I went into this week with the hope of recapping "Railroad Alaska," a six-part series focusing on the Alaska Railroad and the people who live off the flag-stop train in rural Alaska. Here's my recap: A couple needs a generator, there's an avalanche, there's a moose on the track. The railroad brings supplies to some people. Blah blah blah. It just wasn't that interesting and I couldn't get into the show.
Mostly, I couldn't get into "Railroad Alaska" because I got so excited about the cast announcement for season two of "Ultimate Survival Alaska."
If you didn't watch season one of "Ultimate Survival Alaska," I recommend you give it a try. It aired last summer on National Geographic Channel and featured eight men from Alaska "competing" to finish several 72-hour treks across Alaska's backcountry. Although NGC referred to them as competing teams, they would sometimes change and the entire cast would frequently pull together to reach their destination.
The show's inaugural season had many of the elements that make for good reality TV: star power (Iditarod champ Dallas Seavey and mountaineering celebrity Marty Raney); believability (it did not seem like the cast was relying on cameramen or producers to help them chart the course); and good ol' unpredictable Alaska conditions (in this case, the worst weather a summer in Alaska had to offer).
NGC billed the program as "a series where the only prize is survival." That's fine, but as viewers sitting at home, we know that we would have heard if someone had actually died during filming. Although the cast was in some uncomfortable and sketchy situations, we know that they all made it to their "prize" of survival. So contrived competition is much better for viewers at home, because it gives the show some stakes.
For season two, NGC has really refined the format. This season, there are four teams (based on somewhat irrelevant stereotypes) that will compete. Producers have left behind last season's white-guys-only cast and have introduced some diversity to the mix: there is a woman contestant, two Alaska Natives and a handful of Outsiders.
The teams are as follows:
Endurance: The team will be led by Seavey, the youngest winner of the Iditarod and one of the stars of the first season. There's also Eddie Ahyakak -- vice president of the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, marathon runner and whaler -- and a man named Sean Burch from Northern Virginia, whom NGC describes as an "extreme athlete, motivational speaker and adventure lifestyle fitness consultant." I have no idea what that means, but this team is young, attractive and seemingly competent. I'd put money on them, but they seem too normal to be that interesting.
Military: This team is made up of a Green Beret, a Recon Marine and a Navy SEAL, all from Missouri. Trailers and video available on NGC focus on their Outsider status compared to the other teams, which all have Alaskans.
Woodsmen: This team is also completely full of show rookies. It has two Alaskans: Jimmy Gaydos from Fox and Yote Robertson from Dillingham. This team has the only woman contestant on the show, Tina Scheer, a "lumberjack" from Bar Harbor, Maine. My early favorite on this team is Robertson, whose bio on NGC's website says, "He believes that Alaska is always trying to kill you and 'could give a rat's ass' whether or not he's on TV."
Mountaineers: This is the only all-Alaskan team, which is led by Raney. If you watched season one, you'll know that Raney has exactly the qualities that make someone a reality TV star: a complete and total lack of any filter or shame. He is the Snooki of "Ultimate Survival Alaska." They also brought back Tyler Johnson, a civil engineer from Anchorage, who frequently competes in the Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic races. And they've rounded the team out with Thomas Ginn, an Alaska Native and seemingly a jack-of-all-trades.
If there was a fantasy league for "Ultimate Survival Alaska," the Mountaineers would be my first-round draft picks. Especially if the fantasy league was scored on crazy quotes and outlandish ideas.
This new cast shows promise and I can't wait to see what kind of competitions NGC comes up with. I would love to see them add the fish-out-of-water element and force these adventurers to survive the Fred Meyer and Costco parking lots in an urban challenge. If the producers at NGC steal that idea for season three, just remember you read it here first.
Ultimate Survival Alaska
9 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 15
National Geographic Channel (Channel 54)
Emily Fehrenbacher lives in Anchorage, where she writes about Alaska reality TV.