ETOL graduate wins Alone

Juan Pablo Quiñonez has also recently published a book on survival

Michelle BodnarMount Royal University | Posted: September 27, 2022

Juan Pablo Quiñonez

With an ecosystemic philosophy, Juan Pablo Quiñonez sees the world as an integrative entity where everything plays an important role. Photo courtesy HISTORY.

The last person left standing on season nine of the History Channel’s hit series Alone survived 78 days in the extreme terrain of the lower reaches of the Big River in Northern Labrador. Juan Pablo Quiñonez of Pinawa, Manitoba, is a survival specialist, outdoor professional, and wilderness first responder with more than 10 years of experience in outdoor recreation and survival.

He is also a graduate of Mount Royal’s ecotourism and outdoor leadership (ETOL) program, and credits his learnings with providing him the foundation needed for his success.

Quiñonez gained 60 pounds before starting the show, knowing that food would be scarce, and ended up losing 70, at one point going more than two weeks without eating. Just a few of his ingenious outdoor hacks included building a small dock to assist with fishing, an A-frame shelter protected with balsam firs and complete with a window, door and raised bed, and a stove cobbled together from cans he found in the woods, fire-proofed using material from gaiters and sealed with clay.


The most important thing to do in a survival situation is to stay present, Quiñonez says.

“You really need to break things down into day by day, step by step. If you see an insurmountable task, it’s so easy to get overwhelmed. It’s so helpful to just go back to ‘I just need to complete these tasks for the day.’ It’s like grounding yourself, which I think is very transferable to all other parts of our lives.

“It’s definitely an ongoing practice that we need to do. Try to use your animalistic strengths and surprise yourself with your own potential.’”

With an ecosystemic philosophy, Quiñonez sees the world as an integrative entity where everything plays an important role.

“In nature, diversity is resilience,” he says. “You have animals that focus on very different things, they each have their own niche, and that’s how nature works. And nature is very resilient.”

Completely at home in the outdoors (in fact, that’s where he prefers to be), in 2016 Quiñonez spent six months living in the wild with his partner, Jennifer Ford (another ETOL graduate), and another 100 days foraging in solitude during the boreal winter. Despite his experience, he says Alone was particularly difficult due to the constraints of the show (he had to stay within certain boundaries), plus a lack of knowledge about the location ahead of time and limits on the number of items he could bring.

“In my last weeks out in the wilderness in Alone I had lots of stuff going on and going wrong. But I could meet those challenges, at least good enough, and that kept me very engaged with the experience. I was actually pretty happy and satisfied while I was there.”


Amazingly in tune with his body, Quiñonez chose to fast when the fish stopped biting, which is likely what led to his win. He knew that by not eating his body would understand the extreme situation he was in and allow him to skip the hunger phase of starvation.

Shortly after finishing Alone, Quiñonez released a survival book titled Thrive: Long-term Wilderness Survival Guide, which he started working on in 2020. A review by Ed Stafford, an explorer and the first person to walk the Amazon, says, “Thrive is a great balance of literary research done by a practical man who has walked the walk and learned his own lessons along the way. For anyone interested in living next to nature for more than a few weeks, this is an essential read.”

The book was a personal mission for Quiñonez, who says, “ I wanted to fill a hole in the literature of survival. Things are usually short-term survival with a little bit of long-term survival splashed in. With this book I wanted to base it on my experience plus a lot of research.”

Society relies too heavily on specialization, Quiñonez says, including in the survival field. “I wish we had more people that think with a systems approach. We need a more holistic perspective. To have a holistic perspective you need experts from other areas, and more generalists, less specialists.

“I think we’re going to go through lots of hardship as a society and my book might help some people start to think in more strategic terms about how we’re going to go through those steps. My book has a lot of information about mindsets and thinking realistically about how to be self-sufficient.”

The ETOL experience

Originally from Guadalajara, Mexico, Quiñonez became familiar with MRU as an exchange student during high school at Tec de Monterrey for one semester. Once he was at a point in his life when he was choosing a university he discovered the ETOL program and knew it was exactly where he needed to be. He literally walked to Canada right before starting, backpacking all 4,265 kilometres of the Pacific Crest Trail in 99 days.

Quiñonez formed a close relationship with ETOL professor Joe Pavelka, PhD, while at MRU, taking part in a 2014 experiential learning opportunity about which a documentary, Canoes for Peru, would eventually be made. Pavelka hadn’t heard of Alone, but watched it when he discovered Quiñonez would be a participant, and ended up greatly enjoying the series.

“When I found out what Alone was and that Juan Pablo was in it, I had no doubt that he would win. I just had no doubt,” Pavelka says.

After Ford and Quiñonez’s six months in the wild he debriefed with Pavelka, who was impressed by the analytical way Quiñonez approached the test of fortitude.

“We talked about it all and his thing was you have to be smart about your energy, have to be smart about what you do. The way that he deconstructed everything he did in that six months was incredibly intelligent. Pretty much everything that he did was analyzed whether it was beneficial or not, and he really understood what he was doing.”

Shortly after that Pavelka hired Quiñonez as an assistant and had him come and speak to his class. They have also published a book chapter together about their experience in Peru, for which Pavelka assigned Quiñonez an “inappropriate amount of leadership” in the sourcing and shipping of the container that would hold 19 canoes and all the gear needed to paddle the Amazon.

“He is extremely persistent and is not going to let anything go wrong on his watch,” Pavelka says. “I knew this would be fraught with difficulty, but Juan Pablo is just so shrewd and resourceful. The students did unbelievable things.”

Building a resilience-based intentional community

The survival world is a tough one, Pavelka says, where actually earning a living is hard.

“When Juan Pablo finished the program he came to me and said, ‘I’m going to be a survivalist and I’m going to start a community.’ I said, ‘That's really good, but at some point you're going to have to eat.’ Juan Pablo is one of those rare guys, though, that when he says he’s going to do something, he does it.”

And that is exactly what is next for Quiñonez. He is currently searching for land in the boreal forest to start a resilience-based intentional community, incorporating permaculture and hunting and gathering.

“In nature, there is no hierarchy,” Quiñonez says. “I feel that we need many new ideas in many areas, because we are trying to solve problems with the same thoughts. And we have problems we are not solving. But maybe they don’t need solving, they need adapting. Those new perspectives bring new ideas.”

Everything Quiñonez does is about resiliency, Pavelka says. “Whatever he does in this community, it's going to be about resiliency, personal and community wealth and development. He believes very strongly that we are obviously capable of much more than we do.”

While trying to avoid the trappings of this modern life, Quiñonez is willing to impart his knowledge, understanding and self-awareness onto others as part of his community.

“I’m just trying to live close to nature, because that is the more fulfilling life. People always say, ‘It’s the simple life,’ but it’s not. It’s the difficult life, but it can be the more rewarding life.”