Reality Check: A moment for Alaska reality shows gone by

Emily Fehrenbacher

It’s Throwback Thursday, running into Flashback Friday, here at Reality Check. So I’ve decided to watch forgotten Alaska reality TV shows.

This all started a few weeks ago when I was Googling my favorite cast member of “The Hunt,” Buckey Winkley, resident hunting guide at the Rainy Pass Lodge. That led me to find a show called “R5 Sons Alaska.” As I was researching that show I stumbled upon another failed Alaska show and unsuccessfully scoured the Internet for old episodes of “Big Hair Alaska,” the short-lived TLC show about Sarah Palin’s hairdresser in Wasilla.

That reminded me that Levi Johnston exists, so I started reading about him and wondered why he never had a reality TV show (although I would argue he paved the way for “Slednecks”). By the way, did you know Ben Folds and Nick Hornby released an album that had a track titled “Levi Johnston’s Blues?” Amazing.

Then I spent about an hour listening to all my favorite Ben Folds songs from college, and then I finally went back to my original mission and watched the pilot of “R5 Sons” on Hulu.

It was the most millennial moment I’ve ever had.

As you may recall, “R5 Sons” is a self-produced show that follows the lives of the Perrins family at the Rainy Pass Lodge that first “aired” back in 2009 and has been airing on GCI, Alaska Airlines digEplayers and RFD-TV (a cable channel aimed at rural America) since. "R5 Sons" opens like so many shows do, with a slightly Southern-sounding male narrator introducing the cast. There’s Steve Sr., the patriarch, and his wife Denise. They have five kids: Steve II, Shane, Clay, Chase and Colton -- all in their 20s.

Each of the boys has a thing he's good at. One is a bush pilot, one is a handyman, one is a firefighter in Anchorage, one is a father and one is the leader. All those descriptions could be about one person, because it’s essentially impossible to tell the kids apart after an episode. Except for Chase, because he’s in Anchorage for most of the episode being a firefighter, and when he isn’t, he's talking about how he’s a firefighter in Anchorage.

The episode chronicles the daily operations of the lodge, and sometimes features their clients. Overall it was like many of the other Alaska shows that follow families around the Bush, less refined than “Alaska: The Last Frontier” and less weird than “Alaskan Bush People.”

According to an interview the family did in December 2009 with KTUU, the family and a few other investors spent hundreds of thousands of dollars producing and broadcasting the show and were hoping major networks would pick it up. I don’t know if they made all their money back, but according to their family website they have fans “from all age groups and from all over the U.S. and around the world.”

I don’t want to give spoilers to those of you planning to watch all 26 episodes on Hulu. If you fall into that category, stop reading now.

Apparently, Clay ended up marrying a girl he met filming the show. His now-wife was working behind the camera on the pilot episode. I love when the fourth wall is broken and reality TV turns into actual reality. No one can deny that two people got married -- there are actual records to prove it. When crew members end up in front of the camera it's usually because something has gone terribly wrong (example: in a recent episode of “The Bachelorette,” the production team was seen grieving with the cast over the death of a cast member). But very occasionally it happens for a good reason, and it makes me happy.

That ends our first Throwback Thursday/Flashback Friday. If anyone reading this can get me a copy of “Big Hair Alaska” I will repay you with sassy commentary, and I’ll even go get my hair cut in Wasilla. You choose the style.

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