Yukon Men: Is Tanana presented realistically enough to bring viewers back?

Yukon Men starts off on the right foot on the Discovery Channel.

The new Discovery Channel series Yukon Men aired last night, and not everyone had favorable reviews. One anonymous commenter on an earlier Huliq article wrote:

This must be a fiction show, I live in Alaska 125 miles from Tanana on the Tanana river and know the store owner in Tanana so when they are saying they only have a few days of food left all they would have to do is walk down the street to get a cheese burger at the cafe store. There is an airport in town that has flights every day in and out with mail, food, cargo, fuel and people. The town has cell service, internet service, satellite TV electricity, and all the other things the rest of the world has. The temperatures are no different than the city of Fairbanks one hour flight away or a bunch of other villages in the area that are much more remote. This show like most of the other shows on Alaska are unreal and 90% moose droppings. The Discovery Channel should be ashamed to air such garbage.

Since most viewers do not live anywhere near Tanana, it is hard to know whether or not to believe such comments. Certainly, of course, the freezing temperatures are not unique to this one little village—a fact not implied by the show, of course—but, as a reality show, most viewers likely realize that some situations are expected to be pumped up for dramatic effect. The main criteria for many viewers will be not, “Is every aspect of every scene true,” but rather, “Is this show enjoyable to watch on a Friday night?”

After seeing the first show, I would answer, “Yes.”

Yukon Men was interesting. For example, watching the storyline about how the water system has to be maintained with a wood-burning furnace heating a waterline to keep the system flowing; that just is not something most people have to worry about to any great extent.

“If the water freezes the water will expand and blow up all of the pipes; everything will explode,” water plant operator Charlie said. With a short woodpile, cutting wood was a priority for the town, and cutting frozen trees is not an easy task.

Of course, some residents of Tanana do not have running water at all, and watching Stan drilling a hole in the ice of the frozen Yukon River made one appreciate being able to just go into the bathroom and take a shower, or go to the kitchen and turn on the tap and get a cup of water.

“It can take half my afternoon sometimes just to get 200 gallons up to the house,” Stan said as he worked.

And, as far as the food: It just does not seem unreasonable to think that there are families who run low on meat at certain points in the winter season, regardless of what may or may not be available diner-wise in the town. This is not to dispute at all what the anonymous commenter had to say regarding available resources; it’s just to offer the view that maybe, in fact, he/she is missing the point of the show for most viewers, who likely do not have to depend on any type of hunting to feed their families. The life depicted in Tanana is a completely foreign way of life for many viewers who will never find themselves eating a meal of self-killed caribou and, as such, is interesting.

The Reality of Reality Shows

Reality shows do not have to be factual to the point of being a documentary—they are not documentaries. But, they do have to be realistic enough to be able to suspend viewers' disbelief as they watch. Otherwise, viewers spend the entire show picking apart what they see as being obviously wrong rather than enjoying the show. And, perhaps for residents of the area, suspending disbelief for such a show is a much taller order than for those of us in the Lower 48 who do not have to deal with such harsh conditions. For non-Alaskan viewers, at least, Yukon Men, so far, seems to have the formula right: Just enough drama, just enough personal accounts, and just enough “Alaska experience” to keep viewers’ attention focused on the storyline unfolding before them and make them want to come back and spend their Friday evenings with the Discovery Channel.

So far, so good for Yukon Men on the Discovery Channel.

Stay tuned.

Yukon Men airs on the Discovery Channel on Friday nights at 10/9c.

Want to read more about Yukon Men? Search "Yukon Men" right here on Huliq!

UPDATED: Real rural living may be overwhelming for some Yukon Men viewers

UPDATED: George doesn't make it home, Tanana mourns his loss

Image: Discovery Channel


Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
Livng a rural lifestyle is Alaska is indeed work, but not at all the hand to mouth existence depicted in this show. I wonder if Stan and Charlie were surprised by how this show was edited? I imagine the camera crew there prodding them to do and say things they wouldn't otherwise. There is so much richness in this lifestyle, but this show is pretty hard to watch. The narrator mostly makes me laugh, and the writing...OMG!

Submitted by Jean (not verified) on
Yeah, Narrator really makes it laughable! But it is really hard to watch. I have lived outside of Fairbanks for 44 years, worked for the fish and gam e dept for 20 years. have had bears around my house, wolves down the road, Moose in the hay barn! Moose are the most dangerous!. This show is just laughable!

Submitted by Charlie on the Yukon (not verified) on
I grew up in Alaska, and totally agree...moose are far more common, and the most dangerous. I've never had a run in with a bear, but have had several life threatening encounters with moose. On the up side for moose, they don't eat you...but they can stomp the heck out you!

Submitted by Lance (not verified) on
Well were do I start on I lived in tanana Alaska for 26 years up until 2 years ago when I moved to fairbank 175miles away from tanana. And your Woundering is tanana that hard for sme family's in that town yes it is and yes there is a store an airport but and a big but at that it's about cost of living there half gallon of milk $7.50, one 12oz of soda $1.25 it's not cheep there heating oil alone is $6.50 a gal so wood is the main source of heat I know I had to live hard and stuggle with a family I ha there walking in the woods with a hand saw and sled or about 5hour just to keep the house warm for a day and half and don't get me started on airfare an fright!! One way ticket to the city $120 dollars and when you come home with boxes of food an have to pay $.25 a lbs t adds up fast but over all it was good to see the people I grew up with. All and all I good show o yeah and the guy Stan zeray I dated his oldest daughter when I was a iyng boy lol haha

Yes, that is something else I had thought about--there may well be an airport, store, or whatever, but, as you said, AFFORDING to patronize these places is another matter completely. Thank you, Lance, for your perspective on this issue!

Submitted by Billy (not verified) on
If you were really interested in what they can afford, you can google the Alaska Community Database Online, and pretty much everything is there.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
I am curious about the income levels. The census gives a totaly different story than what they make it sound like on the show. I mean like needing 10 pelts or so on to make it through the year. Were the ten pelts to bring the house up to the 76,000 average dual income a house hold the census shows? What gives is it a village community mostly living of the land or just BS that makes a good show. Another thing when you study the prices of houses and land in the area it seems unlikely these people are broke. I know from hunting game for over 25 years that the life depicted would be very hard work. Me I still have food if I fail, I am curious to know if they do to!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
I am curious about the income levels. The census gives a totaly different story than what they make it sound like on the show. I mean like needing 10 pelts or so on to make it through the year. Were the ten pelts to bring the house up to the 76,000 average dual income a house hold the census shows? What gives is it a village community mostly living of the land or just BS that makes a good show. Another thing when you study the prices of houses and land in the area it seems unlikely these people are broke. I know from hunting game for over 25 years that the life depicted would be very hard work. Me I still have food if I fail, I am curious to know if they do to!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
I'm very curious which census records you are referring to. The census records I am finding show the median household income is 1/3 what you are stating! Also, 80% of the people in Tanana are Native so they already own their own land having been there for 15,000 years already. It's the non-Natives who move in who have to buy the land. Also most people build there own homes, instead of hiring a developer, so of course there is no house payment. No one living in rural Alaska can live off the village store; their grocery prices are outrageously high due to the cost of flying in freight. Thus the necessity to hunt/trap/fish for food/clothing. If you don't get a moose; you have to scrounge and mooch all year until next moose hunting season. If you have ever had to mooch, it is downright humiliating.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
I realize that some of the facts must be "exaggerated" to keep the show interesting for viewers. I really enjoyed the show after having seen the Yukon from Eagle, Ak in 2007. I'm hoping the show will touch on the spring "breakup" of the Yukon, particularly the devastating flood of May, 2009. I say keep up the good work Discovery Channe!

Submitted by Bigb (not verified) on
Who cares how real it is. It's awesome because it's narrated by Optimus prime!

Submitted by Sylvia (not verified) on
Best comment EVER!!!

Submitted by Jacqualyn Lee M... (not verified) on
Are you kidding? Tanana is in Alaska, not the Yukon. How disappointing.

Submitted by Jacqualyn Lee M... (not verified) on
This is why people from down south think that the Yukon is part of Alaska. Why wasn't it called "Alaskan Men"?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
Tanana, Alaska is on the Yukon river where it meets the Tanana river. The Yukon river runs from Canada to the southwestern part of Alaska where it reaches the ocean. Look at a map before you make a comment guys.

Submitted by YukonViv (not verified) on
I'm stymied as well about the name of the show...I live in the Yukon Territory, anyone living in Alaska, regardless of the name of the river that goes nearby I would call an Alaskan. I was actually very excited when I saw the name of the show, thinking that it would be about men living in the Yukon. Imagine my surprise when my DH said don't bother watching it (he had already)...it's about some alaskan guys.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
All I can say is Thank God it isn't called Alaskan Men....that would be so embarrassing to Alaskan men!

Submitted by Charles (not verified) on
I live in San Diego California and never been in Alaska....good work camera crew, good work......Five Stars

Submitted by Macintampa (not verified) on
Living in Florida I find the show fascinating. I did have to look up where Tanana was because I too thought the Yukon was in Canada. I've never been to Alaska and I find all the shows filmed there very captivating. I'm sure its a little overblown but the fact that they sometimes hunt their dinner, worry about pipes freezing and live off the land is pretty dang cool and impressive. I will take hurricanes, gators and sunshine any day of the week! Keep up the great work.

Submitted by Maria in Texas (not verified) on
I have been to Alaska on a Cruise and loved how beautiful it is, but could not brave the winter weather or the short summers. I did google the town to find out exactly where it is located. What attracts me of the show is the simple life, yet strenous work they all have to endure together to make things happen. I much rather watch this show vs another crime show, or any of those skanky housewives shows.

Submitted by Ajeff from coat... (not verified) on
The people that write comments criticizing the Discovery Channel coverage of life in Tanana, Alaska make me sick. I believe that sustaining a reasonable life style must be next to impossible. I can't even imagine what it must be like to go to bed hungry because there is no meat left in the house. Then, go out the next morning while the wife stays home and prays that Dad will come home with some food. The show is VERY entertaining and I tip my hat to everyone that lives in Tanana, Alaska.

Submitted by bsmith (not verified) on
It is fascinating to me that the people commenting here who seem to know about what village-life is like, are somewhat more critical of the shows content, and those who could not have a clue about it (never having been to an Alaskan village) is really like, rabidly defend it's accuracy. I am interested to learn more about what causes such a visceral response, in the face of those who know. When it costs as much to hunt (gas, oil, snow-machine wear & tear, etc) as it would to just buy that meat, what really seems to be happening is that these folks are making a lifestyle choice that is not based on need. The reason for making that lifestyle choice is probably the more interesting story.

Submitted by bsmith (not verified) on
I am.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
Where and how do they get all their gear? Clothes and etc? What are the women doing while all the men are out hunting and fishing? What about education for the children?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
The women are doing what all stay at home women do. They cook, they clean, wash/mend clothes and possibly sew new clothes. They also process food; canning etc. If they have children, they play with them and maybe also educate them too. They dont sit and eat caribou bon-bons, I am certain.

Submitted by Bobbie Smith (not verified) on
TheYoukon man is a great series I lived those days when I was growing up, living off the land eating small game with the ocasional deer for food. It's a healthier life than living in the city. You're much better off than the people living in the lower 48, at least you don't have two contend with GMO foods high blood pressure and the worry of the country fixed to collapse any day. If I wasn't so old I would probably be up there somewhere in the Yukon I have been trying to get out of this country ever since I left Vietnam. Good luck and keep living the good life.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
Poor those people. I kept wondering as too why they seem to be starving out there in Alaska. Im a vegetarian and I grow my food and dehydrate it for use in the winter. I dont eat meat. But I understand they do. I guess they dont have a very long growing season. I just kept thinking somebody make them some vegetable soup or a pancake. Anything! I must have liked the show because I kept watching it. Very interesting characters. The pigeon exchange was not a good deal at all but very funny.

Are you referencing when Atz Lee traded his halibut for that sad little pigeon? LOL That was hilarious! But, actually, that's 'Alaska: The Last Frontier', another show that those who enjoy 'Yukon Men' would probably enjoy, as well. I do, anyway. Search the show title here on Huliq; you'll find some articles, including one that talks about the pigeon barter.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
I'm sure the show is dramatized some, but I would a billion times rather watch this show about real people and some of the most beautiful scenery and wildlife on earth than most of the junk on TV these days. I live in the southwest in the lower 48 and have been lucky enough to visit Alaska three times in the last five years with another trip planned soon, I can't wait. Regardless if the people in Tanana live there by choice or not, it would most certainly be more different than living anywhere in the lower 48. I'm sure they do trap for fur, hunt for meat, fish for salmon with fish wheels, and cut wood for heat. It's irrelvant if it's "necessary" or not. Great show!

Good point on the "necessary" aspect. I personally love the show, too; looking forward to tonight's 2-hour season finale!