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Reality Check: On "Ultimate Survival," Alaskans lose a gold pan as hope for victory fades

  • Author: Emily Fehrenbacher
    | Reality Check
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published March 18, 2015

With only one more episode of "Ultimate Survival Alaska" left, things are getting real, and I'm beginning to panic about what I will watch when it's over. The Endurance Team (better known as Dallas Seavey and friends) is in first place with four wins, Lower 48 and Military are tied in second with three wins, and the Alaskans only have two wins under their rugged REI belts.

The final expedition win is worth two points, which means the best the Alaskans can hope for is a tie.

This season has been at its best when the contestants are on the water. Because, as Tyler Johnson puts it, "Alaska water is the scariest thing on the planet." In the last challenge the survivors were supplied with various tools to build a raft to float down the Chakachatna River. They were given various sizes of inner tubes, water jugs, sleeping pads, ropes, plywood and tires. It really made me wonder what kind of insurance policy National Geographic has that it will allow people to travel down Class V rapids sitting on pieces of plywood attached to some water jugs.

The Lower 48 team built a "bublik," which the narrator described as a "Russian tire boat named for its resemblance to floating bagels." Ummm, what are you talking about, Russians? This is a crazy design for a boat, and an even crazier name for it. Most importantly, this plot device gave Cluck McCleskey (a professional kayaker from North Carolina with a strong Southern drawl) a reason to say "bublik" approximately 20 times in one episode, propelling them to victory, both on the show and for my heart.

I wanted to believe that legendary mountain climber Vern Tejas, original chest hair champion Marty Raney and hipster sunglass-wearing wilderness racer Tyler Johnson could pull it out for all of us Alaskans, but this season has proved that "Ultimate Survival Alaska" is less about survival and more about having working, young knees.

The biggest tragedy of the series (outside of Jimmy Gaydos going home early last year) occurred this episode when Raney lost his "revered, nostalgic, infamous" gold pan. Raney was using it as an oar for the challenge and he lost it in the river.

For years, I've wondered why the hell he would carry a gold pan on a survival challenge, but then it grew on me and Raney taught me all the uses for a gold pan. I took that gold pan for granted, like snow in the winter, and now it's gone. Luckily, you can buy a new gold pan for about $8 at Home Depot. Season four, the gold pan must return.

Last week I asked for gossip, and it was received. In a brilliant PR move, the Sportsman Channel sent out a clip of last season's finale of "Amazing America with Sarah Palin" that shows the future Mr. Bristol Palin, Dakota Meyer, hangin' in Alaska with SP. They didn't say if this is how Bristol and Dakota met, but it's insinuated. The Sportsman Channel is now responsible for as many Palin engagements as John McCain. Snap.

I thought I'd save the worst for last. As those of you who read this column, follow me on Twitter or have ever met me in real life know, I'm a huge fan of MTV programming. Most of their shows are targeted at an audience approximately half my age, but I've been watching them since I was half my age so I figure it's allowed.

MTV has not renewed "The Real World" for a 31st season yet, leaving us to wonder if the days when "people stop being polite, and start getting real" are over. At least we have its ripple effects, teaching people how to survive if they ever find themselves in the wilderness with nothing but a piece of plywood, some water jugs and a gold pan.

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