‘The Last Alaskans’ is an American reality television series, which follows the lives of several families and their survival in the rugged and cold conditions of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge of North-Eastern Alaska.
The show premiered in 2015, originally airing on Animal Planet, but due to its unbelievable popularity, ‘The Last Alaskans’ moved to Discovery Channel at the beginning of the second season. Since then, the show has enjoyed four successful seasons, entertaining audiences with the intriguing daily activities of the last people to inhabit the wildlands of the nature refuge.
The families who feature on ‘The Last Alaskans’ survive by trapping, hunting, foraging and farming, and live isolated lives without the luxurious comforts of modern technology. Unlike certain other Alaskans who claim to live away from society, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is truly remote, as the only way to reach it is by air travel.
— The Last Alaskans (@LastAlaskans) November 5, 2018
While many reality shows often manipulate or creatively adapt reality to suit its audience, ‘The Last Alaskans’ prove that the contrary can attract as big a following, and that real-life situations possess enough intrigue to provide adequate entertainment for many. Since the show is a very open and honest production, it has few secrets to uncover.
However, all the trivia and interesting fun facts surrounding the show will entertain loyal fans and new-found enthusiasts alike. Life in Alaska is quite different, and the trivia derived from its local geology would entertain inquisitive minds.
Some of the drama and sorrow that unfolds in front of the camera tend to be interesting, and the potential future the families of ‘The Last Alaskans’ face might interest fans. The history of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, as old as it is, also possesses plenty of intrigue for those who might be interested in learning more about ‘The Last Alaskans’.
From Inception To Creation
Consisting of fascinating people set in one of the world’s most captivating places, ‘The Last Alaskans’ is a winning recipe that does not need any additional tweaking, manipulation, or creative detailing to achieve success, but how did it all start?
The idea behind Half Yard Productions’ series began with fascination about the life of Heimo Korth, an outdoorsman of some fame who appears as a regular feature in ‘The Last Alaskans’. Korth, his wife Edna, and the remaining members of his family have spent the greater parts of their lives living in the wild territories of The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, striving towards a self-reliant existence.
Korth rose to prominent fame when his life became the subject of James Campbell’s book ‘The Final Frontiersman’ back in 2004. Prior to this, Korth also appeared in the 1992 PBS documentary ‘Braving Alaska’, and since the publication of James’ book, Korth featured in the 2009 documentary film ‘Surviving Alone In Alaska’.
Interest in Heimo’s lifestyle choices grew, and eventually shaped the inception of ‘The Last Alaskans’. Thus, the biggest concern for the producers was to convince Heimo to sign on for the project. His acceptance also made it easier to convince other families.
A Near Miss
‘The Last Alaskans’ provide an average audience of over one and a half million viewers, with an entertaining escape from their mundane lives, but the show’s production very nearly didn’t make the cut.
Just thinking about life without the series’ excitement and authentic adventure might be a dreary thought for all the die-hard fans ‘The Last Alaskans’ acquired over the years. Yet, the show’s core concept, which won the hearts of their loyal followers, became the biggest problem the producers couldn’t overlook.
In modern reality television production, a common belief suggests that the most efficient means by which to attract viewers is to provide creative reality.
The more drama they can produce, the more the audience will remain intrigued and the greater the audience will be.
When filming started, however, the creators were ultimately surprised to find that excitement popped up everywhere. However, the freedom of filming a project of this nature caused a second problem that became a bothersome difficulty for the production crew.
Allowing their cameras to film well beyond the traditional time, creates hours of footage that require long and industrious editing to produce the episodes that viewers enjoy watching. All the additional effort nearly convinced the producers to give up, but conversely this technique of filming made it easier to capture unexpected drama on film.
The Crew’s Sacrifices
Despite the difficulties and concerns that plagued the production, Half Yard Productions received the green light to start the creation of ‘The Last Alaskans’, but this meant that all the crew members involved had to make some serious sacrifices.
Due to the isolated location of the wildlife refuge, filming was especially difficult, not to mention expensive. Everything from the crew members to their equipment required airlifting, which meant no reservations for sentimental comforts were available.
Even worse, the crew involved with the actual creation needed to adapt quickly to their new setting, braving the harsh cold where they lived without access to any modern amenities and utilities. While the families who survive in the refuge live in cabins, license restrictions prevented them from sharing it with the filming crew, and as a result, the production team camped out in the wilderness.
Only during some kind of emergency could the conditions of their licenses be waived, but during all the time spent filming, the crew had to brave the elements.
Luckily for them, though, the production of the show had a big enough budget to provide the crew with professional outfitters to construct their campsite.
Either way, the crew certainly had a taste of the adventure that captivated the fans.
An iconic feature of ‘The Last Alaskans’ is the beautiful scenery of the local landscapes and the amazing footage of it the camera crew captures.
While the show may not have won prestigious awards for cinematography that another eality series ‘Deadliest Catch’ has, it nonetheless provides the audience with captivating scenes worthy of many trophies. If you have wondered how the crew captures local scenery, and how they achieve the amazing angles of some scenes, then wonder no more for the answer is rather simple.
The cinematic magic behind a great deal of the show’s footage comes from using drones, but the motivation behind their choice is more complicated than one would think. Keep in mind that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a protected nature reservation, and home to many different eco-systems. As such, the reservation applies strict rules to curb the impact of human influence, to preserve the fragile ecosystems. The use of drones allowed the film crew to minimise any irreversible damage heavier equipment could suffer, and adhere to the rules implemented by the wildlife refuge’s administration.
It also helped the crew by not attracting unwanted attention from any of the refuge’s wildlife, which includes polar and grizzly bears.
What Happened To The Lewis Family?
During the first two seasons of ‘The Last Alaskans’, a prominent feature of the show was following the activities of the Lewis family.
However, without any word from the channel or the production company, the Lewis family disappeared, never returning in the show’s later seasons.
The Lewis family became an instant hit with fans, consisting of dad Ray, mom Cindy, and their three daughters Molly, Emma, and Sarah. When they left the show, dumbstruck fans wondered what happened to them, and without any public notice, could only speculate about their disappearance and reason for them abandoning the series.
Speculators considered that some kind of dispute might have motivated their departure, but it seems not. Throughout the first two seasons, Ray provided viewers with insight into his passion for houseboats – many of the scenes filmed for ‘The Last Alaskans’ that feature Ray and his family took place on their houseboat.
As the family began spending more time on the water, it became difficult to keep true to the show’s original concept.
After all, the show’s focus is life within the confines of the refuge. Thus, the pursuits of the Lewis family is what drove them to depart from the show.
The Harte Legacy
On 22 July 2017, ‘The Last Alaskans’ experienced the loss of beloved cast member, Bob Harte. Bob was one of the oldest veterans to live in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, having spent more than forty years of his life living freely in the untamed lands. When the show aired in 2015, Bob became an instant fan favourite.
Harte’s memory lives on with all his fans, and of course his family, which consists of his widow Nancy, his daughter Talicia, and sons Traver and Steve, as well as his grand-child, Carmella. According to his wife, Bob was a man who lived through several near-death experiences, which earned him the reputation of possessing nine lives.
Among the many misfortunes Bob experienced, he survived aeroplane accidents as well as a motorcycle collision. While many things could not kill Bob, it was unfortunate that he would lose the struggle against recurring cancer. In 2016, Harte temporarily departed from the show after being diagnosed with cancer, accepting treatment in Anchorage, Alaska.
Bob later returned to the show, believing that he won the battle against cancer. Unfortunately, before the release of the fourth season, Bob’s cancer returned. The fourth season of ‘The Last Alaskans’ paid tribute to Bob’s life, and documented his struggle until the sad end.
The History of The Refuge
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which is home to everyone who appears on the ‘The Last Alaskans’ and is the main focus of the entire show, is the largest in the US, closely competing in size with the Yukon Delta Refuge, also in Alaska.
The conservation became part of the country’s national refuge system in 1960, and received protection from a system originally implemented by the 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, which he established in 1903.
In 1930, a young forester, Bob Marshal, and his family enjoyed an adventurous vacation in the then-unknown wildernes,s now recognised as the Arctic Refuge, and upon his return began a personal mission to argue for the preservation of areas such as the Arctic Refuge. In his arguments, Marshal stated that the preservation of wildernesses would not only provide people with beautiful escapes but also an exciting adventure.
Little did he know that 85 years later the same place would entertain people, and provide them with excitement and adventure in the comforts of their home.
— HalfYard Productions (@HalfYardTV) December 21, 2018
However, it would take Bob thirty years and the help of researchers and conservationists to declare the North-Eastern parts of Alaska as a wildlife refuge.
Possibly The Last Residences
Despite Bob Marshal and everyone else involved in efforts to conserve the Arctic Refuge, it may soon become vain efforts so quickly disregarded, and this might even mean that the families and people featured on ‘The Last Alaskans’ are the last to live there.
On 17 August 2020, US Interior Secretary, David Bernhardt, announced that the government would soon begin drilling in the Arctic Refuge for both natural gasses and oil. Drilling in the Arctic Refuge became a political dispute as far back as 1977.
However, none of the Presidents before was successful, but it seems Donald Trump found a way to convince Congress to disregard the protection act.
The ecosystems of the Arctic Refuge’s local habitats are incredibly fragile, and on top of that, global climate change is causing radical changes in the environment.
Industrial progression might only hold a negative impact, and while this may be good for the American economy, the Arctic Refuge could become a wasteland. Ultimately, the people living in the refuge may be the last to survive the wildlands, and the footage captured on ‘The Last Alaskans’ could be the last we see of the beautiful Arctic landscape.
Here follow a bit of fun did-you-know facts about Alaska that you might find entertaining and interesting.
Since the extreme north is home to Alaska, it is often called the top of the world, and as such, Lunar and Solar activity is quite different. Alaska is one of the few places on earth where towns experience polar nights.
These occur during winter, and happen because the sun never rises above the horizon. Some places, such as the town of Barrow, can experience up to 67 polar nights a year, which as one could consider, causes excessive psychological influences.
Depression and suicide occur more frequently in residents of these parts, and especially during polar night periods. Likewise, in summer the sun hardly ever sets. With so much sunlight available, of course, Alaska would hold the record for growing the world’s biggest vegetables. In 2012, an Alaskan farmer grew a 138lb cabbage, which won him the Guinness World Record.
Alaska is also home to one of the last flag-stop trains, which instead of making stops, passengers can hail it as a cab in New York. Due to the general remoteness of all the local towns, the railroad services have never adopted modern conventions.