Writer / Lisa Mitchell
Photographer / Brian Brosmer & Provided by The Discovery Channel/The Wheel
What motivates a person to voluntarily put himself in the most extreme and dangerous environments on the planet, completely isolated, with nothing but his resilience to keep him alive? That’s the question I had the opportunity to ask Fishers resident Shon Joyner.
Shon, who was a Marine for six years and served in combat, said a fellow Marine who had lost an arm and leg in combat heard about the competition challenged him to apply. When the application arrived in his inbox, he decided to step up to the task to honor his fellow Marines and submitted it.
After a lengthy application and audition process, which included a full physical and psychological evaluation among many other requirements, Joyner was chosen as one of six cast members for Discovery Channel’s new extreme survival challenge series, “The Wheel.”
The show, according to The Discovery Channel, is the ultimate survival test. Six participants are challenged to survive in six grueling landscapes across South America. With every turn of the wheel, each survivalist is dropped into a new isolated location, exposed to the world’s deadliest terrains, including freezing tundra, rugged mountains and treacherous rainforest. Participants don’t know when or why the wheel will turn. Each contestant is equipped only with a light survival pack and SOS devices that can be used at any time to quit the challenge and call for help. The contestants must procure food, water and shelter. And when the wheel turns again, they will be thrust into a new location and forced to use a completely different set of skills to survive.
Once Joyner received the news he’d been selected, he had only two weeks back in Fishers to prepare himself, and then was flown back to Los Angeles briefly before beginning the challenge, where he was flown to an undisclosed location, at which time all six participants met for the first time. They were then split up, and each dropped in their first environment.
The hardest part of the experience, he said, was the isolation. Because there was no camera crew, he was taught how to film his adventure from his own point of view.
He says it’s hard to put into words what the isolation feels like, including depending only upon yourself for your own survival. He credits his time in the Marines for helping to prepare him, but the isolation made it a vastly different experience.
Joyner said, “Combat with the enemy versus combat with yourself in complete isolation are two totally different battles. In combat, you have other Marines to go through the experience with. With this you’re completely on your own. The isolation is horrible.
“Every day felt like 5 days,” he continued. “Your entire concept of time changes. You only see the 30 minutes of edited footage. You don’t see the other 23.5 hours of the struggle that I go through. But it happened and I lived it.”
Joyner says that the experience challenged him in ways he never thought possible, even with his service in the Marines. The most surprising thing to him was how emotionally broken he became as days stretched on and his sense of isolation grew.
Even during transports from one hellish location to the next, the production crew could offer no comfort, assistance, or even interact with him on any level not critical to moving him to the next location.
Joyner was unable to share the final result of his experience, but he said that upon returning home he had a hard time re-acclimating to his “normal” environment. In fact, he said he isolated himself for a week before leaving his home and re-engaging with the outside world. He said he had a hard time remembering how to use his phone, and the first time he got in his car he sat there for 10 minutes because he had a hard time remembering how to drive.
One unexpected result of the experience was a change to his senses, and how he experiences his environment.
“I felt like my body transformed, became animal like in some way, because it had to,” he said. “My survival depended on it.”
When asked by the producers of the show if he would consider doing it again, he said he absolutely would.
“It’s a rare, life-changing opportunity.”