News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Survival show features local resident

Joel van der Loon of Sisters Country has faced survival challenges before: in Africa, in the Americas, and at sea. He recently documented his struggles and triumphs in the Canadian Arctic for show “Alone.” It premieres Thursday, June 11 on the History Channel.

The premise: Ten participants are challenged to spend up to 100 days in the Arctic, all by themselves, selecting just 10 items of survival gear to bring along. Winners receive a cool one million dollars. “Over six seasons,” the History Channel noted, “no one has ever lasted this long.”

Originally from South Africa, van der Loon spent significant time with the indigenous Masai people in his younger years, which inspired his passion in primitive skills.

“The Hadzabe bushmen, in Northern Tanzania, they were a huge influence later on in my life,” he said. “They are some of the last true hunter-gatherers on the planet.”

“They’ve been a huge influence because I’m an avid hunter, and these guys are sensational,” said van der Loon, who speaks Swahili. “They build their own bows and arrows—they hunt everything, up to large game, with things that they make, from nature.” He also learned jungle survival skills from the Rama people in Nicaragua.

A Discovery Channel show called Bushcraft Buildoff first featured van der Loon, in episode three. Later he was selected for the seventh season of “Alone.”

“You get dropped off in the Arctic on your own with your ten items, your clothing, and a whole bunch of camera equipment,” said van der Loon. “You have to document your whole experience while you try to subsist off the land.”

Shows like “Survivor” pit competitors against each other in a social setting, where cooperation is required to avoid getting voted off the island. The History Channel’s offering places each contestant in solitude. With no camera crews and fellow contestants to distract them, they grapple not only with surviving the elements but facing their own selves.

“It’s unusual in that you’re alone for a long period of time,” said van der Loon. “The psychological aspect of being alone, which brings challenges. Being away from family.”

He described himself as more solitary and introverted naturally. Being away from his two-year-old son was his psychological challenge. “Otherwise I enjoyed the time alone,” he said. He appreciated “the deep level of connection that you form with the natural world when you don’t have any distraction, where all you have to worry about is the essentials: staying warm, feeding yourself, staying creative.”

The physical challenge was considerable as well. He listed the obstacles: dealing with not eating very much, weight loss, and lack of nutrients, “with a sort of high workload.” He noted, “It takes a lot of work to feed yourself and build a shelter and pick berries and keep warm.”

The van der Loon family moved to Sisters Country about two years ago. Joel and his wife Leah first met when they were both employed on yachts, out at sea. “I was a chief engineer, and she was a hostess,” he explained. They settled in California for a few years, where van der Loon started his Bush Survival Training school.

In addition to direct bushcraft experience, van der Loon’s bio states that his certifications and education include STSC survival instructor, WMA wilderness first responder, ASHI wilderness first aid, and MCA advanced fire fighting. He is a kick boxer, hunter, fisherman and diver, and is qualified in advanced sea survival under the British Coastguard.

After having a baby, the couple wanted a more rural lifestyle. “We sought out a place that would provide a compromise for myself, what I desire, and my family,” van der Loon said. “My wife wanted a sense of community whereas I’m more introverted. Sisters, we felt, was the perfect size.” Since moving here, he too has become fond of the community.

The van der Loons live north of city limits, bordering public lands.

“We have everything we need in town,” van der Loon enthused. “It’s a great lifestyle. The access to the outdoor activities is what does it for me. I’m not as off-grid as I’d like — but it’s all on our doorstep.”

He enjoys mushroom foraging, hunting, the mountains and getting his son out in nature.

Learn more about Joel van der Loon at Info about Alone is available at

“It’s going to be a great season,” said his wife, Leah van der Loon. “We hope our community will be stoked to see one of its locals out there!”


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