It's TLC crossover time! This week on "Sarah Palin's Alaska," Sarah and the family play host to reality TV star Kate Gosselin and her eight children. I tried to watch the November episode of "Kate + 8" in which Kate and the kids visited Alaska, but turned it off before I got too far in. Kate has been high strung since the early days (when the show was still called "Jon & Kate + 8," although anyone with half an iota of foresight could see the dysfunctional couple was on the road to divorce years ago), but post-divorce her shrillness is no longer tempered by Jon's halfhearted bumbling, and I couldn't take her freaking out about the possibility of the kids bouncing out of the ATV they were riding in (behind a dog team) and congratulating herself for making lunch for her children! Out of peanut butter and bread! Herself! In Alaska! Where there are no restaurants!
Read the recaps:
I am, however, really excited to see what happens when Kate's neurotic discomfort with the unfamiliar and even slightly adventurous comes crashing into the Palin family's well-publicized outdoorsiness and love of loud, messy, rugged activities. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for fireworks.
Palins, meet Gosselins
Piper is super stoked -- and so am I -- as Kate Gosselin rolls up to the house with twins Mady and Cara and sextuplets Hannah, Alexis, Leah, Joel, Aaden and Collin. I consider opening the bottle of Champagne I know is in the fridge. I am that excited. We've already seen Sarah get irritated at Willow for overreacting to something minor on a day hike; what will she do when Kate, who we've seen suffer multiple coronaries on her own show (over things like missing socks, mosquitoes, and climbing into the basket of a hot air balloon) inevitably has a heart attack?
The Palins take the Gosselins next door to see Sarah's studio, and talk turns to neighbor Joe McGinniss. Kate, who spent most of last season on her own show complaining about the paparazzi, commiserates. Kate and Sarah each talk to the camera about how much they have in common -- mostly kids and stalkers.
Priming the pump: Kate goes to survival school
Sarah and Willow take Kate to a "learn to return" class in Anchorage. In the car, Sarah talks to Kate about survival tactics in bear country. Kate says all she can do is scream. Sarah has a better idea.
"You need a partner with you who's slower than you, is what the bottom line is," Sarah tells Kate. Kate thinks Sarah is kidding.
At their survival class, instructor Brian kicks things off by showing the group a map of bear attack danger zones -- yellow dots for brown bear attacks and red dots for black bears. Kate bites her hand. Brian asks where they'll be camping. Sarah points out an area thick with yellow dots.
"Are you kidding me?" Kate asks. "I would die of a heart attack." (I told you.)
Brian uses a bear skull and Willow to show Kate how a bear will attack her -- first in the head, then in the torso, then in the rear end. Kate looks like she might cry.
Then they head out to the Rabbit Creek Rifle Range on Turnagain Arm. Sarah happily shoots at life-size bear targets, whooping, while Kate grimaces.
"Crazy," Willow explains.
"She's crazy," Kate says, nodding. "I was just going to say that." Although after Sarah pops off a couple of decent shots at a moving target, she says she plans to stand behind Sarah and let her handle the bears.
The last pre-camping task is a visit to Sarah's dad's house, where Chuck Heath turns out to have a really awesome homemade science museum in his garage. His hands-on demonstration of Alaska animal artifacts includes stabbing a porcupine quill into his own arm and letting the Gosselins pull on it.
Good old Chelatna sunshine
As the Palins pack up to scout ahead and set up camp before the Gosselins arrive, it is, of course, raining. That's camping weather in Maia Nolan's Alaska, too. (There isn't much camping in Maia Nolan's Alaska anymore.) They've got the tents set up and the fire going by the time the Gosselins land on Chelatna Lake.
"Are you kidding me?" Kate asks as she steps off the float plane. "Doesn't the lodge sound much more exciting to you?" She's wearing a white jacket.
Her misery is amplified in the shadow of Sarah's relentless enthusiasm. Sarah gushes about the beauty of the place and the wonder of the outdoors.
"OK, I'll go stoke the fire -- and we'll go stoke some fun!" she crows. "Woo hoo!" It's like camping with my mother.
"The kids are having fun," Willow says. "I don't know if Kate's having fun, though."
Kate, for the record, is not having fun.
"It's horrible," she deadpans. "Sorry I'm miserable, but -- I mean, somebody's gotta be."
Actually, Kate is correct. Based on my own observations during years of camping trips around Maia Nolan's Alaska, I can assure you: With that many people on a camping trip, particularly that many children, it is mathematically impossible for everyone to be content. Better for it to be an adult who can console herself with the thought of going home to a nice relaxing swimming pool full of reality TV money. (In Maia Nolan's Alaska it was my cousins from California who spent a week in 1990 on the far side of Kachemak Bay complaining about being cold and hungry until the idea of swimming home started to sound pretty good to me.)
"This is cruel and unusual punishment," Kate says, pacing under her tent as her kids help Sarah gather firewood. "This is where I'll be the whole time. I'm paralyzed."
Meanwhile, Sarah's brother helps the kids outline a map of Alaska using rocks, which gives Sarah another opportunity to talk about where you can see Russia. (She'd already joked about it on the hike.) Then she starts grilling hamburgers and hot dogs. Chuck squirts condiments on one of the kids' dogs and explains they're made of moose.
"What is it?" Kate asks, curling her lip. "A moose hot dog," one of the kids says. Kate looks at it suspiciously and nibbles a molecule of meat off the end of the sausage.
The moment we've been waiting for: Kate loses it
"We are not camping people. I'll scream it from mountaintops," Kate grouses from under the tent. She might be crying. Her meltdown is beginning. There are no paper towels.
"How do you make sandwiches for eight kids on your arm? I don't see a table. I don't see utensils. I don't see hand cleansing materials. This is not ideal conditions. I am freezing to the bone. I have 19 layers on. My hands are friz -- frigid. I held it together as long as I could, and I am done now."
If you've ever watched her show, you know the tone of voice she's using. It's the classic I-do-everything-Jon-does-nothing meltdown. She ends with a near-hysterical "I'm hungry!" and collapses on a bench in tears while her kids splash in the stream. I worry she may be hypoglycemic. Sarah looks at the camera and makes a really awesome face.
In a post-trip interview, Sarah talks sympathetically about how Kate felt "out of her element" at the campsite. (Or, as Chuck put it, "Kate was freaking out quite a bit.")
"But you know, deep inside, I think -- come on. It wasn't that bad," Sarah says. "Jeez, we had a tent over our head!"
Back at the campsite, Todd has snuck off to fish. Sarah ferrets him out.
"Are you escaping?" she asks. "Now I get it. You're smarter than you look, honey."
Kate has turned her misery on Piper.
"Is this what you guys do here?" she asks, with the world-weariness of one who's been through battle. "This is fun for you?" Piper mumbles something about liking the rain.
"That's very interesting," Kate says. She does not actually sound interested. Piper looks like she might kick Kate. I kind of wish someone would.
Eventually the rain eases up a bit and Kate edges out enough to ask her kids whether they want to stay or go. They want to stay.
"OK, goodbye," she says. "You're now a Palin. You're not a Gosselin." Sister, if the way you're acting is the way Gosselins act, these kids are better off being Palins.
Kate peaces out with her kids while Sarah explains to the camera that people from Outside aren't always prepared for the realities of camping in Alaska. She asks Piper if she wants to walk the Gosselins to the boat. Piper does not. Sarah concedes she might be equally as uncomfortable at a red carpet event as Kate was on a sandbar.
Somehow I doubt it.
Contact Maia Nolan at maia(at)alaskadispatch.com.