BOSTON (AP) — Nicole Apelian first learned how to live primitively by tracking lions through the South African bush while doing academic research. More recently, she started gathering wild plants to eat to slow the progress of her multiple sclerosis.
In many ways, that made the 46-year-old native of Worcester, Massachusetts, a natural fit for the cast of Alone, a History Channel reality series that follows 10 survivalists on a remote part of Canada’s Vancouver Island. Season 2 premieres at 9 p.m. EDT Thursday.
Like the rest of the show’s contestants, Apelian had accrued a lifetime of outdoor experience before being placed on the island, where black bears, wolves, and cougars roam freely.
Despite her disease and the dangers of mingling with predators, Apelian never questioned going on the show once History extended the offer.
“I love being in the wilderness alone — I’ll admit that,” she told The Associated Press in an interview.
Cast members were each dropped in separate spots on the island. Each was given six cameras for filming themselves and an emergency button to reach the producers.
“We were dropped by ourselves and we were completely alone,” Apelian said. “This is a show people can watch and know there’s not a whole film crew surrounding you.”
For the journey, contestants were allowed to bring a set number of clothing items and choose 10 supplies that could fit in a backpack. Among Apelian’s items: fishing line, a folding saw, and a carbon steel knife.
The premise: Contestants try to outlast one another in the wilderness, with the last person taking home a $500,000 prize. Last season’s winner managed a 56-day stay on the island.
“The spirit and ingenuity of each survivalist featured on Alone are the heart and soul of the series. We are enormously proud of Nicole and the rest of our Season 2 cast,” said Paul Cabana, an executive vice president and head of programming at History.
Apelian’s passion for nature dates to her childhood. She credits her stepfather for fostering a connection with nature and love of learning.
“He got me outside,” Apelian said.
Now the outdoors has become a sanctuary when it comes to managing MS. She was diagnosed 16 years ago when the disease began affecting her eyesight and ability to walk.
When Apelian found traditional Western treatments didn’t work, she changed course and began an herbal medicine regimen supplemented with a diet of organic and wild foods and plenty of exercise. In many ways, she said, nature offers her relief from MS.
“When I’m at a computer in the city, that’s when I feel my health is negatively affected,” she said.
While filming “Alone,” if she started to experience symptoms — such as tingling in the throat, nose, and tongue — she would lie down and rest.
“I know these are warning signs my nervous system is starting to freak out,” Apelian said. “But in the wilderness, there was no one there telling me what to do so I could lie down and take a nap.”
Cohabitating with wildlife and having to catch her dinner wasn’t the biggest challenge. It was leaving her two young sons and boyfriend for an undetermined amount of time.
But Apelian, now living in Portland, Oregon, saw an opportunity to inspire others to push themselves.
“My goal was to thrive out there,” she said. “I didn’t want to just exist, I wanted to thrive and be a role model for girls and women everywhere.”