Reality Check: 'Alaskan Bush People' takes strange turn

Emily Fehrenbacher

I have to admit that I've been weirdly enjoying "Alaskan Bush People."

The series is about the nine-member Brown family that moved from Southeast to the Copper River Valley to build a cabin and start a new life. It's a little reminiscent of the Papa Pilgrim story, which makes you feel uncomfortable. And the show seems exploitative of the family with its editing and voiceovers. But at the same time, certain family members are endearing in the strangest ways, like Bear, 25, who runs everywhere, digs holes with his hands and climbs trees all the time. Or Bam Bam, 28, who calmly tells his angry father that building their cabin on a foundation of stacked rocks is not a great idea. And Matt comes off as personable and normal, except that he's 30 and still lives in a room with his parents and six siblings.

On Tuesday, the show took an unexpected turn. At the beginning of the episode, a title card appeared, stating: "The Discovery Channel was given permission to document the life of a secluded Bush family. During production, an incident occurred and filming was stopped." According to the episode, someone in the Copper River Valley did not like the Discovery Channel or the Browns being in town, and after multiple threats to both, they came onto the Browns' property and began shooting at them. There's camera footage of the supposed late-night altercation, but then the show picks up again months later after the family has sold their property and moved back to Ketchikan to live on a boat.

I have so many questions. First, did this really happen? Is this a publicity stunt? If it isn't, who was shooting at them? Did they know the Browns? Do they just hate reality TV? Was the shooting reported to the authorities?

At the end of the episode, the Brown family's boat sinks and they are again homeless. The entire episode left me sad and confused and wishing Discovery would have just left me in the dark after the episode where the five Brown boys unsuccessfully went to pick up girls.

After four episodes, it looks like "Bush People" may be wrapping up. Animal Planet has a new show called "American River Renegades," and as with everything on Animal Planet, I'm really confused. While I was watching "American River Renegades" on May 26, there were promos for the same show saying that the series premiere was on June 15. How can a show premiere on June 15 while I'm watching it on May 26? I think Animal Planet is confused about the definition of a premiere. I know I've been hard on Animal Planet for airing reality shows that seemed scripted, like "Wild West Alaska," and for naming a show "Pit Bulls and Parolees," but this is just weird.

Anyway, "American River Renegades" follows four men who are living on rivers all over the country. One of the men is PJ Simon from Allakaket. In the non-premiere premiere, Simon is featured going on a goose hunt after a long winter with his hunting buddy Doug. They are trying to get 20 ducks to feed the entire village for a month, according to a deep-voiced Southern narrator. To get to their hunting spot, they take a dog team, but Doug hates dogs. The duo only got about six minutes of screen time during the hour-long episode. This could be because their hunting trip wasn't successful and they went home uneventfully.

The other members of the cast are on the Pee Dee River in South Carolina, the Mississippi Delta in Louisiana and the upper Mississippi River in Wisconsin. Apparently it will premiere June 15.

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


Emily Fehrenbacher
Reality Check