‘Yukon Men’ is a bitter cold look at a community on the edge of the world

The men of the community get ready for a caribou hunt — Photo courtesy of Discovery Channel

“Adventurous living” reality TV has become ubiquitous. We’ve entered the world of ice road truckers, Bering Sea fishermen, mountain men and one unforgettable Turtleman. Now Discovery Channel has given us a portrait of a community that lives 60 miles from the Arctic Circle in Tanana, Alaska.

In the premiere episode of Yukon Men, we see two father-son teams successfully hunt some caribou, dried fish that’s been pilfered by a suspected wolf, a woodsman tear down a tree for firewood and a community collectively going “brrrr” over the unthinkable temperatures during a harsh winter. This is adventurous television, and one of the purest stories to hit the reality TV circuit in years. The men and women of Tanana are not some novelty act or simply playing to the camera for our dramatic delight. They seem to be genuine people of the land, voluntarily choosing to live a life on the edge.

The camera access throughout the series premiere is impressive. There’s not a stone left unturned. When Stan Zuray and his son Joey head off into the mountains to find the caribou, they face an unending string of challenges, including a looming storm and thin ice over a rushing river. The camera is with them all the way, seemingly in the same danger as the subjects in the snow.

Similarly, when the guys are joined by Bob and Charlie Wright for the eventual caribou takedown, the cameras catch both the shots that ring from the gun and the fallen animal’s final dance. We are there with them, 60 miles from the Arctic expanse.

James Roberts from ‘Yukon Men’ – Photo courtesy of Discovery Channel

In future episodes, it would be nice to better understand the community of Tanana. The few shots of the town from an aerial perspective show several houses, maybe a business or two, and what appeared to be a church. The caribou hunting is engaging, but there should be room for smaller stories among the people who stay indoors.

If the townsfolk eventually take down the wolf that entered Tanana, it will be interesting to see how Discovery Channel presents the killing. Wolf conservation is a hot-button issue, especially with news of wolf hunts in the lower 48 and the reintroduction of the species to several northern states.

How will audiences react? Is it different that the people of Tanana live in the Alaskan wilderness, with no roads coming in or out? Do they receive a pass because food is scarce and hunting/trapping is necessary for survival? My gut instinct is that viewers will tune in and fully appreciate this fringe lifestyle, never questioning the motives of these people. After the caribou are killed on the series premiere, all of the meat made it into refrigerators for eventual meals. They certainly don’t appear to be hunting for the joy of it; they just need food.

But again, if a wolf is killed, what will be your reaction? From the series premiere, they are presented as ferocious hunters ready for some food. Is this accurate? I’ll let you decide. Leave your thoughts in the comment field below.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • Yukon Men airs on Discovery Channel Fridays at 10 p.m. Click here for more information.

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications.

E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

One thought on “‘Yukon Men’ is a bitter cold look at a community on the edge of the world

  • August 25, 2012 at 11:16 pm
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    Well I lived in that town 26 out of 28 years if my life and I am proud to say I’m from tanana it is hard living there I lived pay check to pay check and had to live hard and stuggle more them once trying to pay utility bills and feed a family when the food price is twice hen folks in the city pay food. It hurts my heart to take hand outs but Charlie and James both have me meat before when I had none and I was thankful for it. There are very good people in that town but every town has some bad. Apples and I have been stabbed in the back by a few of them so I moved after som drama I went though quit my great job there AB moved to the city. And wolfs there get huge and hungry

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