GREENFIELD — Eighteen months is a long time to keep a secret, but Joel Hungate of McCordsville has done just that as he anxiously awaits the premier of the survivalist show he filmed in the Alaskan wilderness in the fall of 2021.
“Outlast” premiers on Netflix this Friday, March 10, and Hungate invites the community to join him for a watch party at Wooden Bear Brewing Co. in Greenfield that night.
While the show has been kept tightly under wraps since production wrapped last fall, the publicity videos now circulating make the experience look pretty grueling, with 16 individuals dressed in camo facing off in the freezing rain.
Netflix describes the eight-episode reality series like this: “In the extreme Alaskan wild, 16 survivalists compete for a chance to win a massive cash prize — but these lone wolves must be part of a team to win.”
Hungate called the show — which offers up a $1 million cash prize — “an incredibly nuanced take on the adventure survival genre.”
While he can’t say exactly how long filming lasted, or how far he remained in the game, he did say the entire experience took well over a month.
A thick stack of contracts ensured that game contestants didn’t speak a word of the show’s outcome until after the complete series airs, but they were left in the dark regarding the release until the first trailers started airing four weeks ago.
Hungate said it was the thrill of surviving in the wild while navigating teamwork with 15 fellow adventurists — who are often at odds, according to the publicity trailers — that made the experience so thrilling.
“I can’t wait for people to see the project and to get a feel for what we went through in this incredibly challenging experience that was part dealing with the elements but also dealing with human nature,” said Hungate, who called participating in the show a life-changing experience.
“It’s really about who does one become in a setting like that, and I think that’s what is going to make this so interesting and so different than anything else out there on the survivalist adventure front. That dynamic of people working together is going to be fascinating,” said the lifelong Hancock County man, who is the director of Hancock Wellness and Employer Strategy for Hancock Health.
Hungate said it’s surreal to know that the show is being released worldwide at 3 a.m. Eastern Standard Time this Friday, but he doesn’t plan to watch until he’s surrounded by friends, family and well-wishers gathered for the community watch party at Wooden Bear.
His wife Jessica will be right by his side, glued to the screen along with the rest of the crowd to see what her husband went through in the time he was away.
“I’ll be seeing it for the first time along with everyone else,” said Jessica, a chemical engineer who willingly agreed to take on the role of single parent for an unknown number of weeks while Hungate pursued his dream of taking part in the show.
“We saw this post about them taking applicants for the show and I encouraged him to apply. We really like reality shows like ‘Survivor,’ and this sounded like this was going to be very similar,” said Jessica, who has 5-year-old twins and a 2-year-old daughter with Hungate.
What she didn’t anticipate, however, was all the bears.
According to the “Outlast” promotional material, the contestants were dropped off in a remote part of southeast Alaska with a high concentration of bears.
“(Joel) had to sign a significant amount of paperwork and contracts stating there are inherent risks and dangers associated with it, but we really didn’t know specifics. They said they were going to try to keep you safe, but they couldn’t make any guarantees in an environment that was really cold and really dangerous,” his wife recalled.
“I couldn’t talk to him at all, which was a little bit challenging, especially knowing he was going to be somewhere with a lot of bear activity and not a lot of personal protection other than maybe a bow and arrow,” said Jessica, who called show producers a couple times to make sure her husband was okay.
Contestants had no contact with the outside world during filming, nor did they know how long they were going to be gone.
“It was really challenging because he’s my best friend, and going so long without your best friend is tough,” said Jessica, who didn’t know if she’d hear back from her husband in November, December or January.
Filming wrapped sooner than originally expected, and Hungate made his way back home to McCordsville in early November.
To fill him in on what he had missed, his wife made video journal entries of the family’s activities each day to share with him upon his return, but she wasn’t prepared for how much Hungate had changed in his absence.
“When he came back, he was such a different person. He had lost a significant amount (20 pounds) of weight. The first thing I wanted to do was feed him as much as he would possibly eat because the diet he had on the show was not a very filling one,” she said.
Her husband had also picked up some new habits along the way.
“It only takes 21 days for your body to get used to new habits, so he had a lot of trouble sleeping at night because we sleep on a bed and he had gotten used to sleeping on logs,” she said.
He was also uncomfortably hot, having gotten acclimated to the harsh Alaskan climate.
“He claimed it was way too hot in our house all the time, and we keep our thermostat around 70 degrees, but his body had gotten used to it being 30 degrees,” said Jessica. “He was sweating all the time.”
Overall, the couple has no regrets about spending a few weeks apart so Hungate could compete in the survivalist series.
At the watch party he’ll share some stories of his past adventures, like ascending to the summit of a mountain in western Mongolia and hiking volcanoes in the Caribbean.
Hungate knows it’s his spirit for adventure that helped land him a spot on the show, which has been translated into a multitude of languages for the upcoming worldwide debut.
While he said he won’t let the global fame go to his head, “I do look forward to meeting my Mandarin interpreter someday,” he joked.