Alison Teal is a surfer, filmmaker, world traveler and star of Discovery Channel’s hit show, Naked and Afraid. While most kids grew up taking the bus to school, Alison hiked 17,000 feet to her school in the Himalayas and her adventures only grew taller from there. Her award-winning film series Alison’s Adventures, offers glimpses into the cultures she has lived in all over the world. Alison sat down with Conscious Connections’ Founder to talk about her unconventional upbringing, her source of inspiration and the power of storytelling.
Anthony Chiaravallo: You had a very atypical childhood. What was it like to grow up in the wild?
Alison Teal: Basically I was that Tarzan child raised around the world. My parents were adventure photographers for National Geographic and almost every outdoor company you could think of. At two months old, they whisked me up the highest peak in Southern Peru and thought that would be a good initiation.
The adventurous life just took off after that. We spent my childhood exploring remote corners of the earth, living with tribal people and building a global family. The shaman from Eat Pray Love was my painting teacher.
I call it an interesting form of homeschooling because I didn’t really have a home but it was school on the road. The world was my classroom and the people I met along the way were my textbooks. I didn’t have to learn about India. I would walk out the door, hop on my elephant and take a ride around the block. I learned more about India on that day then I could have in an entire lesson plan.
I think since I’m a traveler, my favorite place is home. My biggest dream in the world was to go to a normal school, ironically. I wanted a white picket fence and a normal house and a school bus. I didn’t really know what it meant. I just saw it on films during airplane flights.
I went to school for the first time in the Himalayas at the base of Mt. Everest and we had to hike a 17,000 foot pass to get there. It wasn’t what I’d thought of with school but that was my first taste. Then there’s our Swiss Family Robinson style Hawaii house, but that’s a whole other part of childhood.
Anthony Chiaravallo: That house is pretty amazing, and I love the fact that it was built with your family’s bare hands to be 100% sustainable. Tell me now what was the inspiration behind your film series, Alison’s Adventures?
Alison Teal: I wanted to share the mystery and intrigue and wisdom that all these cultures had that I grew up in but nobody else could see. I figured the best way to do that was through film. I finally entered UC Berkeley and then USC film school.
Alison’s Adventures is a passport to the world to learn and be entertained by the stories you hear and to take action yourself to make a difference. I create entertainment that leads to action. That’s really what I’m pushing for.
I’m not going to hammer into you that all the reefs are dying in Fiji and if we don’t do something we’re not going to have any fish or reefs. Instead of taking that pessimistic view, what I’ve done is go out and plant coral. I’m hoping that when people see this in my films they go, “holy cow! That’s cool, how can we become a part of it?” Nobody wants to be depressed about how the world’s going to end. Let’s be happy about what we can do to make the world a better place and move forward.
As far as cause, I say every breath is a cause. Every step is a cause. To me, walking in a room and smiling is a cause. Because I can change more lives by offering love and inspiration than by trying to save everyone in the world. It’s not glamorous but it fuels the soul.
After college I started touring schools with my films to inspire kids. After one of my films a little girl came up to me sobbing. She was probably about eight years old. I wondered did the snake scare her? Were the waves too big?
Then she said, “Alison, my mom’s dying of cancer and before I saw your films I thought there was nothing to live for. But now I see that there’s magic in the world and that there are people that will be my friend.”
It floored me that people don’t even realize how much love there is in the world and magic that truly exists. What I’ve tried to do through Alison’s Adventures and through these cultures is to make Disney real. Because there are people like Aladdin and mermaids and genies and loving families and magical tales that actually are real.
Not only are they real, but they can offer incredible wisdom into saving the earth.
Anthony Chiaravallo: I appreciate how you incorporate storytelling so that you can connect with and inspire others. What can you tell me about the storytelling process?
Alison Teal: Tom Hanks said to me once, “If something’s not entertaining, embellish. If something’s not good, make it a story.”
The only way we survive as a human race is because the stories that have been passed on since ancient times, through either written or verbal storytelling. Stories of how to get water, catch fish and build shelters. What is the best way to continue that? Well, through storytelling.
Everyone always asks if my films are documentaries and whether they are real or not. I leave that for viewers to decide. While nothing I do is fake or false, I want to be entertaining. Do you really believe in legends? That men who are half sharks exist? Everything in old legends is up to interpretation. But it’s what you pull from the stories, the moral and the lessons that count.
Anthony Chiaravallo: How did you get involved in Naked and Afraid? What was it like being on that show?
Alison Teal: It’s interesting because I’ve never taken a survival course in my life. The producers called me about a year before and asked if I wanted to be in one of the harshest locations on earth, naked with a man I’d never met. I thought, wow, thank you but no thank you.
I said no multiple times because I want to be an inspiration for kids and families. I don’t want to be the girl naked on TV. But once I started learning more about the concept, I agreed. They basically condensed thousands of years of societal progression into a couple of months. Cavemen took a thousand years just to figure out how to make tools. I finally thought, okay, this is not MTV, this is Discovery, let’s give it a whirl. It was pretty amazing.
Anthony Chiaravallo: It definitely looked like a pretty amazing experience. So my last question is something I always tend to ask our interviewees. I’m curious what advice you could give our readers to help them fulfill their purpose and live an eco-conscious lifestyle?
Alison Teal: Go back to your roots. It doesn’t mean you have to follow in your family’s footsteps or anything, just your roots inside of you. What was your original root that really made you shine? Made you get that excited tingle of passion inside? If you’re living the life you dream of then you’re helping the earth.
If you would like Alison to saddle up her camel and come inspire your school/event or show one of her films please contact her at [email protected]. If you would like to go on one of her family’s trips, learn more about green living or do her mom’s yoga teacher training, please visit Yoga Adventures.com.