Another 'reality' show, another reporter, another load of ...

Craig MedredAlaska Dispatch
OPINION: When it comes to Alaska reality TV, it seems there's no tale too tall to pawn off on Outside reporters. Aaron Jansen illustration

What won't a Lower 48 reporter believe about Alaska?

Try this: “In Alaska, if you go a mile off a road almost anywhere in the state, you’re putting your foot on ground that has never been walked before by any human being. Ever.”

Or this: "There's a scene where one of the guys falls out of his boat into the river. I thought he was dead. We all thought he was dead. When you go in there, most of the time you don’t come out."

Ah yes, the old if-you-fall-in-the-frigid-waters-of-Alaska-you're-dead-in-20-seconds myth.

Color me 20 times dead. Or maybe more.

Oh wait, I'm alive and typing. By God, it's a MIRACLE!

All of the above quotes, it should be noted, come from the mouth of Alaskan Marty Raney, who has made it his personal crusade to promote the so-called "reality" television show in which he appears, "Ultimate Survival Alaska."

But all of his comments were dutifully written down as if fact by New York Daily News reporter David Hinckley for a story headlined "The unexplored regions of Alaska have been a magnet for reality television shows." 

Wait a minute. "Star Trek" must have had it all wrong. Space, it would appear, is not the "final frontier." There's still Alaska.

Oh. It's all been explored and mapped? 

Never mind. 

Reality check: Alaska is as unexplored as so-called "reality TV" is real. But don't tell Hinckley, who records the words of Raney as if gospel: "We all know not everything that happens on ‘reality’ shows is real. (But) in the places where we film this show, the danger is absolutely real.”

This reflects my favorite form of journalism. Write down anything, no matter how stupid, because you can always defend it with the response, "Hey, that's what he said."

Well, what Raney said is bullshit. There's no other word for it. The reality is that the danger is absolutely minimal.

It has to be. No company would want to expose itself to the legal liability involved by leaving the danger "absolutely real." If someone were to actually die in one of these Alaska reality shows, the producers could well find themselves in court outlining the "safety plan" they had in place to keep that from happening.

Anyone who has seen one of these shows might note, too, that no one ever dies despite the constant, cliff-hanging teasers. 

"Johnnie's in trouble now, and it looks like that bear is going to eat him!"

Cut to commercial.

Return to show: "Lucky for Johnnie, the bear appears to be more interested in eating salmon than him, but who knows what danger lurks around the bend?"

How do these shows even continue to exist?

When quiz shows phonied things up like this in the 1950s it became a national scandal. Congress eventually passed a law making it illegal to fix a game show.

Now, if you watch a show like "Jeopardy!," you have at least some assurance that one or more of the contestants weren't slipped the answers to questions before the show. 

And if you watch a reality show, well, you'll get something for certain: A little slice of reality, a big slice of reality, maybe no reality. There's really, to be real, no way to tell.

But if you read the New York Daily News, you'll get nonsense like this: "National Geographic’s lineup also includes 'Life Below Zero,' about people who live in places that are too cold for lichen...."

Where the hell would that be? Scientists have discovered lichen can survive the subzero temperatures of space. How cold is space? Simplistically, somewhere near absolute zero or minus 459 degrees.

Not even Umiat gets that cold. But then again, some Outside reporter might buy it if you said it got to 300 degrees below zero there.

Hinckley bought this: 

"Raney, a native Alaskan who says he never sets foot outside the state, admits" yada, yada, yada.

"Never sets foot outside the state?" If you buy that, I've got a bridge across Knik Arm to sell.

It seems to me Raney and Iditarod musher Dallas Seavey did some promotional stunt for their show where they camped out in MANHATTAN earlier this year. Oh yeah, here it is, right on Raney's Facebook page.

None of this is meant to bash Raney. He's a fun guy and a wonderfully shameless promoter. But it's the latter, which is so obvious, that ought to serve as a warning to any reporter.

As journalists, we all makes mistakes. It happens when you're dealing with huge volumes of information. I make no claims to be perfect here. But to allow oneself to be so easily misled?

What is this? Reality TV or something?

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch. Contact Craig Medred at craig@alaskadispatch.com.