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

Mechele R. Dillard's picture

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

Comments

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!

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