It was a Christmas miracle for reality TV this week. There was a "Bering Sea Gold" marathon and a phenomenal episode of "Ultimate Survival Alaska."
For those with more important things to do on their Friday nights than staying at home watching "Bering Sea Gold," it's a show about underwater gold miners in Nome. The show follows several different rigs as the crew members dive underwater, hoping to strike it rich.
In the three episodes I've watched, Zeke Tenhoff and Emily Riedel steal the show with their sort-of relationship. My only criticism is that there are too many characters to follow and it's hard to figure out who everyone is when you pick it up.
I'll get more into "Sea Gold" later, because "Ultimate Survival Alaska" had its best episode to date. You really need to be watching this show.
This week our survivalists were on Chichagof Island, and each team chose a different route to get to the extraction point in Pelican. And each team had entertaining mishaps, to say the least.
The ragtag group of misfits, the Woodsmen, won the challenge after they "found" an "abandoned boat" on the beach. I'm fairly certain that this boat did not just happen to be there, because the Woodsmen are headed up by 62-year-old Jimmy Gaydos from Fox. It's clear that Jimmy can't physically keep up with the extreme athletes on some of the other teams. However, I love him so much because he brought denim coveralls, not moisture-wicking, light performance clothing, like a lot of the cast. He caught his team a squirrel using a homemade trap, and then smoked from a pipe that looks like he made out it of a corncob. He's the old prospector of the show, literally.
The Mountaineers got second place, also in a boat that they borrowed (and then ruined) from a homesteader on the island. This team was a magical mess. They tipped over their boat not once but twice, dumping them into the frigidly cold ocean. But the scene stealer was, of course, Marty Raney, who caught a 100-pound-or-more halibut using the ski he found in Episode 1 and the reel that he brought with him. After wrestling with the fish, he finally got it in the boat, knocking his teammate Tyler Johnson into the water, again. The fish was making so much commotion that Raney decided to shoot it, and also shot a hole in the bottom of the boat. They patched the hole using Raney's shirt, and made their way to shore.
"I don't know what's more dangerous, the boat sinking or Marty with a handgun," said Johnson. Luckily, their teammate Thomas Ginn was able to patch the boat and build a smoker so they could preserve some of their catch. Ginn is like Jim from "The Office," who just looks at the camera when there is complete chaos going on around him so that the audience at home can relate to someone.
The Endurance team earned third place, after going directly through the bear-infested island. Their journey looked miserable. They had to bushwhack through devils club, and once they finally got high enough to be away from bear danger, they were on a sheet of ice. Sean Burch, who had two near-death experiences in episode one, fell into an icy melted pond on top of the mountain. Although he's a world-record-winning extreme athlete, you can't take this guy anywhere. Luckily, Dallas Seavey was there to save him, again. I want Seavey to save me, and I'm not even in danger.
And the Military team came in last this week. They also went through the heart of the island but they stayed low, traveling directly through bear country. At one point they were up on a cliff and decided to rappel down to lower ground. Rudy Reyes, with his magical arms and fashionable scarf, went first. When he got down, he noticed a lot of bear scat and claw marks. Turned out they had rappelled directly into a bear den, with a bear in it. They fired a warning shot and quickly got out of there.
This show is so exciting to watch that I decided to start a fantasy league. Three of my reality TV-loving friends and I each drafted three players, and we score them on everything from "wilderness nutrition" and "near death experiences" to "Alaskana" and "reality TV traditions." Raney is currently in first place, with Burch in close second due to his many near-death experiences. Looks like in the next episode someone will get airlifted off the show, earning that person a whopping 25 points for "unplanned interactions with production" and potentially more, depending on how they hurt themselves.
• Emily Fehrenbacher lives in Anchorage, where she writes about reality TV