‘Life Below Zero’ is an American reality television series which airs on the National Geographic channel, and is yet another set in the isolated wild lands of Alaska. As the name suggests, the focus of the show documents the survival of several off-grid hunters surviving the harsh cold and freezing weather expected when living so close to the Arctic Circle, mostly without modern amenities and any luxuries.
The show follows the daily lives and activities of seven individualsand one family living in the various isolated parks in areas they call home. They include Sue Aikens, the Hailstone family, Glenn Villeneuve, Jessie Holmes, Andy Bassich, Erik Salitan, and Ricko DeWilde.
Filming takes places in several locations scattered across the Alaskan state, which range from the small towns of Noorvik, Huslia, and Wiseman to isolated camping grounds on the Yukon and Kavik rivers.
The show’s abundance of intrigue, suspense, and thrilling adventure make it one of the most popular reality series filmed in Alaska, and has won several Emmy Awards for spectacular cinematography and masterful editing.
Produced by BBC Worldwide, ‘Life Below Zero’ debuted in May 2013, and due to its ability to captivate the viewers, the show has stayed on the air for the past seven years, reaching its fourteenth season in September 2020.
However, like many reality shows, especially the ones filmed in Alaska, ‘Life Below Zero’ became the subject of scrutiny, with fans questioning the reality and truth of what appears on their screens.
Unfortunately, the show hides numerous secrets which the producers would rather keep quiet about, but despite a few exaggerations and plotted disasters, the show is generally an honest representation of life in the Alaskan wilds.
With winter staring everyone down the barrel, it's an all-in final push to prepare for the brutal season ahead. New episodes of #LifeBelowZero: Northern Territories air Tuesdays at 10/9c on National Geographic. pic.twitter.com/FB8ZYRaTy9
— National Geographic TV (@NatGeoTV) February 7, 2021
Aside from these secrets about to be uncovered, ‘Life Below Zero’ is also host to many interesting facts and trivia which fans might find as intriguing as the regular adventures of the off-grid hunters.
Filming Through Difficulties
The dangers and harsh conditions under which the filming and production crew work have become something of a common theme for shows filmed in Alaska. For the camera operators of ‘Life Below Zero’, it is hardly any different, but the conditions they have to face are quite unique and at times perhaps even more difficult than on other shows.
Aside from the obvious harsh cold the crew have to endure, which causes its fair share of problems, the show’s settings also hold a variety of other dangers, including wild predators.
According to Joseph Litzinger, one of ‘Life Below Zero’s’ showrunners, several members of the crew suffered from frostbite, and have had accidents in which they broke bones. He also stated that there have been numerous occasions when crew members fell through ice on frozen rivers or from moving boats, as well as a few run-ins with wild animals including bears.
To make conditions even worse, the freezing cold can become so bad that it prevents them from using conventional toilets, even when available, forcing the crew to make use of buckets instead.
On top of that, the cold also creates difficulties for the filming process itself. If the screens of the cameras don’t freeze over in the cold, the batteries drain too quickly, causing them to need changing every fifteen minutes. Luckily, though, the crew quickly learned to keep the batteries tucked underneath their clothes, keeping them warm to prevent premature drainage.
Gather round the fire to stay warm, kids. A brand new episode of #LifeBelowZero: Next Generation starts right now!
Sue’s Plotted Accident
Many fans of the show might remember Sue Aikens’ dramatic snowmobile accident, which caused Sue to suffer a broken collar bone and painful frostbite. Sadly, the accident and ensuing circumstances were not as accidental as the show portrayed, and the producers were far from innocent in their actions.
Sue has long been a fan favourite, both because of her lovable on-screen presence and the fact that she has been surviving the cold Alaskan wilds all alone for several years, but following the accident, Sue undoubtedly fell out of favour with the producers.
Despite this, Sue remains the poster face of the show, and many consider her as the main attraction of ‘Life Below Zero’. The strong-willed survivor did not take the accident in her stride, instead dragging the producers to court, accusing them of forcing her to drive her snowmobile without any protection.
According to Sue, one of the show’s producers, Aaron Mellman, asked her to perform the dangerous stunt without her mask and helmet, claiming that the viewers couldn’t see her face.
Despite knowing the dangers involved, Sue complied with his request, but confirmed that her injuries would have been less severe if she had kept her protective gear on. To worsen the case against the producers, Sue also claimed that they took their time to rescue her, and were more concerned with capturing footage of the accident than her safety.
Unfortunately, fans are right to question the truth about the show, as some of the circumstances are either exaggerated, planned – as in the case of Sue’s accident – or sometimes even scripted.
However, in defence of the production team, the cold conditions often cause filming delays and difficulties, forcing the crew to complete double takes of specific scenes.
When this occurs, the producers might provide some of the cast members with pre-written dialogue, instructing them about what they should say in front of the camera. Regardless, the show remains an accurate depiction of the lifestyle choices and conditions of living in self-reliance in the cold Arctic landscapes.
However, due to the somewhat scripted content of the show, many native Alaskans are not fond of ‘Life Below Zero’, believing the show exaggerates many aspects of the lifestyle, and exploits the adventure to gain higher viewer ratings.
Some of the locations where filming takes place are also not as isolated as the show wants viewers to believe.
For instance, despite the lack of roads into Noorvik, the Hailstone family have easy access to the town, even if it means they have to travel by sledge or snowmobile.
Another factor slightly exaggerated is the financial well-being of most of the stars. The show may insist that things are tough for them, but in truth, many of the stars are relatively wealthy and have some form of income, including from appearing in the series.
The Hailstone Dilemma
The Hailstone family, which consists of father Chip, mother Agnes, their five daughters, and Chip’s two sons from a previous relationship, live outside of the small town Noorvik, close to the Kobuk River.
They survive predominantly by hunting, trapping, fishing and foraging, but despite what the show portrays, the family has substantial wealth, meaning that their survival is hardly ever in jeopardy.
Agnes is the only member featured on ‘Life Below Zero’ who has spent her entire life living in Alaska, born into the native Inupiaq tribe.
Overall, the Hailstone family is a beloved feature of the show, all except perhaps Chip, who many fans seem to dislike, mostly stemming from the possibility that he exploits his wife’s native heritage for the show.
Since Chip is not a native of the land, legal restrictions prevent him from hunting and fishing, and he relies heavily on his wife’s origins for permission, which makes fans sceptical of his motivations. In 2017, Chip was sentenced to 15-months imprisonment and a three-year probation after being convicted of two counts of perjury, and one count of providing falsified information.
This followed after an altercation occurred between Chip’s daughter, Tinmiaq, and an Alaskan State Trooper.
Chip served his sentence at the Anchorage Correctional Complex, and as a result, he lost even more popularity with fans. For most of the tenth season, the Hailstone family had to survive without their patriarch.
Sue’s Glamour Camp
During the better parts of ‘Life Below Zero’, Sue is depicted as a lone ranger in the barren wilds and snowy tundra of the Arctic Circle, but this is a little removed from the truth. According to Sue’s active Instagram page, she maintains a sunny garden where she grows a variety of vegetables and herbs.
Farming might be an effective way to survive, but according to the show, it should be impossible for her to grow a garden. Sue is also the proud owner of the Kavik River Camp, which is open to visitations from tourists, making the place hardly as lonely as ‘Life Below Zero’ would make viewers believe.
If you think it would be a harsh survival camp and not a luxurious vacation getaway, you could not be more wrong. The camp is a luxurious and popular destination, especially adored by hunting and fishing enthusiasts.
Apart from offering amazing scenery, it provides guests with luxuries which include Wi-Fi, and has a souvenir shop. However, there are certain things mentioned on the show that are true about the Kavik River Camp, which might convince the faint hearted to keep their distance.
Wild and dangerous animals inhabit the surrounding lands, and this does not include the timid foxes featured on the show. Even the camera crews fear the approach of bears, wolves and wolverines when heading out to use the lavatory.
Fox and Hound
One of the many intriguing features of ‘Life Below Zero’ is the wild fox population that grabbed Sue’s fascination.
Over the years, Sue has formed a bond with the apparently adorable animals, and quite often shares pictures of them on her social media accounts.
One such picture even depicts how Sue nursed a baby fox back to health, but not everything is as innocent as it seems. According to Alaskan state laws, no person is allowed to leave food out for any of the wildlife, which includes the pack of foxes at the Kivak River Camp.
Thus it comes as a surprise that no one ever reports Sue or that actions have been taken against her, especially when considering that her offences take place on camera. Although it might be sweet of her, and one of the many reasons fans are so fascinated by Sue, it remains illegal, as some hunters are known to leave poisoned meat or bait out for the wild animals.
Another animal feature of the show is Andy Bassich and Kate Rourke’s pack of Huskies. Every time fans get to see their dogs on camera, they always seem healthy and very energetic, making many fans question what Andy feeds them. If you thought these Huskies lived on standard dog food, you could not be more mistaken. These adorable Huskies live off salmon, which Andy catches and prepares for them himself. This often means Andy has to catch 2,500 fish a year from the Yukon River.
Fans Hate Andy
It seems that Chip is not the only star of ‘Life Below Zero’ to suffer negative remarks from fans, as Andy Bassich appears to be the most hated personality on the show. The hate mail for Andy has gone so far that many viewers boycott the show, and drew-up petitions against it if Andy remained on the air.
Honestly, though, their anger towards him is not unfounded. After witnessing Andy’s behaviour towards his partner, Kate, episode after episode, as he yelled at and mistreated her, fans simply had just had enough. Andy’s behaviour could easily be considered domestic abuse, and when Kate finally left him and the show, it hardly came as a surprise. However, when fans found that Andy stayed on and continued with the production of ‘Life Below Zero’, fans were outraged.
Despite their many attempts and threats, Andy somehow remained on the show, and to make things even worse, he brought his latest girlfriend, Denise, onto the show to live with him. Thankfully, though, Andy seems far better behaved towards Denise, and hasn’t incurred the further wrath of fans.
Glenn’s Seclusive Disposition
Of all the people featured on ‘Life Below Zero’, Glenn Villeneuve is perhaps by far the most off-grid survivalist, and for some time he didn’t even want to appear on the show. Glenn lives his dream life, hunting for survival and abiding in peaceful seclusion, but when BBC learned of his survival expertise, they simply had to include him on the show.
Initially, Glenn didn’t find the idea of a film crew following his every step appealing, but thankfully BBC somehow convinced him to join the cast. Since then, Glenn has become a fan favourite, but some issues with the crew caused trouble. Glenn once became so annoyed with a camera operator that he sent him packing in the middle of the night. At least, Glenn told the man where to go, and a helicopter came to collect him.
As proof of Glenn’s desire to stay secluded, while answering fan questions on his Facebook account, he admitted that the longest he remained out in the wild and off-grid, was for a year and three months. However, despite his somewhat reclusive lifestyle, Glenn is quite wealthy. Not only does he receive compensation for his regular appearances on the show, but he’s also invested money in stock markets and real estate.
Agnes’ Distinctive Chin Tattoo
Fans of ‘Life Below Zero’ would have probably noticed Agnes Hailstone’s distinctive chin tattoo by now, something that makes her easily recognisable. However, few would actually know the meaning behind it. Her tattoo, identified as four diagonal lines on her chin, is a traditional Inupiaq marking applied to women when they reach maturity. Some believe it may have helped villages to protect women during raids, who are too young to be dragged away as trophy wives.
It is also a traditional marking used to identify the specific woman as hardworking, and if true, Agnes certainly proved her worth of the ink on the show. Her strength and admirable character have won the favour of many fans, as have her exceptional skills as a survivalist and adoring nature as a mother.
Isolation Pays, At Least, In Alaska
If you have wondered, like so many others, why some people would move all the way to Alaska to live in not only the harshest landscapes but some of the most isolated areas, then you may be surprised by the answer.
In short, its because they get paid to do it. Natives of Alaska who live in remote areas often considered dangerous because of the wildlife and conditions, are all eligible to claim money from the Alaska Native Lands Claims Act.
As the temperatures drop in Port Protection, it is critical that residents continue to survive despite the cruel environment around them. New episodes of Port Protection: Alaska air Tuesdays at 9/8c on National Geographic. #LifeBelowZero pic.twitter.com/eLxJR8GlU3
— Life Below Zero (@LifeBelowZeroTV) February 4, 2021
For some, which includes people like Glenn, the idea of isolation would be the most inviting factor. Keep in mind, even if thinking of moving there, those who claim money from the act have to prove that they are at least 1/8th Native. Most of the money comes from oil profits, which, with the sudden volatility in oil prices, might be in danger of cuts, or even complete obsoletion.
However, many of the people who moved there during the seventies and eighties, such as Chip and Andy, undoubtedly did so because of the lure of a free dividend paycheck.
With ‘Life Below Zero’ entering its fourteenth season, we hope you will keep enjoying every exciting moment of the show. Despite the revelations you may have learned about here, the show still provides intriguing entertainment. Since little of it is as fake as certain other reality shows, you can rest assured that the adventure remains true.