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"Ultimate Survival Alaska," "Life Below Zero" debut May 12 and 19 on National Geographic Channel

Melissa Hayer Published: May 10, 2013

 

New survival-themed shows “Ultimate Survival Alaska” and “Life Below Zero” make their debuts this month on National Geographic Channel.

“Ultimate Survival Alaska” debuts at 9 p.m. Sunday, May 12.

“Life Below Zero” premieres at 9 p.m. Sunday, May 19.

Details on the programs, provided by National Geographic, are as follows:

“ULTIMATE SURVIVAL ALASKA”:

They are some of the toughest, most extreme survivalists that Alaska has to offer. Going head to head, eight men of a rare breed are about to take the ultimate test of survival in Arctic conditions that only National Geographic could inspire. No tent, phone, watch or GPS. Three thousand miles across Alaska’s wild. This is hardcore. This is old school adventure. Now bring it on.

Starting at 9 p.m. Sunday, May 12, (before moving to its regular time, Sundays at 8 p.m. beginning May 19), go off the grid with “Ultimate Survival Alaska,” a new series that follows these survival experts on a 10-leg expedition in the brutal and dangerous Alaska terrain. The opponents’ only goal is to make it out alive using just the gear they can carry in their packs.

Dropped in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness by bush plane, they have 72 hours to make their way to the finish point for that leg of the expedition. Using raw, mountain-man ingenuity, they’ll navigate through treacherous glaciated river valleys, barren ridgelines and high mountain peaks, battling hunger, hostile predators and perilous weather conditions along the way.

Says Willi, one of the eight explorers, “I’ve done so many big peaks on basically all the world’s continents. I’ve done six Everest expeditions. All of us that do this sort of thing. At some fundamental level, we’re not normal, well-adjusted, modern civilized human beings. We’re all throwbacks. Because modern life is not enough of a test for us.”

Navigating risky routes that traverse some of the most hostile territory on the planet, they’ll rely on hard survival skills passed down through generations. Like the original National Geographic explorers, for those who succeed there is no grand prize, just the well-fought pride of having conquered the grueling challenges that a beastly Mother Nature can throw at them.

Now, meet Alaska’s most formidable challengers:

Dallas Seavey, 26 years old: The youngest person ever to win the Iditarod, a grueling thousand-mile race across the state of Alaska through some of the world’s toughest conditions.

Tyrell Seavey, 28 years old: Like his brother Dallas, he hails from a legendary family, known by many as Alaskan royalty. He has run the Iditarod twice and won the Jr. Iditarod.

Marty Raney, 56 years old: A veteran mountain guide who has led more than 20 expeditions on and around Denali, the highest peak in North America.

Matt Raney, 30 years old: Marty’s son and an expert in survival. He helped build his family home with Marty with nothing but a chainsaw and the logs on their property.

Austin Manelick, 24 years old: Since the age of 5, he has practiced subsistence hunting under the watchful eye of his Alaskan wilderness guide father.

Willi Prittie, 57 years old: A professional mountain guide for almost 38 years, Willi is considered to be one of the leading climbing and logistical experts in the region.

Tyler Johnson, 36 years old: From exploring Kathmandu to climbing 27,000 feet with no oxygen in Nepal, Tyler is fearless.

Brent Sass, 32 years old: He’s done six 1,000-mile dog sledding expeditions for the Yukon Quest, and has guided excursions through any and all of Alaska’s many landscapes.

“Ultimate Survival Alaska” is produced by Brian Catalina Productions for the National Geographic Channel. For Brian Catalina Productions, Brian Catalina is executive producer. For National Geographic Channel, executive producer is Robert Palumbo; Senior Vice President of Programming and Development is Alan Eyres. Executive vice president of programming is Michael Cascio; and president is Howard T. Owens.

“LIFE BELOW ZERO”:

Isolated. Dark. Cold. Combating minus 60-degree days. Your only neighbors are bears, wolves and foxes. For many, living in these conditions would be a nightmare, but for some residents of the remote corners of Alaska, it’s a preferred way of life. The new weekly series “Life Below Zero” takes viewers inside the daily challenges of people who have chosen to live in one of America’s harshest climates, Alaska.

From winter preparations through the thaw, “Life Below Zero,” produced by Adjacent Productions, follows six people as they battle for the most basic necessities in the state with the lowest population density in the United States. Living at the ends of the world’s loneliest roads and subsisting off the rugged Alaskan bush, they battle whiteout snow storms, man-eating carnivores, questionable frozen terrain and limited resources through a long and bitter winter. Some of them are lone wolves; others have their families beside them. All must overcome despairing odds to brave the wild and survive through to the spring.

Each episode of “Life Below Zero” takes viewers deeper into the winter, following brave residents as they struggle in their different corners of this merciless territory to stay one step ahead of storms and predators. Money is practically worthless; food, fuel and fur are the real commodities. Experience has taught them to take a shotgun to the bathroom in case of a surprise bear attack; that the heart is the best bite of a cooked ptarmigan; and that caribou hooves make the best “mukluk” boots. It’s a raw look at what life is like without paved roads, grocery stores, central heat or neighbors.

Among the incredible people that viewers will meet are:

Sue Aikens, the sole nine-month resident of the Kavik River Camp, 197 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Her address is a GPS coordinate, and her closest neighbor – besides the 80-something grizzly bears within a 10-mile radius – is more than 300 miles south. As the series begins, Sue is returning home for the first time in months following surgery on a broken ankle, and is uncertain of the conditions she’ll find at her home. Has the camp been overrun by wildlife? Is it even accessible in the deep snow? Does she have the supplies to make it through another vicious winter? “You know, people get afraid of break-ins,” says Sue. “My break-in involves teeth, claws and a hell of a lot of bad weather.”

Chip and Agnes Hailstone, who met in Noorvik 25 years ago, live together 19 miles north of the Arctic Circle. They fish and hunt using the techniques of Agnes’ Inupiat ancestors. What they catch before the winter will not only sustain them, but also be the vital currency they need in bartering for other necessary supplies. But their race to be prepared has its own dangers: Agnes has lost her mother, her brother and her brother’s girlfriend into the ice. Together, they fight on because it’s the place they love. “You got to remember the country can eat you,” warns Chip. “Just as quick as you can eat anything from the country.”

Erik Salitan, a registered guide outfitter living in Wiseman, just over 60 miles north of the Arctic Circle. He moved to Alaska the day he graduated from high school, choosing to forgo the more “normal life” that many of his classmates chose in order to live life off the land. He buys no meat from the store, instead subsisting wholly on what he hunts and finds. If his firearms malfunction, or if the herds are scarce, he’ll struggle. “What I need, what I want, what you need, what you want, what people think they need or want, it’s all subjective,” says Erik. “Comfort is subjective. This is a plush life in my mind.”

And finally, Andy and Kate Bassich, long-time residents of the Yukon Territory, 122 miles south of the Arctic Circle. Every year, the Yukon River freezes, leaving them cut off from the nearest signs of civilization until the ice is thick enough to cross. They not only need to prepare themselves for the isolation, but also have the supplies to feed and care for their pack of sled dogs, which they depend on to survive in the winter. “You know, life is on life’s terms, not mine,² says Andy. “If you just go blindly doing things, it will bite you real quick.”

“Life Below Zero” is produced by Adjacent Productions for National Geographic Channel. Executive producers for Adjacent Productions are Tim Pastore, Elli Hakami and Jane Tranter. Travis Shakespeare and Tommy Baynard are co-executive producers. For National Geographic Channel, executive producer is Kevin Mohs; executive vice president of programming is Michael Cascio; and president is Howard T. Owens.

Follow me on Twitter: @MelissaHayer