Arts and Entertainment

Reality Check: Finally, real Alaskans doing real Alaska things

I went on a first date with "Life Below Zero" yesterday, and I had a wonderful time. "Life Below Zero" chronicles the lives of seven truly interesting people who live in the Alaska Bush.

In the season three premiere, I'm guessing it is fall 2013, because everyone is dealing with the effects of the warm summer and long-lasting fall. First, we meet Sue Aikens, who is obviously the show's star. Sue lives in a giant tent on the tundra just outside the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge at the Kavik River Camp, which she owns and runs. Sue's story arc this episode is that she has to shoot a grizzly bear that keeps coming into her camp.

In an interview, Sue tells us (while smoking a cigar) that a couple of years ago, she was attacked by a grizzly bear. The bear bit her head, dislocated her hip and dragged her out to the tundra. She played dead, then crawled back to her tent, where she had to sew her own head back together and wait for 10 days for a pilot to find her. This show is about legit Alaskans doing legit Alaskan things.

Reflecting on the incident, she says, "Has it changed me? Yeah, some. I'm not going to say I'm more of a pussy now ... I accepted that I might be bear crap any day." Don't worry, I will be putting in an interview request to this woman immediately.

Then the shows travels to Noorvik, where we meet Chip and Agnes Hailstone. They are trying to catch whitefish to feed their seven children, but having a difficult time because the river isn't frozen yet. When they catch some, Agnes, an Inupiaq, eats the eggs right out of the fish. Agnes is one of the calmest people I've seen on reality TV, and that makes her extremely likable.

We then meet Erik Salitan, who lives in Wiseman but is finishing up a guiding season in Iliamna. He goes hunting for deer on Kodiak Island before heading back north for the winter. He reminds me of a bunch of young guides I've met who moved to Alaska in their late teens and early 20s. He said things like "I think excessive comfort is detrimental to one's character." Which is an interesting thing to say to an audience that is sitting on their warm couches spending an hour of their lives watching your show.

Finally, we meet the Andy and Kate Bassich, who live outside Eagle. They've got a team of 25 dogs that they'll need to feed for the winter, so Andy builds a fish wheel to catch the fall chum run. These guys are clearly characters and I'm sure they'll get more screen time in the future.


I might have missed it, since I was writing, eating dinner, and checking email while watching "Life Below Zero," but it seems Glenn Villeneuve, who is listed as a cast member, did not appear in this episode.

The show only relied on narration to catch the audience up if they were just tuning in, and they let the cast drive the story, which I always appreciate. Also, this is a great crop of reality TV talent. I actually care what happens to these people and am looking forward to my second date with "Life Below Zero" next week.

Some Alaska reality TV updates for this week

The grandpa of Alaska reality TV, "Deadliest Catch," will begin its 10th season Tuesday, April 22.

The Reality Wanted Awards, an awards show for reality TV, are this week and the "Bad Ass Crew" category is almost entirely filled with Alaska shows: "Alaska Fish Wars," "Bering Sea Gold," "Deadliest Catch," and "Life Below Zero." The only non-Alaska show nominated is "Boston's Finest." Cheers to any Alaskans who worked on those shows, and if anyone is going to the awards ceremony, please send me an email at

"Amazing America with Sarah Palin" had a crazy episode about the guy who invented Billy Bob teeth (fake costume teeth). I highly recommend watching it. Spoiler alert: He used to live in a cave, and he has a pet bear.

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


Reality Check

Emily Fehrenbacher

Emily Fehrenbacher lives in Anchorage and writes "Reality Check," a regular look at reality television set in Alaska.