Stories from Alaska

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

Alaska Reality TV: Lights! Camera! Alaska!

Reality TV Thrives in the Last Frontier

Alaska is a unique destination, where life is as real as it gets. Real fascinating and real unique, real cool and real cold, real mysterious and real extreme, real welcoming and even real dangerous. No wonder literally dozens of reality TV programs are, or have been, based in Alaska and around its often more-interesting-than-fiction residents and lifestyles. Some might call it a cottage industry, though cabin industry would be more accurate.

Alaska has long intrigued the world, making it a perennially popular travel destination. That same allure also turned Alaska into a television obsession in the era of reality programming. From the comfort of their couches, viewers can get up-close-and-personal perspectives on the wild and wondrous, challenging and commonplace aspects of life in every corner of the north. They also get the rare chance to meet and hang out with Alaska’s larger-than-life personalities, from the familiar to the peculiar, the stoic to the end-of-the-road oddball.

Alaska reality TV makes for great programming as these episodes tap the usual tried-and-true reality genres, albeit with serious twists of Last Frontier flavor: adventure and survival, business and competition, comedy and drama, food and drink. And yes, hunting: whether for fish and game, real estate, or even an authentic Alaska mate, there’s no shortage of reality TV shows about people seeking something. And that of course includes a bonanza of shows about gold mining.

Popular Alaska Reality TV Shows

These Alaska reality TV shows span the spectrum of success: Several are star-making blockbusters (Deadliest Catch, Ice Road Truckers, Alaska: The Last Frontier, Life Below Zero, Gold Rush, Alaskan Bush People), some are cult classics (Bering Sea Gold, Edge of Alaska, The Last Alaskans, Yukon Men, Railroad Alaska, Alaska State Troopers), and many are forgettable flops (Slednecks, Looking for Love: Bachelorettes in Alaska, Alaska Proof, Wild West Alaska).

At the peak of Alaska programming, there were seemingly countless shows airing, a nonstop rollout of new shows, and a weekly reality TV column about them all in the Anchorage Daily News. Alaskans, and many reality programming fans, joked of “Northern Overexposure,” a play off the kitschy Alaska-based CBS ‘90s comedy Northern Exposure that was based on the town of Talkeetna. Some Alaskans scoff at the reality TV programming and their “stars,” questioning the definition of “reality.” But that’s been the eternal sentiment about all reality TV, really. Most Alaska residents avoid the spotlight entirely and carry on with their own unique versions of real life in Alaska and Alaska fishing “reel life”.

While the perils in these Alaska TV shows aren’t always 100 percent genuine, the personalities, places and powerful pull are. And so the shows must go on – popular programs press ahead and new Alaska-themed shows continue to pop up, all fueled by curiosity about the great state and a craving for the “only-in-Alaska” content of spectacular and treacherous adventures, peculiar people, awesome animals, and unique urban and off-the-grid life.