Behind The Scenes Facts (Most People Don't Know) About NatGeo's Life Below Zero
There's no doubt that living remotely in the Alaskan bush isn't a walk in the park. But is the National Geographic channel's Life Below Zero accurate? According to some native Alaskans, the show doesn't portray the reality of Alaska all that well. Criticisms of Life Below Zero mainly center around the fact that most of Alaska is connected to the outside world — it has wifi, roads, and even Amazon delivery (often by plane, but delivery nonetheless).
One woman who starred on the show ended up suing the production company in 2017, saying that her life was purposefully put in danger; she's not the first reality show contestant to come clean with their less-than-stellar experience. Life Below Zero certainly isn't the first reality show that's suffered accusations that it was staged or otherwise "unreal." However, many are all too happy to sign away their rights for a chance at reality fame. That fame often means that Life Below Zero stars aren't living the tough, remote lives that they perhaps used to — after all, they are getting paid to be on the show.
Regardless of reality, Sue, Chip, Agnes, and the rest of the gang certainly provide entertainment against the stunning backdrops of Alaska's wilderness: it just may not be as wild as you think.
One Former Cast Member Sued The Show
Sue Aikens, arguably the star of Life Below Zero, sued the production company thanks to one producer, Aaron Mellman. Aikens said that Mellman forced her to do dangerous things, like take off her face mask in frigid conditions or drive a snowmobile over a frozen river. When she had a snowmobile accident, Mellman wouldn't let the safety crew airlift her to a hospital; instead, they drove her and then airlifted her for better TV. One cameraman even said that Mellman told everyone they'd be fired if they helped Aikens to the plane.
However, because of the legal disclaimers Aikens signed, it's likely that this will be a difficult legal battle. Mellman allegedly also drank Sue Aikens's whiskey.
The Kavik River Camp Is Basically A Glamper's ParadisePhoto: Evb-wiki / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
Sue Aikens may live by herself in a tent, but she's not nearly as isolated as Life Below Zero claims she is. The Kavik River Camp is exactly that — a camp, or at the very least, "glamping" or glamour camping. The camp features wifi, phones, and "all services you'd expect to find in a big city." You can even buy Kavik River Camp apparel and souvenirs.
At a cost of $350 per night, Aikens is doing pretty well for herself, especially after her fame at the hands of National Geographic. She can accept credit card payments, coordinate tours and travel, and otherwise help guests experience the Arctic. Though she's presented as being very isolated in the off-season, the Kavik River Camp is open year-round.
The Hailstones Don't Live All That RemotelyPhoto: JLS Photography - Alaska / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0
Noorvik, Alaska may only have a population of around 600, but it's not cut off from civilization. It's only 42 miles from Kotzebue, the biggest city in Northwest Alaska, with a population of over 3,000. Folks in Noorvik often do hunt and fish in order to live, but plenty others may work for the local school district or government.
Yes, that's right, Noorvik is an incorporated city and has its own school district. Iriqtaq Hailstone, the daughter of Life Below Zero stars Chip and Agnes Hailstone, played many sports during high school, and the local paper has written about her and her sister Mary. Noorvik, just like many other communities, has plenty of sports teams for kids with tournaments and competitions. Iriqtaq said that while she sometimes had to miss a practice due to the show's filming schedule, but that it usually wasn't a problem.
The one very remote thing about Noorvik is that you can't get to it by road... at all. If you've got a boat, plane, or snow machine, then you can get to Noorvik. Otherwise, you're out of luck!
Amazon Delivers To Wiseman, AlaskaPhoto: torisan3500 / flickr / CC-BY-ND 2.0
Wiseman, Alaska is not as remote as the show might like you to believe. There are roads that connect to major cities, and you can buy necessary supplies only 13 miles away. And, to top it off, Amazon delivers to Wiseman — and Amazon has pretty much everything these days. Locals say that small towns like Wiseman are often subsidized by oil corporations, sometimes even owning the houses, and while the townspeople do hunt, it's mostly many of them have modern conveniences, like DirectTV and snowmobiles.
There's no electricity, to be sure, but most people have generators or solar panels. Regardless, bears aren't menacing Wiseman citizens who have no connection to the outside world. A person who worked on the show noted that they never film in places without access to food, water, and other amenities.
Law Enforcement Gives Preferential Treatment to 'Life Below Zero' StarsPhoto: special.k80731 / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0
In Alaska, it's a pretty big deal to feed the wildlife, and Sue Aikens from Life Below Zero has made it no secret that she feeds foxes, calling them her pets and friends. Aikens has even been on the show's website with pictures of herself and the foxes, which she calls them her "family." Despite the publicity of Aikens and her fox friends, Alaska state troopers apparently had no idea this was happening.
This became an issue because Jim West of the Animal Planet reality show Wild West Guns had charges pressed against him by the state. West's attorney thinks that the state only pursued charges because the show is a competitor to shows like Alaska State Troopers, which is on National Geographic alongside Life Below Zero. West and his attorney cite multiple examples of the state going after those who feed animals or otherwise break the rules, yet Sue Aikens appears to be above the law.
It's Not Below Zero Everywhere, All The TimePhoto: JLS Photography - Alaska / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0
Yes, of course it's cold in Alaska. But the summers are in the 60s and 70s — sometimes even the 80s. And winter isn't as bad as you probably think. Anchorage is warmer in the winter than Chicago, and the southeast part of the state is also pretty warm. In places like Fairbanks, further from the ocean, it can indeed get below zero, sometimes negative 30. The dry cold, however, means that -30 isn't as bad as it seems. Temperature in Alaska varies quickly, though, and a short drive can give you climate whiplash.
Parts of Alaska do see well over 100 inches of snow, but Anchorage has the same yearly snowfall as Burlington, Vermont.