Stories from Alaska

An insider's journey through Alaska's best kept secrets

Alaska Reality TV – Working in Alaska

Working 907: Reality shows about sometimes relatable, sometimes crazy, Alaska jobs

Many people work hard so they can take their dream trip to Alaska. Alaskans totally understand – they also work hard to finance their Last Frontier fun.

Job descriptions in Alaska are the same as anywhere else really, but the workplaces are often unlike any others. Even a corporate suit or someone in retail occasionally have to work late because there’s a moose in the parking lot, blocking them from leaving. In Alaska, it’s not unthinkable or unethical to request a late notice personal day during peak salmon season. Entire schools shift schedules around certain hunting seasons and the Iditarod sled dog race. And, of course, some jobs are as unique, and wild, as the state itself.

You don’t need to punch a clock, or even leave the couch, to gain hands-on experience and bask in the benefits of working in Alaska. There’s a long lineup of reality TV shows that take viewers on the job with Alaskans of seemingly all trades, from retail and real estate to really really dangerous tasks. The most interesting and popular programs focus on the Alaska jobs that ride the fine line between risk and riches, fame and ruin, and even life and death.

Even commuting to and from work in Alaska can be an adventure. The shows feature a lineup of planes, trains and automobiles, along with lots of boats, a few helicopters, and even an occasional snow machine and four-wheeler.

The most famous – and infamous – reality show is Deadliest Catch (2005-present, more 200 episodes), the action-packed, drama-filled program that follows commercial crab fishermen working in the unforgiving Bering Sea. The stakes are high and the room for error is razor thin in this workplace; some call this the most dangerous job in the world. It can also be lucrative or bank-breaking. Every episode captures that feeling, sending pulse rates racing as competitive captains and crews battle Mother Nature, and even one another, to cash in on crab jackpots. Dramatically and devastatingly, there is no correlation between hard work and high paychecks when those pots are pulled up empty. Those who aren’t tough or team players don’t last long with these tight-knit crews; those who are careless or unlucky can die. Even the boats aren’t impervious to catastrophe as more than a few have sunk during the series, making Coast Guard crew members occasional costars. Deadliest Catch is a worldwide phenomenon, with consistent viewership in the millions, several spin offs and specials, massive merchandise, and a lineage of copycat programming. The show’s popularity has made pop culture stars – and a few millionaires – of its haggard, hardworking, foul-mouthed cast members, and their beloved boats.

Certain seasons of Ice Road Truckers (2007-present, more than 130 episodes) have taken perilous Alaska work on the road. Viewers ride shotgun with serious semi-truck drivers who carry a variety of often-critical payloads to remote locations in some of the world’s consistently dangerous driving conditions. In Alaska for Season 3, drivers took on the Dalton Highway or ‘Haul Road’ which connects Alaska’s icy and isolated North Slope oilfields and its thousands of workers to cargo and civilization. They expanded to the Hickel Highway and other rugged roadways in Seasons 4-6. The drives are always dramatic and the drivers often are too, in addition to funny and frustrating. The viewership is strong: its 2007 premiere drew 3.4 million viewers, at the time the most ever for a History Channel show.

Alaska State Troopers (2009-2015, 89 episodes) gave viewers ridealongs with Alaska’s men and women in blue who cover a beat that includes every corner of America’s largest state. The show is something like a frozen-over version of Cops, sometimes fun, sometimes depressing, sometimes tragic, and always fascinating. Troopers work in big cities and tiny villages and use just about every mode of transportation to get where they are needed. The show is often a magnifying glass of the bravery of those who serve in this harsh environment and battle the darkest ills of Alaska: alcohol and drug abuse, sex crimes, violence, and more. Sadly, Alaska State Troopers also chronicles the dangers of those serving: four officers featured on the show have died in the line of duty.

Along the same dangerous workplace vein is Coast Guard Alaska (2011-2015, around 40 episodes). Presented by The Weather Channel, the show and its cast are based out of the wet-and-weather-wild Kodiak Island and other port towns. They travel the state, searching for and rescuing mariners, plane pilots, hikers and hunters.

The Alaska Railroad’s tracks travel nearly 500 miles of the state, and Railroad Alaska (2013-2016, 18 episodes) seemingly covered every magnificent mile. The show introduced many Alaska Railroad employees and the often-peculiar passengers who live out in the wilderness along the route.

Bush pilots hold a special lore in Alaska, and that legend flies high in Alaska’s skies today on shows like Alaska Wing Men (2011-2012) and Flying Wild Alaska (2011-2012). While the views from above are often spectacular, the pilots and crews have to conquer tough travel conditions, long and lonely distances, and landing and taking off in rough and remote locations. This is all while serving as lifelines that transport people, food, medicine and other precious and urgent cargo. The crew on Yukon River Run (2015, 8 episodes) provided similar services, and reality trappings, only instead via boat and over wild water.

As if those jobs weren’t Alaskan enough, enigmatic, occasionally annoying and unquestionably tough resident Geo Beach was a fitting host for Tougher in Alaska (2008, 13 episodes). Each episode, the burly and towering Beach immersed himself in various jobs around the state, sweating and colorfully narrating through work that would break mere mortals. Even retail work in Alaska’s biggest city, Anchorage, can be wild and wacky. Mounted in Alaska (2011, 16 episodes) was set at Knight’s Taxidermy in Anchorage, while Wild West Alaska (2013-2016) took place at Wild West Guns. Predictable hi-jinks ensued.

And you can’t be a legitimate player in the modern reality TV game if you don’t have shows about homes. Building Alaska (2012-present, eight seasons) follows ambitious and creative craftsmen creating even more ambitious and creative cabins, homes and getaways, most of them off or semi-off the grid. Out here, bears and winter storms can stall progress quicker than pounding your thumb with a hammer. For those who can’t, or won’t, build, there is Buying Alaska (2012-2013) and Living Alaska (2013-present), which sells Alaska real estate dreams to curious clientele.