‘Yukon Men,’ the realest of all reality television shows

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

Reality television is a term thrown around a little too loosely nowadays. As long as a camera is rolling, and some person is willing to do something deemed interesting, then you have the recipe for TV success. The truth is that the majority of reality television is engaging, entertaining and even educational, but the “real” part is secondary.

Discovery Channel’s Yukon Men, which airs Friday nights at 10 p.m., is the real deal of reality television. This brutal, often difficult-to-watch series looks unflinchingly at a community in Tanana, Alaksa — a community simultaneously surrounded by vivid life and constant danger. Several of the decisions made by the folks in this small town are questionable, perhaps even wrong. But there’s no denying the truthfulness of the disclaimer that runs before each episode: The series, quite simply, details a rugged lifestyle where hunting and trapping is necessary to survive.

I’ve never been to Alaska. I’ve never endured sustained temperatures in the negative degrees. I’ve never looked in the freezer and watched the caribou meat dwindle to a few remaining pieces. This makes me different than these men, all of whom seem like good people with the community’s best interests at heart. This push-pull of respect for their lifestyle and revulsion over so much spilled blood is what makes Yukon Men must-see television.

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

Watching these two father-son teams is eye-opening. Subsistence living is the polar opposite (pun intended) of what most people in the United States experience on a daily basis. But in Tanana, there doesn’t appear to be any franchises like Domino’s or McDonald’s. There doesn’t appear to be any Cheesecake Factories or readily accessible brand names like GAP, Abercrombie & Fitch and Gucci. Instead, there’s a community of a few hundred people, tucked up against the North Pole, living on a river that overflows its banks and causes both life and death on a seasonal basis.

In the span of a few episodes, the new Discovery show has displayed a caribou hunt, wolf hunt, geese hunting, trapping of animals for fur, an unfortunate death of a loved one on the river, a community facing no water, families facing no food or money, and a ton of snow and icy water. This is ruggedness to its core. There may be some “playing to the camera” in other shows, but that doesn’t appear to be the case with Yukon Men.

But even though the series shows how the people of Tanana are different from so many other towns, it’s the similarities that leave a lasting impression. Even in the cold wilderness of Alaska there are fathers willing to teach theirs sons a few lessons about life. There’s good people relying on the help of one another. There’s the need to mourn the dead. There’s chores for the young, responsibilities for the adults, and natural beauty for as far as the eye can see (this last one may be unique to Alaska).

Yukon Men may turn off many viewers, and there are several scenes that are downright cringeworthy. Watching a beautiful lynx get stuck in a trap and then face the end of its life, all to make some money off its fur, just doesn’t seem right. But, again, this is reality television. We’re supposed to appreciate some things, question others, and ultimately be glad that such unfiltered access is still available on the airwaves. But as Stan Zuray says in the show, the trapping and hunting is not a sporting event. It’s all about food. It’s all about survival.

It may be hard to love, but Yukon Men is the best new reality show of the year. Why? Because it’s actual reality television. If the cameras weren’t rolling, these men would still be combating nature and fine-tuning their survivalist traditions in the middle of the beautiful nowhere.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

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6 Responses to ‘Yukon Men,’ the realest of all reality television shows

  1. Judy clay says:

    This is what living a traditional Alaska lifestyle is about. These families face lots of difficulties living t
    In remote villages . This show is wonderful

  2. Cory W says:

    Absolutely love this show. It depicts the reality of life and the life and death struggles of our ancestors. While many in the cities may cringe and pick up the phone to call PETA these folks don’t have a WalMart to pick up groceries at. I deeply respect the people of Tanana Alaska!

  3. Alicia says:

    As a Yukoner, I am very offended by this show. THIS IS NOT AT ALL ABOUT WHAT IT IS LIKE TO LIVE IN THE YUKON!!!! the show is not even filmed there!!!! I honestly feel that the name should be changed to Alaska Men, as that is where the show takes place. If you want a reality show about Yukoners,,, GO THERE!!!!! Is there a legal issue here, as the producers are using our territory as a name for the show? something for everyone to think about

  4. Cheryl Cruce says:

    I love this show. I cannot imagine living in a place where it gets to be -50 degrees but I sure want to try it. My mother’s maiden name was Roberts. I wonder if I have relatives in the Yukon? Would be very interesting to me to know. So I shall go to Ancestry.com and start a search for my maternal family tree. I wonder if I can get to the Yukon in my search.

  5. Edna Ruth Harrell says:

    My husband and love this show. However we are questioning why these people don’t plant a garden when the temps are warmer & can the veggies. There is another show on, can’t think of the name just now, where the families have cattle & also have large gardens. They have a “root cellar” in which they place the canned & fresh vegetables. They do hunt for meat & fish for salmon. Even tho their weather is similar to Yukon Men they seem to do more to make sure they have food when the weather is extremely cold.

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