Geo Beach is the Brawny lumberjack come to life: Barrel-chested, with flannel for skin and a voice like a chain saw.
And yet, in just the second episode of the new TV show, "Tougher in Alaska," the Homer-based host is bested by a bunch of ladies. Little ones, too.
The History Channel embeds the former logger/firefighter/commercial fisherman with Alaskans who do jobs that are harder here than anyplace else, usually because of terrain and temperatures. For example, being a firefighter is risky business no matter what. But take the job to Fairbanks -- where firefighters have to make water run even though it's 35 below zero -- and the odds get much worse.
Over the course of the season, Beach tries everything from charging holes with explosives at a gold mine to serving court papers in Bush villages.
In an episode about salmon fishing, Beach hauls in nets like they're filled with cotton candy and works knee-deep in the tender boat's icy water without whining. Mostly.
But on the line at a Dillingham fish processing plant, he meets his match. He can't gut fish, pull bones or inspect cans fast enough. His back aches from stooping his 6-foot-3-inch frame over conveyor belts built for 5-foot-tall women.
He is fired.
"If I were just some dweeb out of L.A. getting bested by Alaska workers or the Alaska environment, that wouldn't put the point across," Beach said. "Whereas, when I get whupped, it puts it into perspective.
"And yes, those gals whupped me."
"Tougher in Alaska" premieres at 9 p.m. today on The History Channel.
Many of the Alaskans featured on the show hope "Tougher" will spark understanding.
Tom Kuryla, a recently retired lineman from Fairbanks who appears in the show, said, "It's a really neat thing that people can see and realize what we have to go through to keep the power on for these people."
"I remember one winter we had some underground (power lines) go bad, we were looking for it for three hours, it was 45 below zero, and a woman came out of a trailer screaming 'Do you know it's 38 degrees in my trailer!
"I said 'Lady, it's minus 45 ***damn degrees out here, so shut up and go back inside.' "
BOOTS ON THE GROUND
"Tougher in Alaska" is just one response to the ever-growing hunger for Alaska-related material on cable, most in the reality TV vein of "Deadliest Catch" or the latest "Survivor" knock-off, "The Alaska Experiment."
Beach said "Tougher" sets itself apart because it's documentary TV crafted by a "blue-collar journalist." For inspiration, he looked to the participatory journalism of George Plimpton, who famously trained with the Detroit Lions to write "Paper Lion."
"This is a real experiential, boots-on-the-ground, seat-of-the-pants entree for the audience," Beach said.
Kuryla gives Beach credit for tackling a lineman's work, but said the physical demands of the job seemed to take Beach by surprise.
"The guy's a nice guy but, heh, he's an actor, heh," Kuryla said.
The show's content is punctuated by a locker room soundtrack and Beach's Jesse-Ventura-meets-Ernest-Hemingway narration. One minute he's waxing poetic about the Gold Rush, the next he's hollering: "This ain't no grain-fed fish farm. This is a way-out, wild West, wild fish roundup!"
The show's mission is largely educational, so the format comes complete with graphics that define scientific terms and industry-specific jargon. Each episode also includes historical footage and context.
"The subject of workers in a daunting environment is a good one, and we feel it doesn't need a lot of padding," he said.
An episode about the Dalton Highway underlines Beach's point. Footage includes a 100-truck memorial drive in Fairbanks in remembrance of Marvin "Spud" Harris, who died in a 2007 crash after logging more than 2 million miles.
"The episode is still exciting and has humor, because how do you get through life without it?" Beach said. "But it (the memorial drive) is a poignant reminder of the stakes. ... The fact of the matter is, people die doing tough work in Alaska."
The TV crew didn't escape injury, either. For an episode on volcanoes, earthquakes, erosion and glaciers, the film crew followed scientists up a mountain near Yakutat to maintain a GPS station.
"This really was a place where goats fear to tread; if you made a mistake, you wouldn't be telling about it afterward," Beach said.
During the climb, a rock fell squarely on the head of cinematographer Scott Simper, a climber and hang glider pilot who has a background in adventure journalism with National Geographic. He also twisted his ankle.
Beach was already in an air cast on that climb, necessary after an Alaska State Trooper trip to investigate an illegal caribou kill. His other boo-boos included stabbing his ankle with his lineman cleats, a "typical rookie injury," and a logging-induced blood clot on his arm.
"It doesn't stop these guys from working, and I didn't let it stop me," he said. "But I got banged up plenty."
Beach said the injuries were worth it, because this series sweats to show Alaskans as people, not just worker bees. You see Bristol Bay skipper Tim Vincent calculating how much salmon he needs to catch to pay for one daughter's college tuition and another daughter's wedding. At the end of the episode, you see her wedding photo.
"We're trying not to have flat, Dickensian characters, cardboard cutouts," Beach said. "I historically have not been overly impressed either by national media's coverage of Alaska or by TV in particular.
"The acid test is, I want people up here to say 'Yeah, that's us. That's how it is.' "
Find Sarah Henning online at adn.com/contact/shenning or call 257-4323.
"TOUGHER IN ALASKA" premieres at 9 tonight on The History Channel (cable Channel 58). In the first episode about gold mining, Geo Beach joins a team of miners as they blast through 250 feet of rock at minus 20, hoping to hit the mother lode.
MORE ON THE SHOW: There are a ton of "Tougher in Alaska" extras on The History Channel's Web site, including about a dozen short videos of material not used on the show. Featured topics include outhouses, Anchorage's only year-round bike messenger and traditional Alaska Native food. Check them out at
Quick biography: Geo Beach
EDUCATION: Beach went to boarding school at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. He didn't graduate from Yale University, but he did take theater classes there.
HARD LABOR: In Alaska, he's worked as a lumberjack, firefighter and medic, and commercial fisherman, including crabbing on the Bering Sea.
MEDIA GIGS: Beach has contributed to National Public Radio, Men's Journal, Outside magazine and the Daily News.
BEHIND THE SCENES: Outtake reels on The History Channel's Web site include some Beach quotes for the ages, including "Keeping your underwear dry is tougher in Alaska." Quick bio: Geo Beach