Reality Check: An inadvertent lesson in how reality TV shows are made

Emily Fehrenbacher

There was a lot of Alaska reality TV news this week, but it was pretty light in terms of actual broadcasts. Before we jump in, an account of my up-close-and-personal encounter with reality TV.

Let me set the scene: It's an unseasonably warm, foggy Saturday night in Talkeetna. It seemed downtown was in its quiet winter slumber, until I heard noise coming from the Sheldon Community Arts Hangar. It was the annual Bachelor Auction and Wilderness Woman Competition, and apparently every young female legal clerk and new-to-Alaska AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer in the state, plus a couple of cougars with actual money, had made the trip from Anchorage to bid on the eligible men of Alaska's quirkiest town.

As I was walked into the auction my spirits were dampened by a sign on the door. The event was being recorded by a reality TV film crew, it said, and by stepping into the room I was basically signing my life away. The notice concluded, "IF YOU DO NOT AGREE, PLEASE LEAVE THE FILMING AREA."

This is the reality of reality TV: just by entering an event I had paid to attend, I was giving (I later learned) the Travel Channel the rights to use video of me "for all purposes throughout the world without limitation." It was suddenly clear how they got all those crowd shots at bars on "Jersey Shore."

Despite my objections to this ridiculous "contract," I decided to stay at the Bachelor Auction. The camera crew and producer were taking plenty of crowd shots and would focus on the women who got rowdy. They would step outside to interview bachelors that created a scene and went for a lot of money.

As a self-proclaimed connoisseur of reality TV, I always thought my behavior would not change in the presence of cameras, but it did. I drank less (alcohol was not in short supply during this event) and tried to make sure I appeared far too ordinary to put on TV. I also found myself moving away from the cameras when they'd sweep the crowd. I realized the kind of reality TV I love is the kind I would never want to actually be on.

This week in Alaska reality TV news:

-- "The Amazing Race" season finale took place in Juneau and aired on Dec. 8. The final three couples competed in a series of "typical" Alaska challenges including: supply drops of flour from Bush planes, putting together totem pole puzzles, kayaking and ice climbing. The series ended in a random backyard on North Douglas Island. I haven't watched this season of "The Amazing Race," but the couple that won were obnoxious with their overuse of the word "babe."

-- It was announced that the Sportsman Channel (Channel 306 for those of you with fancy enough subscriptions) has hired Sarah Palin to host a new show that will celebrate the "red, wild and blue" lifestyle. This is just the first of many plays-on-words that are sure to come out of "Amazing America with Sarah Palin." Palin's previous show, "Sarah Palin's Alaska," walked the line between being an Alaska tourism ad and really long political commercial. I'm guessing that's what we can expect here too, as the Sportsman Channel also brings us "NRA News," which, according to their website, "features 'in-depth' news and views of the Second Amendment and other freedom-related issues."

-- Discovery Channel's "Gold Rush" and "Bering Sea Gold" were at the top of Friday night's cable TV show ratings. "Bering Sea Gold" is a highly entertaining show about underwater gold miners in Nome.

-- Reminder: Season two of "Ultimate Survival Alaska" begins on Sunday on National Geographic Channel. NGC will be airing a marathon of season one on Saturday afternoon, so if we get more freezing rain, you will have something to do.

• Emily Fehrenbacher lives in Anchorage, where she writes about reality TV


By Emily Fehrenbacher
Daily News correspondent