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Reality Check: 5 lessons we've learned from the past year of Alaska reality TV

Emily Fehrenbacher

Help! I need a new show to watch. The only thing in my rotation right now is “Deadliest Catch.” And sarcastically writing about “Deadliest Catch” is like making fun of your grandpa. He's older, he's wiser and he rarely does the weird, unexpected things that the children and grandchildren do.

For the past two weeks I have woken up and Googled “MTV Slednecks” every day, just hoping there will be a trailer of the drunk youths of Wasilla to break down. I’d even take a leaked cast list for “Ultimate Survival Alaska” so I can do some Facebook stalking. Please, Emily Riedel (“Bering Sea Gold”), tweet something crazy to give me ammo. The summer TV lull is becoming desperate. Remember how last week I watched Hulu episodes of a show called “R5 Sons Alaska?”

So without a new show to break down this week, or anything egregious from one of the old-timers, I’ve decided to list my five Alaska reality TV lessons and trends from the past year.

5. TV viewers are interested in home buying in Alaska. This year we got two new shows: “Buying Alaska” and “Living Alaska.” I honestly don’t know the difference between the two, but they seem to be here to stay. Both shows have been called out for being fake. Both shows feature a couple viewing three houses and choosing to “buy” one of them. Both shows overdo the outhouse jokes. Both shows are always on TV, and therefore people must be watching them.

4. Sarah Palin is back. After taking a break from reality (TV) for a while, Palin is back, showing us all the great things “real” America has to offer. We first got a glimpse of her on “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” which was a beautiful nightmare in 2010. I remember secretly streaming it online before I had cable. “Sarah Palin’s Amazing America” was just as strangely compelling as “Sarah Palin's Alaska” was. Governor-turned-reality-TV-star suits her.

3. Wilderness families are both loved and hated by the Internet. Both “Alaska: The Last Frontier” and “Alaskan Bush People” are shows about Alaskan families seemingly doing their best to live on the land. Both shows have questionable moments of drama in which the story arc of the family's survival doesn’t necessarily line up with the reality of their situation. In “Bush People” it was the weird shooting incident, and in “Last Frontier” it’s their location (conveniently close to Homer). But the thing I find most fascinating is that the Internet is either up in arms defending the families from criticism or adamantly tearing them apart. I think I might be the only middle ground out there.

2. We need more competition shows. I miss “Ultimate Survival Alaska,” not because it’s the best show on TV or has the best cast (although it’s a solid cast), but because it's a competition, and that makes things so much more interesting. It's why I watch “The Bachelor” franchise season after season, even though I hate the format, I hate the cast, I hate the society that created it and I hate myself for watching it. I can't stop because it’s entertaining to watch people compete against each other in meaningless contests (whether it’s for love or the prize-less title of being the Ultimate Alaskan Survivor).

1. We have some truly interesting neighbors. Whether it’s the Hillstrand brothers on “Catch,” the ladies of “Alaskan Women Looking for Love” or basically anyone from the cast of “Life Below Zero,” there are interesting people in Alaska with great stories. I, and many of you, are constantly shocked by the number of Alaska reality shows out there (by my count, at least 34 in the last five years). But I’m even more amazed that these 34 shows are able to provide consistently fascinating people for us to watch. Love them or hate them, these shows are telling a story about the place we live in.

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