to be launched later, in more challenging circumstances, I considered this to be almost an all-star challenge, or the ultimate challenge, of Alone. And so it feels like a much bigger accomplishment than a normal season. It was infinitely harder than most of our first experiences on other seasons, so in my mind, it’s a much bigger accomplishment. And I feel really proud for persevering.
This interview was edited for space.