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Lincoln’s Sam Larson wins ‘Alone’ survivalist reality show

August 17, 2018

After scraping away surface bark with his knife, Sam Larson applies his lips to a maple sapling to see how dry the wood is.

Here’s what Sam Larson had to say after winning during Thursday’s season finale of “Alone”:

“I gotta say, I honestly feel like ‘winner’ is a weird title. How do you ‘win’ against nature? You really don’t,” Larson wrote in a Facebook post. “You just have to live as much as you can and be thankful for the time you get to spend in the natural world. I’m enormously honored to call the other 9 participants my friends.”

Larson has been on the History Channel reality show before, but he didn’t win last time.

More from Larson last night: “Of all the groups I’ve ever been a part of, I’m most proud to be in the ‘Alone’ family, and of course, my immediate family. It’s been an honor to see the personal journeys of these individuals and I hope that what they’ve learned through their experiences will stay with them forever. Sorry for the potential run-on sentences of this post. Ironically I am on the toilet trying to rush through this.”

Cindy Lange-Kubick’s column on Larson

The headline was long and in all capital letters, like a National Weather Service tornado warning:

LINCOLN MAN SURVIVES TO TOP 5 COMPETITORS WITH ONLY 3 EPISODES REMAINING ON ALL-STAR SEASON OF HISTORY CHANNEL SURVIVAL COMPETITION

And while lacking in punctuation, the press release covered the basics, including where and when to watch that SURVIVAL COMPETITION: Thursdays at 9 p.m.

And how to contact Sam Larson, the Lincoln man who had so far survived “Alone,” the “toughest reality TV competition on Earth.” (A line that led me to wonder if the writer had ever watched “Paris Hilton’s My New BFF.”)

But the pitch intrigued me.

Just who was this Sam Larson, who had outfoxed Mother Nature and many of his fellow competitors and lived to tell the tale? (And was he on his way to the $500,000 winner-take-all first prize?)

I pictured a guy with bulging biceps and a bushy beard. A cross between Grizzly Adams and the Bachelor.

Not the face on his Facebook page in a family photo, Jonah Hill grinning from a mountain top.

“I did used to be a competitive bodybuilder, but that was a long time ago.”

The show emphasizes mental strength more than anything, the 25-year-old said. “Psychological toughness.”

It’s also helpful to know a thing or 300 about foraging for food, surviving the elements and months without Snapchat.

“You’re in your head for how many days, so that can be difficult. It’s extremely cold. You’re away from your family. You’re basically starving for as long as it takes to film the show.”

In other words: “It’s fun, but it’s hard.”

Larson attended a wilderness guide school in Maine after graduating from Lincoln High School in 2011. He starred in the inaugural season of “Alone” four years later, losing 50 pounds and making it to the semifinals during his 55 days in the Canadian wilderness eating mice, crabs and kelp.

Shortly before heading home to his pregnant wife and food purchased in plastic at the grocery store, he’d stared into the camera in his tent: “I always try to tough things out, but it’s been a slow, brutal decline of just losing my passion for this. Wanting to be out.”

That was a low point, Larson said. The moments that producers like to edit and include in the hour-long episodes.

Because, when he got an email from the show’s producers inviting him back for season 5, he sent a one-word reply: YES.

“The experience itself is a really good one. It’s good to go out in the woods and sort of reflect on your life.”

He didn’t get rich on his first season on the show, although the contestants earned a weekly salary. “It wasn’t anything super special, but it was way more than I was getting paid for my (Cabela’s) job at the time.”

Filming for this season wrapped up late last year in northern Mongolia, and, although he’s not at liberty to say how the 10-episode series ends, only two nights remain and he’s urging locals to keep watching.

“The Railyard said if I make it to the finale, they’ll put it on the big screen,” he says. “If it happens.”

In the meantime, Larson is a busy man. He’s a dad to 3-year-old Alaska and 1-year-old Everest, a husband to Sydney, a wilderness skills instructor and the author of the guide “To Tread in Wild Places.”

He’s been traveling this summer. To New York to do some promotional work for the show, filming a funny commercial for DISH Network in Vancouver and teaching survival skills in Silicon Valley. (Charging a laptop with a hand mirror aimed at the sun?)

Nope, Larson says. Team-building activities for tech company employees in the redwoods and a day camp for their kids. “How to build shelters and how to start a fire and stuff like that.”

The survivalist has gained back most of the weight he lost in the remote mountain regions of Mongolia — “like Nebraska during the worst January weather” — surviving on mice and voles, small birds, grasshoppers, ants, minnows and on one occasion, leeches.

“You have this fear of starving,” he says.

Back home: “I’m a huge fan of meat and coffee. Although, if I’m eating with my kids, which is most of the time, it’s chicken fingers and Goldfish crackers and SpaghettiOs.”

You do what you have to do to survive, says the man who will show up on TV on Thursday night with a trio of remaining cast members.

Watching from the comfort of home with his family and a fully-stocked refrigerator.

“It’s a winner-take-all,” he says. “But it feels like everyone wins, because you get this huge experience.”

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