Reality Check: Johnson goes down a river; Nat Geo looks for next 'Ultimate' survivor

Emily Fehrenbacher

Big news. National Geographic is casting the next season of "Ultimate Survival Alaska." This could be your chance to spend a summer traveling around the state, going on three-day expeditions, and being grouped with strangers that fit roughly the same stereotype as you.

The application is shockingly short, so there is no reason not to apply. The following five prompts are all it takes to land the gig: Describe your experience in outdoor survival scenarios. Describe specific survival skills you possess that would make you a valuable member of an "Ultimate Survival Alaska" team. List the five most critical items you would bring with you in your pack and why. What do you think will draw viewers to you as a cast member of the show? Describe your experience working in or leading a team.

If National Geographic wants to create the "Day-Hikers with Minimal Survival Skills Who Need Coffee" Team, I'm in!

While I'm excited about this casting announcement, I hope that the Mountaineers Team stays intact because they make the show. Actually, someone should give these guys a spinoff show. Just like Lauren Conrad once graduated from "Laguna Beach" to "The Hills," Marty Raney can and should graduate from "Ultimate Survival Alaska" to "Raney Days"*.

This episode of "Ultimate Survival Alaska" is intense. My buddy (whom I interviewed once for 30 minutes) Tyler Johnson gets swept away down a rushing river he's trying to cross.

His teammates begin to search for him and recruit the remaining members of the Military Team to help them out. The tension mounts when they find his pack floating in the river, but there's no sign of Johnson. After hours of looking, the Military Team spots Johnson curled up in a ball on some rocks in the middle of the river. At first it seems like he's dead, then it seems like he's sleeping, then it seems like he's drunk and finally, he just seems cold and confused. It's a real rollercoaster. The Military Team helps warm him up while they wait for the Mountaineers to catch up with them. Once Johnson is reunited with his team, the omniscient narrator says it took 12 hours to find him.

The narrator doesn't tell us how far they had to go to look for him, and cameras weren't with Johnson for any of his "12 hours" lost. Typically, when these life-or-death situations happen, National Geographic eats up every detail. But in this case, they glossed over it. "Ultimate Survival Alaska" is a show that frequently cuts to interviews after extreme events, but they never interviewed Johnson about what happened when he was swept down the river. What the hell is that about? What really happened during those 12 hours? I texted Johnson, but he is working in rural Alaska and couldn't talk, so I'll just speculate.

Johnson seems like an extremely savvy dude with a lot of wilderness experience. So the idea that after he was swept down a river he just lay on some rocks in the middle of the cold water seems odd to me. He likely would have kept moving to keep warm, and if he was unharmed, which he seemed to be, he would have started making his way back upriver toward his teammates. I can't help but wonder if he was with a safety crew drinking hot Tang while sitting by a fire, as they strategically placed his pack in the river for his teammates Raney and Thomas Ginn to find.

Before I move on -- shout out to Thomas Ginn on the Mountaineers Team. He doesn't get enough love because he doesn't do anything crazy, but he's great too.

In other Alaska reality TV news, an Anchorage woman, Elizabeth Roth, will be on TLC's "Say Yes to the Dress." The new season starts February 21, but it's unclear if she'll be featured in the first episode. "Ultimate Survival Alaska" season one star Brent Sass almost won the Yukon Quest, but was disqualified with a head injury after falling off his sled.

*Author's Note: This show is not currently in production, but I would be willing to consult with any network that wants to make it happen.

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


By Emily Fehrenbacher