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Why 'Parker's Trail' is the best 3 hours of Alaska reality TV you're missing

  • Author: Emily Fehrenbacher
    | Reality Check
  • Updated: December 2, 2017
  • Published April 12, 2017

A scene from “Gold Rush: Parker’s Trail” (Screen capture via Discovery.com)

I have found the best new Alaska show on TV, but unfortunately it's only three episodes long. "Gold Rush: Parker's Trail" is the dramedy I've been waiting for.

The series follows Parker Schnabel, who is the star of "Gold Rush," a long-running Discovery Channel series about mining gold (that I have only watched when it's on in the background of a Midwestern family living room). Schnabel's grandfather passed away a year ago and he and his three friends have decided to travel the Klondike Trail the way Schnabel's grandfather would have experienced it.

Let's quickly break down why this is the greatest three hours of television you could watch about Alaska.

First, the foursome on this show is the strangest grouping I can think of since the Woodsmen on "Ultimate Survival Alaska." As I suspected after only reading the press release, Rick Ness (Parker's friend "who's out of shape, drinks too much and is a smoker") is the greatest character on the show.

Here are three quotes to convince you that Rick Ness is the star:

1. "I'll find the biggest bear and just punch him in the face. Then he'll find all the other bears and tell them. That's how nature works, right?": Rick, this is definitely not how nature works, but I really want to see you punch a bear in the face on national television. If not on national television, maybe YouTube?

2. "My name is Rick Ness, and I like to party. I have no regrets": This is after he is so drunk that he falls in a shower while completely clothed. Where did he find a shower on their like-the-pioneers-did-it hike and canoe of the Klondike? Great question. I'll answer this later.

3. "Let's just get this nightmare over and get the boat in the water": Rick seems to hate everything they are doing. He's so bad at nature that he almost cuts his toe off while chopping wood.

Also on the team is Karla Ann, who of course is the most capable of all of them and a wilderness guide in her normal life. She frequently looks at the camera when each man is having his own meltdown and just shakes her head. And finally a very cheery British man, James Levelle, is the producer/on-camera cameraman (they shoot this almost entirely with GoPros). It might be his accent, but everything he says sounds nice and calming.

For example, as they are about to camp in a swampy, uneven, brush-filled horror land, he says, "this is quite the interesting spot we've chosen tonight." Or as Parker is freaking out and smashing his gun on trees because they can't find any food, he says, "Bit of a temper tantrum here. Just relax." He's so calm, and he knows they are just hangry.

Beyond the cast, the second reason "Gold Rush: Parker's Trail" is superb is they show themselves cheating. While they have committed to complete the Klondike Trail without the help of motors, they do find a rail cart and push it down the railroad tracks with their canoes and gear for dozens of miles instead of waiting for the wind to change directions on a lake. (During this scene they also run into the nicest Canadian railroad worker who doesn't even care they stole a rail cart.)
When they get to Whitehorse (they are traveling to Dawson) they stop to get Rick's foot checked out after his issues with the ax. This leads to a hilarious conversation, in which Parker convinces everyone that what the pioneers did in Whitehorse was drink whiskey and eat salted pork. (They even edited in some old-timey photos and a narrated story about Donald Trump's grandfather starting the Trump fortune in Whitehorse.)

So, of course, they decide to go eat pizza, drink beer and then get drunk enough that they stay in a hotel, just like the pioneers did. I'm sure many shows also put their people up in hotels mid-wilderness trip, but this one airs it. And thanks to the hotel stay, we see a completely clothed man fall in a shower.

To catch up on the two episodes that have already aired and the finale, tune into Discovery Channel Friday night.

Emily Fehrenbacher lives in Anchorage, where she reviews Alaska reality TV. You can reach her at realitycheck@alaskadispatch.com or on Twitter @ETFBacher.

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