Reality Check: Surreal TV world of Alaska realty

Emily Fehrenbacher

There is a new Alaska reality TV show out there: "Living Alaska" on HGTV. Full disclosure: home improvement television isn't my genre. I like Bed, Bath and Beyond 20-percent-off coupons as much as the next person. But when it comes to television, I prefer the social experiment shows that involve some level of alcohol abuse by 20-somethings, competition shows or even "Wild West Alaska" over home improvement programming.

However, as a first-time buyer currently in the market for a single-family home in Alaska, I thought I should give it a try. Let me set up the premise for you. Each episode features a couple moving to Alaska looking in a specific area with a set of criteria. Sound like "Buying Alaska"? That's because it is exactly like "Buying Alaska," except that the new homebuyers don't actually live here yet.

HGTV ran two back-to-back episodes on Sunday. Episode one started out with the standard deep-voiced narrator: "Alaska: It's been called the last frontier" (bears) ... "a vast, unspoiled wilderness" (big mountains) ... "where the real amenities are outside" (bad outhouse joke). Yada yada yada.

Then we meet our future homeowners, Monica and Nathan. The only thing I can say about these two is that they are objectively the most normal middle-class couple on the planet. They were like a modern Norman Rockwell painting. Of course they are moving from Minnesota to Eagle River after Nathan relocated for work. Of course they have a dog so they want a yard. Of course they want to start a family so they need room for their 2.5 kids. And of course they need a big master bedroom to fill with REI gear.

They look at two houses in Eagle River and one on the Anchorage Hillside. My biggest shock was how frequently they said the words "Alaska" or "Alaskan": 37 times in one episode. It was outrageous. A 30-minute TV show is actually about 22 minutes without commercials. So according to my calculations (which are likely wrong), they said "Alaska" or "Alaskan" every 35 seconds on average.

The couple went with a small single-family home in Eagle River, and I was ready to give mad props to HGTV for showing them homes that were actually for sale (unlike "Buying Alaska"). And then came episode two.

Episode two featured the Wades, a hip-looking couple moving back to Alaska from Florida. Episode two was far more entertaining than episode one (unless you were taking a drink every time they said "Alaska") because of the on-screen duo. The Wades were searching for a place around Talkeetna. Mrs. Wade wanted "a home near museums and entertainment and restaurants," but Mr. Wade was looking for "a recreational property where I can go to the woods and act like an idiot." It was a solid foundation for good television. I think maybe Mrs. Wade should look at Seattle and Mr. Wade should look at Delta Junction. It would actually be a fascinating show if a realtor/marriage counselor showed them houses 3,000 miles apart.

However, they ended up "buying" a cabin in downtown Talkeetna for $100,000. I knew this was too good to be true; in this economy, no one is buying a cabin downtown anywhere for $100,000. After a few clacks into the Google, it turns out they "bought" Trapper John's Cabin, which is owned by the Talkeetna Roadhouse. It's one of a few cabins that you can rent from the Roadhouse. I'm guessing it is not in fact owned by the Wades.

Do the makers of reality TV not realize that we have the Internet? Maybe they just don't care? Maybe cynical girls that would rather be watching MTV's "The Challenge" aren't their target audience? Regardless, I'm thinking of applying to the "Living Alaska" casting call just so I can look into some of those sweet Bootlegger Cove houses that no realtor in their right mind would actually show me.

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


Emily Fehrenbacher
Reality Check