The Sportsman Channel's 12-episode run of "Amazing America with Sarah Palin" wrapped up Thursday night with a season finale that finally satisfied my desire for more Sarah.
A lot of times people will say to me: "Maia, between 'Sarah Palin's Alaska,' 'Dancing With the Stars' and 'Amazing America,' you've watched literally tens of hours of reality television featuring the Palin family. What do you really think about all of it?"
Here's what I tell them: If Sarah Palin had never run for vice president of the United States, if she had instead finished her term as governor (or served a second term for good measure) and then gone into TV and talked about huntin' and fishin' and Alaska and tips for cooking up the perfect moose chili and maintaining volume on bad hair days, she wouldn't be Sarah Palin, Divisive Politician Who Also Does TV. She would be Sarah Palin, Engaging TV Personality, beloved by all.
There are a couple of problems with this, of course, first among them being that if she had never been Sarah Palin, Vice Presidential Candidate she likely wouldn't have had the juice to become Sarah Palin, Reality TV Star. But even her limited camera time on "Amazing America" has provided a glimpse into what might have been had she skipped CPAC and death panels and Facebook politicking and instead hopped straight into a career on TV showing people how much fun it is to shoot guns, splash in the mud and enjoy home-cooked meals, all with perfect skin.
Politics Sarah Palin is a bit like Rachel Maddow in her red-meat appeal to her base, but Reality TV Sarah Palin has more in common with Rachael Ray.
Case in point: The season finale of "Amazing America," which is lacking the comedy high jinks of the regular field hosts (I particularly feel the absence of Jerry Carroll, my new favorite reality TV star and future best friend, who will probably someday live to regret the day I interviewed him, when he told me I had his cellphone number now and should feel free to call anytime) but is thick with warm, sunny Reality TV Sarah moments.
In this final episode of the season, we're back in Alaska, where Sarah is at her parents' house, hosting Dakota Meyer, the youngest living recipient of the Medal of Honor.
As reality TV lovers may recall, the last time we saw Sarah's parents' house was on the best episode ever of the best TLC show ever, "Sarah Palin's Alaska," when the Palins were joined by the Gosselin family (of "Jon & Kate Plus 8" fame but after the show was downsized by divorce to just "Kate Plus 8"). On that occasion (prior to Kate Gosselin's total meltdown on a rainy camping trip), Sarah's papa Chuck Heath showed off his in-home science museum, impressing the Gosselin kids by stabbing himself in the arm with a porcupine quill and letting them take turns trying to pull it out.
On this visit, Chuck shows off his lure collection (if this were a different network and those lures were less organized, this could be an episode of "Hoarders" but they're sorted by color, so instead it's sort of Martha Stewart-esque), and then some photos of fish wheels, which Dakota, a bass fisherman, makes the mistake of criticizing.
"We actually have to work for it. This right here doesn't actually look like it's much of a challenge," he says. Sarah agrees but Chuck pushes back.
"You gotta be a mechanic. You gotta be a carpenter," he says. (Katie John might also argue that you gotta be a lawyer.)
Another choice item in Chuck's collection: a Russian Pepsi can found while beachcombing, which prompts a clarification of Sarah's alleged "I can see Russia from my house" remark (we all know that particular verbiage belongs to Tina Fey, right?), giving Chuck the opportunity to pull out a photo of Big Diomede Island taken from Little Diomede.
"This is America. That's Russia. You can see it," Sarah says. "That's not my house but you can see it." There are a million hairs you can split all day about the seeing-Russia-from-Alaska remarks but it's nice to see that, six short years and a handful of reality series later, Sarah appears to have a sense of humor about it.
Sarah shows off Chuck's taxidermy collection and brags about how easy it made her sixth grade science fair project, which was about -- you guessed it -- taxidermy. She says she just took some mounts off the wall for her display. Dakota accuses her of cheating.
"I didn't necessarily cheat," she says. "I was efficient."
Out in the yard, near Chuck's antler pile (let's be honest, the whole family was made for television), Dakota tells the story of his military service: He enlisted in the Marine Corps at 17, did deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, and survived a trap set by the Taliban that killed members of his unit. Now he advocates for veterans awareness. He's also concerned about the divisive nature of today's political dialogue.
"In America ... we're more segregated now than we've ever been," Dakota says. "Are you a Republican or a Democrat? Are you a Muslim, Christian, or whatever religion you are -- you know, really, none of those matter. I mean, really, at the end of the day, all of those make up America."
"It's a melting pot," Sarah says, nodding. In case you needed proof that Reality TV Sarah Palin is softer, gentler and targeted to a broader demographic than Politics Sarah Palin.
Next we're off to the Palins' house, where we get a tour of Todd's man cave and an admission direct from Sarah and Todd that daughter Piper is, in fact, named after the airplane. (They have a Cessna now.) Todd's man cave, in case you were wondering, is epic -- massive and full of all the things you need to be Todd Palin: snowmachines, power tools, an airplane. (Game & Fish Magazine has a slide show.)
The trio heads out to do some off-roadin' and mud-boggin' on Mount Baldy, and Dakota drives, earning praise from Todd and Sarah. ("It's that Kentucky drivin'," Dakota says.) In a quiet moment on the mountain, he tells the story of the men in his team who were killed and speaks highly of the mentors and leaders who helped empower him.
At the end of the show, Sarah sits lakeside to wave the boys off as they take a joyride in the family plane.
And thus we close the book on another season of Palin reality television. If you missed out on "Amazing America," take heart: There may be another opportunity for you to get to know the kinder, gentler Reality TV Sarah. I'm told a second season could already be in the works. Folks at The Sportsman Channel, if you're reading this: More Sarah. More Todd. And maybe add Alaska to the map of the U.S. in the title credits, which currently features just the Lower 48 states. I mean, really. It's not like the name of our last governor is right there in the name of the show or anything.
Also, if you ever decide to make "Amazing America with Jerry Carroll" -- or "Amazing (Anything) with Jerry Carroll" -- I'm in. In fact, it doesn't even have to be amazing. It could be "Regular Anything with Jerry Carroll." Sign me up.
Contact Maia Nolan-Partnow at firstname.lastname@example.org
By MAIA NOLAN-PARTNOW