Reality Check: Indie Alaska puts the 'real' back in 'reality'

Emily Fehrenbacher

This week, I want to write about a different kind of Alaska reality TV series than the standard outdoorsy, testosterone-filled cable show. Alaska Public Media, an affiliate of PBS, has been producing a series of short videos called Indie Alaska.

The series is like the early days of reality television; it's a small slice of everyday life, put together so that even things that normally seem mundane look interesting. When I contacted Travis Gilmour, public media director at Alaska Public Media, he was surprised Reality Check wanted to write about his show, calling it "the anti-reality TV."

"One of the original ideas behind the series was that as video producers ourselves, and as public television, we haven't necessarily been happy with all the portrayals of Alaskans, or people who are purported to be Alaskan, that we tend to see on the reality programs," said Gilmour. "We thought we could do justice to Alaskans with a series like this."

There are 53 Indie Alaska videos so far. The topics are as varied as "I Am a 98-Year-Old Bowler" to "I Am a Musk Ox Farmer" and "I Am a Ski Train Polka Meister." Each episode takes a documentary approach to tell the story of Alaskans from all walks of life.

I watched many of the videos while sitting in an East Coast hotel room this past week. The episode that made me feel all the feelings was "I Am a High School Indie Rock Star." The seven-minute video follows Palmer High School indie rock band Gerygone and Twig as they play their final concert before two band members leave the state.

"It's hard to meet new people or to find people that have the same interests when you're weird, I guess," says Rainy Hastings, their guitarist and vocalist, while wearing bold makeup that you don't typically see in Palmer. "And it feels really great whenever you can join with other people and your hearts are aligned, and you are making the same kind of music."

This is also Gilmour's favorite episode, and he described it as "the perfect storm of visuals and story and conflict and character and music and everything." Most importantly, Gerygone and Twig is a legitimately good band and the teens are surprisingly articulate and relatable.

Indie Alaska also followed Willy Fulton, who famously found the remains of Timothy Treadwell (aka "The Grizzly Man") after he was killed by a bear. Their most-watched video is "I Am the Aurora Hunter," which follows Todd Salat and features his amazing videos of the aurora borealis.

Gilmour's partners in making the series are Slavik Boyechko and John Norris. They find stories, track down people for interviews and produce, edit and distribute the videos. Their videos tell real stories of our state that might not sustain a Hollywood-produced series. In a world where an episode of "The Bachelor" is now two hours long, I like that their stories are concise, and the Alaskans they follow seem natural and authentic.

You can check out all of their episodes and a short trailer at They're also posted online at and

I want to end with some quick Alaska reality TV news. There will be spinoff web series of "Ultimate Survival Alaska" called "Seavey vs. Seavey" (obviously, following Dallas Seavey and his father), but I'm not getting my hopes up on that one. The Sportsman Channel's new show "Amazing America with Sarah Palin" has a promo airing that is so patriotic it will make you start reciting the Pledge of Allegiance the second you see it. It airs April 3. And finally, with Alaska's greatest race coming up this weekend, we can be sure that Anchorage will be full of cameras. So act crazy, put on your best wolf hat and maybe you can become an Alaskan reality TV star yourself. Or at least show up in the background.

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


Emily Fehrenbacher
Reality Check