Profile: Woniya Thibeault, the First Woman to Win ‘Alone’

Braving the elements, relying on her instincts and living off the land were only a few of the things that Woniya Thibeault had to do to survive Alone. No, I’m not talking about the literal definition of alone—I’m referring to Alone, the survival competition series on History that’s been tearing up Netflix recently. Thibeault—who was born in northeastern California near the Sierra Nevada mountains and now lives in Grass Valley—was dropped into the chilly Arctic with nothing but the show’s allowance of 10 select gear items and some cameras, left to document her experience for the show. We talked to Woniya to understand what it truly meant to be Alone.

“We’re literally alone,” Thibeault emphasized. “We’re dropped into the wilderness with a case full of cameras—so in that way it doesn’t feel like you’re on TV like it would in other situations, but of course there’s the awareness that you’re filming [yourself].”

Gregg Segal 

Documenting her wilderness survival journey was one of the bigger challenges that Thibeault faced throughout the show. Knowing that she needed to film certain portions of her day, she had to shift various routines and practices that would have otherwise taken place during different times.

“So I could get good film, I would butcher my animals during the daylight hours,” Thibeault said. “I had to re-orient the way that I did things in ways that were a detriment to my survival and my long-term sustainability out there. So I think a lot of the viewers don’t take into account how intense the filming is in addition to all of the other survival tasks.”

Gregg Segal 

For Thibeault, preparing for Alone was unexpected since she’d never signed up for the show in the first place. The producers for the show reached out to her rather than the other way around—initially, Thibeault wasn’t even looking to do the show in the first place.

“It felt like the universe just kept giving me all of these signs,” she explained. “[Like] my schedule suddenly being cancelled so that I had the open time just when I needed it, and all of these miraculous things happening . . . it made it clear that I didn’t really have much choice.”

Gregg Segal 

As much as Thibeault discussed the idea of fate leading her towards the show, it’s clear that her presence on Alone was meant to be.

“My whole adult life has been devoted to learning the kinds of skills that our ancestors used to live in the wild long term,” she said. “Tanning hides, wild foods, basketry, fiber and some of your more standard wilderness survival things like shelter and fire making . . . so the opportunity to get to apply them in amazing, really remote wilderness locations way beyond anything I’ve ever experienced . . . having nothing but wild foods to rely on was really exciting.”

Gregg Segal 

Thibeault didn’t hear from Alone about appearing on the show until late in the casting process. Because of this, she had around two to two-and-a-half months to train for the show. To prepare for her wilderness survival journey, Thibeault did strength training, cold training and learned more about her nervous system to gain a better understanding of maintaining calm states while out in the wild.

“I [also] made most of the clothing that I brought out there,” she added.

Gregg Segal

While fate seemed to guide Thibeault to participating in her first season on Alone, her second appearance seemed to do the opposite. There was no selection process for the sequel series, Alone: Frozen, as the show brought back contestants from previous seasons who had performed best. “I think it was July 4th that I got the call that it might be a possibility, and then we didn’t know it was for sure happening until August, and we left in September. So not a whole lot of preparation,” she said.

“[The timing of the second season] didn’t feel as universally dictated, but I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to do it,” she added. “The first time I had such an incredible experience—it was something that I never stopped missing and wanting again, so I was really looking forward to having another opportunity.”

Gregg Segal 

Competing on both Alone and Alone: Frozen allowed Thibeault to consider how many may focus on the wrong things when trying to survive in the wilderness. She emphasized that going into the wilderness from a place of respect and belonging, as well as wanting to forge the connection, became one of her strengths.

“We get this idea from our culture that the wilderness is out to get us,” she explained. “The reality is that we came from the wilderness—it’s what we evolved for.”

Gregg Segal 

Despite feeling fulfilled by her wilderness survival experience, a large chunk of Thibeault’s journey didn’t make it into the show. “I was out there for two-and-a-half months, filming 16 hours a day, and there was an hour of footage of me total,” she said. “There were a lot of things that I thought were important that didn’t make it on.”

This, as well as other factors, inspired Thibeault to come out with her new book, Never Alone: A Solo Arctic Survival Journey. The memoir details Thibeault’s experiences on the show as well as what she hopes others will take away from it.

“It felt really important to me to share a really different perspective on wilderness survival than we typically have,” she said. “[A perspective] that is coming more from a place of connection and the joy and beauty rather than the suffering and pushing through, so that was important.”

Gregg Segal 

Not only does Thibeault recognize the importance of her own connection with the land in both Alone and Alone: Frozen, she also highlights how this connection helped her survival journey.

“[Writing the book] was one of my commitments to the place when I was out there asking the land to feed me, asking the animals to come to my traps, killing so that I could live, that was one of the things that I offered in return to those animals . . . I would share the story with the world so that they would have an impact on the greater world—an impact of pushing people towards seeing that going into the wild from a place of respect and connection is a more successful strategy than from a place of taking without giving back. So, it was a promise to the land and the animals who fed me.”

Gregg Segal 

Thibeault hopes that those who read her book realize the benefits that come from establishing a connection with the natural world around us. Through her recounting of her journey, she wishes to provide a deep immersion into the wilderness that readers can vicariously live through. As well, she hopes that her experience allows people to consider the differences between needs and wants.

“There’s nothing like going without shelter in extreme weather, without food when you’re desperately hungry, without all the modern conveniences to really teach you the difference between needs and wants,” she discussed. “Take the time to be grateful for having most of our basic needs met.”

Learn more about Woniya Thibeault’s journey here.

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