On Netflix’s “Outlast,” it’s self-preservation versus loyalty

Contestants on many reality competition series keep in touch through a group text after filming. But not all of them on Netflix’s “Outlast” kept communicating after filming wrapped in the fall of 2021 near Alaska’s Neka River, west of Juneau.

“I’ve made one of the best friendships of my life and some of them are pretty nice people, but there are a bunch of them who if they were on fire across the street I wouldn’t pee on them to turn it off,” says Dawn Nelson, an “Outlast” attendee from Creston, Washington. “If we crashed a plane, those people would be bear bait and we would eat the bears that ate their carcasses. They were that horrible.”

In the eight-episode first season of Outlast, streaming on Netflix starting March 10, 16 players are divided into four teams. The game has only one rule: they must be part of a team to win. The only eliminations are self-eliminations, even if a player has no team.

Nelson, who grew up in Danville, Washington, along the Canadian border where her parents were fourth-generation ranchers, grew up riding her horse alone into the wilderness, sometimes for as long as a week at a time.

She had previously signed up for “Survivor” (and never heard back), but initially resisted a childhood friend’s pleas to sign up for “Outlast.” But after surviving breast cancer and more recently suffering an injury while working at Airway Heights Corrections Center that left her with no feeling in her right hand, Nelson decided to give “Outlast” a shot.

“It was like grabbing life and living it again, that was it,” says Nelson. “I didn’t do it to prove [anything] to everyone but myself that I was actually still this person who can survive. Half the time I even forgot that the cameras were watching me.’

Grant Kahler, executive producer of “Outlast,” says that while all contestants were required to have “a baseline of outdoor skills,” Nelson proved to be exceptional.

“She grew up hunting her food. She grew up growing her food. She was so incredibly knowledgeable she blew us all away like, gosh, will anyone even be able to compete with this girl?” he says. “She was just as impressive.”

While Nelson signed up for “Outlast” with the idea of ​​putting her survival skills to the test, Kahler also built a social experiment into the game with the “one rule” edict.

“We didn’t want to handcuff people in any way,” says Kahler. “I told them I wouldn’t give them any rules. Did I think there would be foul play or foul play? Yes, because we gave them the chance. But I didn’t expect it the way it happened.”

Nelson, 43, says all the rules for the show were so lax she can’t remember what they were.

“I’m sure we weren’t supposed to hurt anyone,” says Nelson.

Although she was disappointed with how some of her fellow contestants behaved during the competition, Nelson enjoyed the first few weeks of production.

“Everyone started to know who you were. You learn everyone’s skills,” she says. “Then it became ‘Lord of the Flies’ meet Hannibal Lecter with a little bit — what is that where they’re eating people on top of the mountain? [‘Alive.’] Every time we got like that, it was like, ‘Oh, Lord, have mercy.’ I mean, these people are on TV. Don’t they know this is going to air, that your family is going to see it?”

Nelson keeps absolutely no contact with Jill Ashock from New Haven, Kentucky, who becomes the show’s main villain.

“I hope America hates her as much as everyone on the show,” says Nelson.

Kahler says the show pitted contestants’ self-preservation efforts against loyalty to others.

“From a selfish standpoint, what helps you get to that next level? And I think a lot of people thought, “If I can take out others, it helps my position,” he says. “We gave our contestants that ability and they obviously took it.”

As for location, Kahler says “Outlast” producers initially explored Homer, Alaska, but ended up near Juneau because of the climate.

“What really struck me about the Juneau area, as opposed to a little further north in Alaska, of course, is the rain,” he says. “Rain is so much heavier than snow. Twenty-five degrees and snow is much easier to get through than 35 degrees and rain. Not that I was out to torture people, but the bottom line was that this must be an extremely challenging place and that’s what we found. … It had that punishing environment – the predators no one wants to sleep with – but it also had the means to survive if you have the ability to: It had deer that [contestants] were shooting. We were there when the salmon was running. It had fish in the bay. There was crab. It ticked all those boxes, not to mention it was spectacularly beautiful.

Nelson, who currently works as a phlebotomy assistant at Cooley Dam Medical Center, is also a 36-time published author who recently sold the movie rights to one of her novels, “Peppermint Kisses.”

“It’s about a New York chef who inherits a ranch in Eastern Washington,” says Nelson. “I don’t know if I’m allowed to say company names, but let’s just say it’s probably going to be a Hallmark movie.”

In the meantime, Nelson is waiting for “Outlast” to hit Netflix. Her almost 18-year-old daughter’s high school classmates are eager to see how this suddenly “cool mom” does on the show.

“My thing was, I wanted to play a fair game,” says Nelson. “Yes, I had a little attitude a few times. But in the end I tried to play something that I hoped my daughter would watch and say, “My mom played fair.” ”

“To survive”

The eight-episode season begins March 10 on Netflix.

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