Reality Check: Tyler Johnson talks 'Ultimate Survival Alaska'

Daily News correspondentJanuary 7, 2014 

Tyler Johnson of "Ultimate Survival Alaska"

STEWART VOLLAND / NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CHANNELS

This week on "Ultimate Survival Alaska," our remaining survivalists were in the Tordrillo Mountains in what appeared to be the toughest challenge yet.

First, Eddie Ahyakak almost died after falling 30 feet from a Tyrolean Traverse (which appears to be a poor man's zipline). He was suspended a few hundred feet over a 200-foot-wide canyon. As he was about to zip across the canyon, like his teammates had, either he wasn't clipped in properly or the ropes broke and he fell, smashing into rocks, then dangled helplessly above an icy river. Fortunately, Dallas Seavey was with him and pulled him up to the cliff above. Visibly shaken, Ahyakak shed a couple of tears after his rescue. If my calculations are correct, in nine years, when Seavey is finally 35, he will be elected president of the United States of America in a landslide.

Second, Marty Raney, who is typically full of funny dad jokes and quips (example: "I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy"), cried while recalling a friend who had died on Denali. Then he led his team to victory by climbing over some gnarly-looking mountains that scared the other teams away and slid down a snow field with hiking boots screwed into his skis (one of which he used to catch a massive halibut with). And to top it off, he shared the beer his team won with the entire cast. Raney's emotional range, technical skills and chest hair really stood out in this episode. Sean Connery was to James Bond what Marty Raney is to "Ultimate Survival Alaska."

Third, Navy SEAL Jared Ogden swam through a lake that was half covered in ice. While he had a perfectly good packraft, he thought it would take too long to blow it up. So instead, he taped part of his snowshoes to his feet to create fins and swam through the glacier-fed lake. He is either the toughest person on this show or he's actually cold-blooded.

As readers of this column know, I have a lot of questions about "Ultimate Survival Alaska." So this week I interviewed Tyler Johnson from the Mountaineers team. Johnson is a favorite, mostly because he is racking up points on my "Ultimate Survival Alaska" fantasy league team, but also because he was one of three people from the first season of the show asked to come back for season two.

Johnson grew up in Soldotna and now splits his time between the North Slope, Anchorage and the Tordrillo Mountain Lodge, where he works as a helicopter ski guide. He told me there are three questions that everyone asks him: How did you get and stay on the show? How much money do you make? Is it real?

He, like hundreds of Alaskans, had a seven-minute interview two summers ago with a TV producer from Los Angeles. Months after his interview, he got a call asking if he could be at the Millennium Hotel in three days, and just days later he was off for two months of filming in the rainiest Alaska summer to date. Fast-forward a year later, and as he was driving his 9-year-old daughter to meet Dallas Seavey for a school project, he got a call from National Geographic asking him to rejoin for season two. He said he has no idea why he was chosen to return to the show.

Johnson actually lost money taking three months off of work to film last summer. He's had managers approach him to help him cash in on his newfound fame, he said, but, "I'm not one of the big personalities that stands out... I don't have the Marty [Raney] persona -- I don't think I'm marketable."

Johnson would rather spend his time in the wilderness than seeking fame and fortune. In my opinion, that is exactly why he, and many of the other Alaskans, were cast in "Ultimate Survival Alaska" in the first place. Alaska is a producer's dream: a place where athletic, bearded men who don't own TVs are frequently put in life-or-death situations in the most beautiful place on Earth.

But is it real? "This is one of the most unique shows on TV for its legitimacy. It's not something where we go out for a day and then go back to a five-star hotel and eat steak. We're out in the woods," Johnson said. In fact, during season one, they didn't let the cast go indoors at all during their entire two-month shoot.

Johnson also reminded me that this is a heavily edited show, with lots more backcountry adventure that the audience doesn't get to see: "Some of the coolest stuff I think they should put on there, they don't even put on there."

This just confirms that Reality Check needs an invite to see season three get filmed -- ideally during a land-based challenge, unless Dallas Seavey will be there to save me.

• Emily Fehrenbacher lives in Anchorage, where she reviews Alaska reality TV.

 

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