Let’s pour one for the crafty and creative applicants on Only.
(Spoilers ahead.) In Friday’s eighth episode, the show said goodbye to two of my favorite actors from season nine: Tom Garstang and Jessie Krebs. After languishing in skeletal wreckage, Garstang wisely called for help after slipping on a downed tree and injuring himself. Krebs, meanwhile, was torn from the desert by Only doctors after catching a debilitating stomach condition and spending two nights vomiting in his campfire.
Neither Garstang nor Krebs were the most skilled hunters or the best at trapping critters—my affinity for each was rooted in their mutual imperfections. More Only competitors are pursuing an effective, calorie-saving strategy for living in nature, but not these two. Krebs, a 49-year-old survival instructor from Pagosa Springs, Colorado, became obsessed with building a massive outdoor shelter that seemed to rival the Great Pyramid of Giza in terms of square footage. She called her soaring cabin “Hodgepodge Lodge”, and her decision to work day and night on the building, instead of hunting or fishing, probably wore out her stamina too quickly.
And then there was Garstang, a 35-year-old regenerative farmer from Virginia who proved ingeniously creative early on. garstang arrived in Labrador after dyeing his hair green toxic avenger. In an early scene, he cut the emerald locks from his head, then used the hair to tie a fly-fishing fly. Garstang’s unorthodox appeal has actually earned him a few meals. Later in the season, Garstang made his girlfriend a pair of earrings using a piece of rabbit bone and grouse feathers.
All seasons, Only growers try to find at least one competitor like Garstang, an imaginative and artistic bushcraft expert. Only Creator-survivors can’t shoot moose or catch dozens of fish, but they often come up with ingenious – if sometimes superfluous – projects in the wilderness to keep themselves (and viewers) busy during the months of isolation. “It’s not so much that we’re looking for a fan favorite, we’re looking for creators,” Ryan Pender, the show’s executive producer, told me. “You have people who are good at hunting, and people who may not be, but they are really good at solving problems creatively using bushcraft.”
I appreciated Only ninth season for several reasons, and one is because several cast members are the artistic and creative type. On Friday’s episode, contestants Karie Lee Knoke and Adam Riley made Halloween costumes from the remains of animals they had killed for food. Riley even performed a trick or treat skit while wearing her costume – a bird mask made from grouse feathers.
Patient zero for that Only The archetype was Lucas Miller, a yoga teacher and wilderness therapy guide, who appeared on the show’s first season, which was set on Vancouver Island. While other contestants were dying from bad weather and paltry hunting, Miller built comfort items like a wooden ukulele and drum. He used plastic tarp to build a boat and used it to float around a brackish creek. He built a yurt to live in, as well as wooden shelves to store his few personal effects.
In one episode, Miller even performed a song, strumming with his makeshift ukulele as he sang. Miller eventually gave up, and perhaps his various side projects burned valuable calories that could have helped him survive longer in the wild. But he was unquestionably my favorite competitor of Onlyis the first.
I recently reached out to Miller to understand the spirit he brought to the season. Through his background in nature therapy, Miller told me he knew crafts and building projects would help him overcome the isolation and boredom he might experience in the forest. While other cast members on his season spent the weeks leading up to their departure learning to hunt and fish, Miller found ways to keep himself entertained. “I had an idea of the mental and emotional strain we were going to go through there, and I had a whole bunch of tips to help me stay positive,” Miller told me. “Just sitting around doing nothing is hard on your mental health.”
Prior to the expedition, Miller watched YouTube videos showing how to carve a guitar out of wood and how to build a tarp boat. He told me that winning the $500,000 prize was never his motivation. He wanted to see if he could live comfortably in nature with only his mind and body to entertain himself. “I don’t think people want to see us just sitting around starving to death,” Miller says. “I didn’t want to go on the show and have this mindset that I was just going to reserve calories just to win, because that’s not how I live life. What if I lose?
Miller says he just watched Only sporadically since his season aired, but he recognized a similar mindset in several contestants in subsequent seasons. In his opinion, survival shows can get boring and repetitive – he’d rather see survivors find creative ways to endure the outdoors than just hide and endure the daily chores of making a fire, grabbing food and carry water. Thriving in a survival scenario, he says, comes down to a person’s attitude. “There are two types of people who go on these shows: people who have a clear idea and a clear vision of what they’re going to do there, like ‘I’m going to kill the bear,'” Miller says. “And then there are the people who know how to feel it, instead of being stuck on an idea of how the experience is going to be.”
I asked Miller to help me compile a very unofficial list of Only the most creative and artistic survivors, and you can see our picks below:
Jose Martinez Amoedo (Season 2)
Amoedo, a soft-spoken Spaniard living in Canada’s Yukon Territories, spent weeks building a delicate kayak frame from wood and bentwood. His last boat looked good enough to sell at an outdoor store. He hoped the craft would allow him to catch fish offshore, but on his maiden voyage it capsized and sent Amoedo into the freezing waters. He had to kick and rescuers found him unable to move in waist deep water and on the verge of hypothermia. Still, Amoedo’s kayak was really cool.
Mike Lowe (Season 2)
Lowe is often overlooked as a fan favorite on Only because he quit after only 21 days in the bush. In those three weeks, however, Lowe built a dizzying array of gadgets and trinkets that would have made the doctor Gilligan’s Island proud. Lowe’s shelter looked like the set for Swiss Family Robinson—it had a sink with running water, a table and a nice fireplace. He built a football board game that used rolling dice he carved out of wood. He turned a plastic tank into a boat and even built a bowling alley on the beach out of a wayward buoy. In the end, Lowe tapped because he was bored.
Callie North (Season 3)
You knew from the start of season three, held in Patagonia, Argentina, that Washington State’s Callie North had the creative gene. One of his first projects was to build a reclining bamboo chair that would find its way into a Williams-Sonoma catalog. North spent several weeks building a shelter that still ranks among the best in the series’ nine seasons, complete with a stone fire pit, bamboo walls, and plenty of amenities. When her motivation began to wane, North built a sauna to warm up to, with a comfortable walkway to and from her soft foam shelter.
Woniya Thibeault (Season 6)
One of the principles of Only is that competitors can choose a limited amount of protective clothing to take to the field: warm hats, jackets, boots, etc. While most cast members opt for the latest and greatest outerwear, Californian Woniya Thibeault made her own buckskin outerwear. . In fact, she told me she was still finishing her buckskin boots in the days leading up to her deployment. Woniya was the second in season six, and one of the reasons she lasted so long was her ability to use every part of the bunnies she caught. She ate the meat and also wove a warm scarf from the skins.
Callie Russell (Season 7)
Like many others on this list, Montana native Callie Russell had the ability to maintain a positive attitude despite cold, hunger, and other harsh conditions. She first showed her creativity when she discovered clay in the ground near her shelter, then built and fired her own pots to use as containers. Then, in the season finale, Russell sewed a warm vest out of rabbit skins, which she modeled for the cameras while doing her best runway walk at an imaginary fashion show.