Let’s hope the bad guys didn’t take copious notes!
Though it seemed illogical that regular folks could outsmart law enforcement on Hunted — a new CBS reality series that pitted nine teams against highly skilled investigators using state-of-the-art tracking methods — not one but two teams each won a grand prize of $250,000 in Wednesday’s finale. EW talked to the winners — married couple Stephen & English King and friends Lee Wilson & Hilmar Skagfield — about how they managed to cover 100,000 square miles in 28 days without attracting the, um, good guys.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I thought this show would be impossible to win because of all of the technology that’s now available for law enforcement. Were you skeptical of your chances?
ENGLISH KING (a clinical audiologist): A lot of people were certainly skeptical we could win. Our main strategy going into this was to use as little technology as possible. We knew that was going to be what the hunters would use to find us. We utilized phones but in a strategic way. I kept a detailed log, making sure we did not do it in a pattern that we thought the hunters would track. We were somewhat naïve, really knowing and understanding all the capabilities the hunters had, which makes it insane and somewhat shocking that we ended up winning.
STEPHEN KING (stay-at-home dad): We sometimes felt helpless, not knowing every little thing. We just kept moving and staying off their radar as much as we could be. We didn’t send an email or get on social media the whole time we were on the run.
LEE WILSON (escape room business owner): We were definitely optimistic but it was a level-headed optimism. We knew going into it we would be going up against the best of the best of the best and we knew the hunters would represent all of the best law enforcement and military and intelligence agencies so it would be insanely difficult. But we had confidence in ourselves and our ability and skill set. You can’t win a cat-and-mouse game if you are afraid.
HILMAR SKAGFIELD (IT consultant): Prepping for the show was so wild, thinking through every scenario. How dangerous is it? Are there canines? You plan for everything. You feel like this escape artist. Thinking through our community strategically in the southeast and how to play a game of chess and not checkers. We knew the hunters would try to shut down our opportunities left and right so even in the second episode you see us get an entire private email server shut down. You have to respond by creating new options that are happening without you needing to be there. We had people who were coming to rally against the hunters to defend.
Was there ever a day the hunters got too close?
STEPHEN KING: We had some moments where we felt, okay, maybe the hunters were on to us.
ENGLISH KING: It’s difficult to put into words. You really are on the edge all of the time, not knowing where you are going, what you are going to eat, where you are going to sleep that day, on top being hunted. You find yourself over-analyzing even the smallest decisions in terms of what road we are walking down. The unknown was so mentally challenging each and every day.
LEE WILSON: You play the game very cognizant they can catch you at any time. It’s impossible to keep track of all the variables to keep yourself completely safe. That said, we were very confident. There was never a point at which we felt they were right behind us.
HILMAR SKAGFIELD: The first three days were absolutely critical and a head trip. That was when the trail was so hot, we were freaking out. We had to start quantifying what they had access to, just to chill out. We were just so tense. You are expecting them to pull up at any time.
While you were running, did you ever have a moment where you looked at each other and said, “What if the bad guys learn from us?”
STEPHEN KING: On some level, yeah. Hunters are basing their search on human nature. You can’t give up everything, the family, the friends — all the things your past life is. Moving on and starting over is really hard to do. But that’s what we chose to do. We dropped everything.
ENGLISH KING: I think the hunters really expected and underestimated our ability to not contact our children. We knew going into this that to win, we were going to have to sacrifice 28 days and not have any contact with our girls [ages 12, 7, and 5] and we did. It was a matter of leaving our lives behind.
HILMAR SKAGFIELD: One of the things that was really crazy with us being on the run was when the shooting in Orlando happened. We grappled with the fact that we are essentially kind of a splinter cell. We were talking through that, the moral conundrum. We don’t think by any stretch of the imagination that real fugitives can learn from us. It gave us a real respect of how good the people are who go after these really scary people, how difficult their jobs are. That’s the biggest takeaway. This is a very difficult task.
LEE WILSON: The Orlando moment was really huge for us, it set everything into perspective. It reminded us that in real life, when there is a real manhunt after a tragedy, the good guys have unlimited resources, all the manpower they need, all the technology they need. We were going up against 32 incredibly capable people but they had limitations with their resources. We were able to take a step back and realize what we were doing was a game. It doesn’t teach real-life bad guys how to do anything.