"Ultimate Survival Alaska" isn't about outwitting, outplaying, or outlasting other competitors. Here, nature is the biggest threat.
The show, which premieres Sunday on the National Geographic Channel, follows eight men in an expedition through the Alaskan wilderness. Carrying very few provisions, they traverse glaciers, climb mountain peaks, forge freezing rivers, and endure brutal weather conditions on a dangerous trek across the state.
There's no $1 million prize here; the only prize is survival.
The cast is made up of the toughest of tough Alaskans, including the youngest Iditarod champion ever, 26-year-old Dallas Seavey.
"When an opportunity comes to see these parts of Alaska, these beautiful parts of Alaska, these extreme parts of Alaska, any true Alaskan with that adventuresome spirit will say yes," Dallas told Yahoo! TV.
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Each cast member was individually recruited by NatGeo, though Dallas's brother, Tyrell, had just an hour to pack his bag due to a last-minute vacancy. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go travel across the state of Alaska and see the things we saw and have the adventures we had," the 28-year-old said. "I, of course, had to clear it with my wife and all of that, but she understands me."
Yes, adventure truly seems to run in the Seaveys' blood. Their family is often called "Alaskan royalty"; their grandfather ran the Iditarod, and their father, Mitch, won the 2013 race.
"It's a crock!" Dallas said of the moniker. "We've never thought of ourselves as Alaskan royalty. I feel honored and privileged can find maybe inspiration from what we do at times, but we're like any other family."
Aside from the Seaveys are veteran mountain guides like 56-year-old Marty Raney, who's lived there for 40 years and has never left the state. When NatGeo approached him, he was intrigued by the idea of living as the first Alaskans did.
"Can you step back in time 125 years ago when we first came to Alaska?" he said of their conversation. "This was place was wild then, this place was pristine. No man had ever set foot in many of the areas we went. We didn't have state-of-the-art gear. We didn't have the latest from REI, the latest technical clothing etcetera. Does that Alaska still exist? And are there men that can go out there, just like we did 100 years or so back?"
Raney noted, "There were men willing to go out there, though the conditions were difficult. It was the wettest August in the state's history." And even an experience hand like himself came across treacherous situations. In the premiere, Raney gets bogged down in a swamp, and as dangerous as it seems on TV, "Trust me, that swamp is 20 times more dangerous than what it looked like."
The ever-present danger is something that Raney is constantly vigilant about, especially after the death of a friend during a climb to Mount McKinley. And on Sunday's episode, he gets emotional about it during a confrontation with teammate Austin Manelick.
Death was a real possibility during the expedition. Tyrell also had a very close call on one of the legs.
"We were rafting down the river, and I ended up completely underneath the water, just barely above freezing water," he told us. "The segment wasn't going as planned. I couldn't see anyone else around, and what started out as a neat organization going down the river ended up as a cluster … In hindsight, if I was going to die, that was going to be it."
Aside from death, the cast members battled hunger and lack of supplies. Raney said that a couple of men's shoes blew out, and that he lost 25 pounds. Dallas actually counted his ability to deal with hunger as his biggest strength.
"Having a history in wrestling -- I was the first Alaskan to win a national title in Olympic-style wrestling -- you not only learn how to deal without food, and you get very comfortable with your body in starvation mode," he said.
But every moment wasn't about sheer survival; there were many lighter moments, too. In the premiere, Raney even goes panning for gold!
"That gold pan cooked salmon. That gold pan shoveled snow. That gold pan was cooked on. That gold pan was used as a paddle on the Yukon River," he said proudly of the idea to bring that piece of equipment with him. "And last but not least, that gold pan was used as a gold pan!"
Though they battled the elements, the cast members weren't competitive with each other, Raney shared. You'd think there would be a pride factor to the expedition, but as Raney explained, "I can't speak for the others, but I can say it's the opposite. It's humility. I can't imagine that any of the guys I went out there with would ever use the word conquer. That's not even in my vocabulary … Our little existence on Planet Earth, it's short. It's rooted in brevity. But in our short time up here, the more you get out up here, the more you realize you're insignificant."
"It's a privilege to be able to experience and to stand where no man has ever stood before."
"Ultimate Survival Alaska" premieres Sunday, 5/12 at 10 PM on the National Geographic Channel.