There is only one episode of "Ultimate Survival Alaska" left, so it's fitting that I write about my favorite show before my Sundays are filled with emptiness. The stakes are high going into the finale -- each team (the Endurance Team, the Military Team and the Mountaineers) has three wins under its belt, so it's anybody's game.
The first half of the "Ultimate Survival Alaska" season finale aired on Sunday night. Thus far, the finale has played like the season's greatest hits. The Military Team decided to packraft through an "ice luge" on a glacier, and bailed just before plunging into a dark glacial abyss. They then traversed a huge waterfall, basically waterboarding themselves, before jumping off a cliff into a river to catch up to the other teams. The Mountaineers climbed up a vertical wall of ice, descended the same giant waterfall as the Military Team and "found" a sketchy Tyrolean traverse to cross a canyon. And the Endurance Team decided to take the longest, safest route across the glacier, but they still had to rappel down an ice cliff and decided to forgo sleep to catch up to the other teams. The episode ended with all three teams being at the same spot, racing towards Cook Inlet and then Mount Augustine.
The only thing missing was some good old-fashioned wilderness ingenuity and back-country nutrition (hunting and fishing), but everyone was pushing hard to cross the finish line first. What I like about this show is that everyone is looking a little busted at this point. They've been outside for 35 straight days without showers, and instead of cleaning up their talent, National Geographic just lets them be.
So place your bets, start your office pool, call your grandmother in Nebraska who loves this show; here are my predictions on who will win "Ultimate Survival Alaska":
The Endurance Team, led by Alaska's sweetheart Dallas Seavey, will run a lot, but ultimately come in third place. They had a rough start to the competition, but managed to pull off two wins in a row by literally running the expeditions. They have the greatest liability of the show in Sean Burch, who is a good cheerleader, but frequently falls, gets charged by bears, falls again, gets hypothermic, etc. To be fair, mistakes and trouble get more airtime than competence on this show. My guess is something will go wrong on their paddle across Cook Inlet and cost them time.
The Mountaineers, led by Marty Raney (who has to be a solid 20 years older than everyone else on the show), will continue to do crazy stuff to "save time" that will actually cause headaches, but make for good television. I think they'll be close to winning, but Marty's skis will slow them down. I think these guys are favored to win because they are the most entertaining, but I don't know if they can climb faster than the other teams. So I'm saying they'll end up in second place.
The Military Team, which is down to only two members after RECON Marine and backcountry fashionista Rudy Reyes broke his ankle, will win the challenge. Why would I vote for the only non-Alaskan team? I think National Geographic will let them win, because they want to continue to expand the show beyond Alaskans in the future. I also think Grady Powell and Jared Ogden will do whatever it takes (example: remember when Ogden thought they didn't have time to blow up his pack raft, so he swam across a glacial lake?), and in a head-to-head contest could probably take any of the other survivalists.
While I know that not everyone loves "Ultimate Survival Alaska," I think it has been a bright spot in Alaska's reality TV programming. My only hope is that they do a reunion show.
• Emily Fehrenbacher lives in Anchorage, where she reviews Alaska reality TV.