Health risks and high rewards for participants

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The idea of ​​being stranded in the wilderness and relying only on your wits is a concept too terrifying for most people to contemplate. Battling wild animals, battling extreme weather conditions and living without the internet are just a few of the challenges of surviving off the grid.

Despite this, we are still fascinated by other people Attempt at the challenge, which might explain the continued popularity of survival competition shows like Aloneone of most popular reality shows today on TV and survivor, now in its 43rd show cycle. Both Alone and survivor Test the mental and physical abilities of the contestants to see who can last the longest in a challenging environment and win heaps of cash. But the health risks are as real as the rewards.

Alone: ​​Frozen & Starved

On Alone, participants are dropped off in cold, remote locations like Patagonia and Mongolia without even the comfort of a production crew. Survivors are expected to figure out how to use their wilderness skills and primal instincts to feed themselves and keep themselves alive. They build log cabins or yurts, try to set up food systems like fishing nets and rabbit traps, and search for edible flora – all while filming themselves and avoiding the psychological dangers of isolation.

Many will “knock out” the cry for mercy. Aloneand ask for evacuation due to extreme hunger or overwhelming homesickness, but for those who endure the course, intense cold and hunger can also take their toll.

Medical evacuations are common Alone, often because of the associated health risks from massive weight loss. In anticipation of starvation, some contestants gained significant weight before the show, including one the scale of 60 pounds. Without regular nourishment, most participants lose weight, although few survive as long on as little food as Colter Barnes, the 86 pounds lost.

But shedding heavy pounds over a short period of time can lead to a loss of muscle mass and bone density, weak immunity, digestive issues like constipation, fatigue or lack of energy, and even hair loss.

The audience watched as a medical team evacuated British Columbian contestant Rose Anna Moore Wilderness in season 8after she passed out, alone in the woods, without the communications gear that all participants were supposed to be wearing.

Moore, who had lost 20 percent of her body weight over her time on the show, had begun to experience symptoms including tremors, abdominal pain and hearing loss, and then lost consciousness when the temperature dropped to 7 degrees F. She was among the five Contestants who stayed in the competition after 37 days and competed for a $500,000 prize.

“People who are starving cannot maintain their metabolic heat production as efficiently and for as long as people who are well fed,” said Howard J. Donner, MD, expedition physician and co-author of The Field Guide to Wilderness Medicine.

Our body stores potential energy in the form of glycogen, the stored version of glucose, or sugar found in carbohydrates. The body can adapt to cold by trying to raise its temperature by shivering, one of the first signs of it hypothermiaor a potentially dangerous drop in body temperature.

When a person’s muscle glycogen stores are depleted from malnutrition, they don’t shake as much and don’t jitter for as long as they do with “normal glycogen stores and a higher level of nutritional integrity,” Donner said.

And shivering can burn as many calories as recreational jogging, Donner said. This is detrimental to participants trying to conserve every bit of energy they have, especially when their next meal time is uncertain. And when that meal is often not just mouse-sized, but actually mouse-sized.

Another danger of dropping body temperature is that as a person goes down and transitions from mild to moderate hypothermia, exposure to the cold can result in a decline in cognitive function, colloquially referred to as “stupid.”

Survivor: Into the fire

participant survivor have other challenges. If dropped into tropical climates, they are more likely to suffer heatstroke than hypothermia. They’re not alone, and they face peer-voted elimination every week rather than isolating with no end date. but survivor Contestants must also build shelters, subsist on minimal food, compete in physical feats, and solve puzzles – while retaining the emotional intelligence to manipulate other contestants in endless elimination rounds.

Subsisting on small bowls made from coconut shells with rice and boiled well water, contestants often burn 60 calories or less per day as they compete for the $1 million Sole Survivor prize. Episode Challenge winners often receive food prizes, but these prizes can be elusive for team “tribes” or individual contestants. Everyone is braving the heat, and medical evacuations are common.

Russell Swan, whose eyes are famous rolled back in his head before collapsing in Samoa during a “Roll with It” reward challenge in season 19 of the show, he was removed from the game after his blood pressure dropped dangerously low from dehydration.

Dehydration alone can take a toll on the body, said Dr. Stephanie Lareau, Physician of Emergency Medicine in Roanoke, VA. It can even cause a condition known as orthostatic hypotension, a drop in blood pressure that can cause someone to pass out.

“In a hot environment, your body tries to cool itself, and some of the first mechanisms of cooling are vasodilation, so your blood vessels expand and your blood moves from the core to the periphery,” Lareau said. “So you’re sweating and losing temperature through your skin.”

Major organs like the kidneys, heart, and brain may also not function optimally when blood flow is diverted to compensate for fluid loss.

“Diverting that fluid to try to stay cool will somehow amplify the effects of dehydration,” Lareau said.

Caloric deficits can also take their toll, as Lareau points out that there is no effective way to adapt to hunger. Attempting to engage in physical activity in this state causes the heart to pump faster, strains muscles, and amplifies the effects of stress from dehydration and heat, a “potentially dangerous triad,” according to Lareau.

“When you’re in a state of starvation and your body isn’t getting the nutrients it needs, you’re already damaging your brain and kidneys,” Lareau said. “And that’s compounded by the fact that you’re exposed to the extreme heat and the stress of exercising and having to do physical things to survive. So they kind of interact with each other.”

This can be exacerbated by the fatigue that participants also experience when sleeping together (or not) in uncomfortable, rough, open structures. Constant rain, hard and uneven “floors” and other people are common complaints.

A lack of sleep also increases the stress on the body, which over time affects brain function and decision-making, while the rapid weight loss caused by limited food can potentially impair physical performance.

“I think not only are they losing fat, but they’re probably losing muscle mass as well, and they’re shedding themselves,” Lareau said. “So you’re probably at risk of doing long-term damage to the body from those huge weight shifts.”

Even given the extreme conditions reality show contestants face when chasing big cash prizes, many seem to be betting that the risks and the experience are worth the eventual reward. With survivor in his 22nd year and Alone In its ninth, with two spinoffs, fans seem to agree that it pays to watch competitors battle the elements and the limits of their own bodies.


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Health risks and high rewards for participants
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