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South Valley Riverton Journal

Bluffdale family competes in BYUtv’s ‘Survivalists’

Mar 08, 2023 03:52PM ● By Dylan Wilcox

The Bowling family from Bluffdale competes in “Survivalists,” a reality competition show on BYUtv. (Courtesy of Alejandra Betton-Bowling).

The Bowling family did not know how arduous the competition would be, but when producers from BYUtv’s reality show “Survivalists” reached out, they decided to take on the four-day long challenge head on.

BYUtv describes the show as “…the ultimate competition: two families race against each other in a three-day trek across rugged terrain. Before they cross the finish line, they'll have to use their teamwork, communication and survival skills and prove that their family are the ultimate Survivalists. Along the way, families will learn to heal, forgive and forge ahead.”

Wes, Alejandra, Victoria, and Leo Bowling were selected to participate in the family-friendly competition that was featured in Season 3, Episode 3 entitled “Sinking Sands.” 

“After three interviews with the producers, we learned by December 2021 that we would compete,” Alejandra Bowling said.  By March 2022, they found themselves on an island off Baja California, Mexico. In past episodes, families would do only three days, but this season increased the challenge to be a four-day stretch. The Bowling family competed against the Tran family from Seattle, Washington. Both families had to trek a combined 20 miles across sand dunes and rivers, facing temperatures up to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

“‘Locations are very removed from the grid, feature very different terrain and different plant life, terrain features and different opportunities to challenge the families in different ways,” showrunner Brian Kniffel said.

On day one, each family had to take a boat which brought them to a long stretch of sand dune. They hiked six miles to the end the first leg of the trek. Wes and Alejandra Bowling carried 60 pounds worth of equipment; the kids carried packs each weighing 40 pounds. They had their camping supplies, tents, dehydrated food pouches and other survival items. They were not allowed to carry their cellphones with them during the challenge.

“The first day was the hardest. The sand dunes were hard to walk through,” 15-year-old Victoria said. Eleven-year-old Leo said that the hardest part of the challenge was “the whole thing.” Leo did not eat or drink much the first night because of sand in the dehydrated food, and he struggled the next day. Wes Bowling said they got sand blasted as it was windy the first day. “We’re still washing the sand out from our socks even until today,” Alejandra Bowling joked.

On the second day, the family had to trek a way to a shoreline where they each had their own paddleboards to navigate a winding river filled with mangrove trees. Because Leo had little energy, Wes Bowling took his stepson’s pack and lingered behind the family as Alejandra Bowling helped Leo through the next few miles.

Wes Bowling said that due to a health condition, medics were keeping a close watch on him, but allowed him to continue the challenge. “I could hardly bend my legs, so medics kept an eye on me. It compounded, but never once did I have the thought of giving up,” he said. By this time in the competition, the Tran family had a four-minute lead on the Bowlings.

“Day two was my favorite part, I love paddle boarding,” Victoria said. The Bowlings struggled a little to get going as it was hard to get and maintain their balance on the boards. Leo fell off his board a couple times, which prompted Alejandra Bowling to jump in the water to help him back up. She misjudged just how deep the water was, but the family managed to gain some ground on the Tran family.

A hallmark of the show is bringing families together. By overcoming physical obstacles in the challenge, they learn to face emotional differences they might have. One of the reasons Victoria wanted to do “Survivalists” was to gain a stronger relationship with her stepfather, Wes Bowling.

This was highlighted on day three, when the family had to work together as a team to use one large standup paddleboard to get through another stretch of waterways. At first it was hard, the family said, to work together since they were not paddling in unison.

“That was a big moment for me. From the paddleboards, I realized that stepping back and letting Victoria do this, she was able to guide us with the map and the compass. We worked together and we moved forward with it,” Wes Bowling said.

Navigating the surging current, avoiding various wildlife, and visualizing the end was a daunting task, but both the Bowling and Tran families made it through day three.

The evening of day three allowed the families to reflect on what they want to do to improve their relationships with each other. The episode focused on Wes and Victoria’s relationship. At the conclusion of day three, Alejandra and Wes Bowling grew closer with Victoria and Leo.

“Wes and I had our own talk about how we should become closer and accept each other more. I’ve learned to trust him more and I’m excited to see how our relationship will grow in the future,” Victoria said. 

On the fourth and final day of the challenge, the survivalists needed to make a three mile trek across a sea of never-ending shifting sand, where the first team to arrive would raise their flag to win the race. As the Bowlings got ready to go, they got lost, which prompted Victoria to ask Wes Bowling for help.

“She didn’t go to her mom, she just didn’t keep going, and it was so amazing that she trusted me,” Wes Bowling said. “It looks like we’re starting that path for good communication in the future,” he added.

The desert conditions still presented an obstacle for both families, but the Tran family ultimately prevailed, winning the $10,000 cash prize. Although the Bowlings came up short on closing the gap with the Trans, they felt that the experience was still worth it.

“I’m already a winner,” Alejandra Bowling said. “I have my family with me, this experience, that I’ll be talking about for my entire life, and I know my kids will, too. It’s an amazing feeling. Just for the kids to experience this was our goal. And it taught them that you can do it, if you put your mind to it, you can do anything.”

The episode premiered on Jan. 28 and can be viewed online at