Imagine being confined to a small, dark room, with no social interaction whatsoever for 30 days. Not many people would jump at this opportunity. But sometime in mid-September of 2018, a professional US poker player Rich Alati sat down to a poker table with fellow poker pro Rory Young, who he had met a week before. The two engaged in a conversation that ended up in a very interesting place.
Young asked Alati how long he thought he could survive in complete darkness in a confined space. When Alati responded a month, Young wanted to make a bet. Within an hour, they had it. If Alati could stay in a room for a month with no lights and almost no human interaction, he would win $100,000. Anything short of that, Young would be declared the winner and Alati would owe Young.
After the bet was agreed upon Young explained the rules. “The conditions are complete darkness, so no electronics, no light-emitting devices, no drugs of any kind,” Young said. “He is allowed any type of food that he wants. He has a bed in there, he has a shower and a bathtub. He has pretty lavish toiletries like Epsom salts, sugar scrubs, that kind of stuff.”
Alati was confident. He had practiced meditation and yoga, and was certain his experiences at silent retreats would help him. On November 21, a crowd of families and friends gathered at the house where the challenge would take place. Alati and Young’s lawyers were there as well as cameramen from a production company interested in buying television rights to the story. For that reason, as well as safety, the entire bet would be recorded. Alati’s father was given the power to pull Alati out at any time should he show signs of not being “in the right headspace,” as Alati puts it.
Alati was kept in a small, completely dark room with nothing but a bed, fridge and bathroom. The bathroom mirrors were covered to prevent any reflection, and the doors, though unlocked, were sealed to block out any light. A mattress was wedged between the sink and a countertop. In front of the sink and next to the mattress was Alati’s yoga mat. And across from that was the bathtub.
In order to further warp the mind of Alati over his month-long stint, Young made sure he got his food delivered on an irregular schedule to make it harder for him to figure out how much time has passed.
Even with all the resources he needed to survive, Alati couldn’t last the month. After 20 days he negotiated his release, taking a payout of US$62,400.
There are countless negative effects that social isolation and extreme isolation can have on our minds and bodies. Alati was no exception, reporting that he experienced a range of side effects, including changes to his sleep cycle, and hallucinations.