It’s summer. The season of hand-squeezed lemonade, the jingling sound of the ice cream truck rumbling down the street and crappy TV. While your favorite Emmy-winning shows take a hiatus for the next sweaty months you could opt to catch-up on reruns. Or, you could do what I do, and embrace a summer of craptastic television.
And by craptastic, I mean reality television.
The genre gets a bad rap thanks in part to gems like The Jersey Shore and Toddlers in Tiaras. I’m with you. No one wants to see bling on an overly waxed chest or a baby’s forehead. But, hidden in the catacombs of Netflix and Hulu are a few reality shows made for summer viewing with gorgeous settings daring adventures and a perfect dose of escapism .These aren’t shows that will change your life, but they just may inspire you to get off the couch.
Out of the Wild—Think Survivor without a million dollar prize, leggy model contestants or highly-staged stunts. In this Discovery Channel adventure nine strangers are dropped in a remote corner of the planet (thus far Alaska and Venezuela) with one common goal—to find their way back to civilization. Participants are forced to work together, despite personality clashes, to forge for food and create shelter as they traverse seventy miles out of the wild. There are many things I appreciate about this series, like the stunning views of untouched land and the tremendous amount of work involved in hunting a Ptarmigan. But, at the end of the day the takeaway for me is the reminder that the only way our species has survived is from teamwork.
IRT Deadliest Roads—Have you seen Ice Road Truckers? As if driving big rigs loaded with hundreds of tons across three feet of ice wasn’t deadly enough, the History Channel upped the ante and sent three of their top truckers to the Himalayas and Andes to navigate some of the world’s most challenging roads. Roads that will leave even the most seasoned arm-chair adventurer with white knuckles. I’m talking fingernail biting drop-offs, dizzying traffic and explosives sloshing in the truck beds. While all the IRT truckers impress me, Lisa is "da bomb." The girl can downshift with the best of them, while sporting makeup and a smile. In addition to giving viewers a glimpse inside cultures that no other reality series can contend with, IRT Deadliest Roads has completely redefined my preconceived notions of truckers, exalting them into hero-like status and has given me a new appreciation for our American traffic regulations.
Flying Wild Alaska—I’m not a huge fan of flying, especially in small planes. But the pilots at Era Alaska (the airline featured in Flying Wild Alaska) just might get me on a prop plane. This Discovery Channel series puts you in the cockpit and in the heart of the Alaskan bush. Living in America’s last frontier takes a special kind of person. Flying in it, takes all together something more. Era’s headstrong pilots face -40F below weather, wicked winds and whiteout conditions to deliver cargo, medical supplies and passengers in Alaska’s remote villages. It’s a walk back in time with a look at how modern-day natives hunt whale, ice-fish and simply survive in the artic. The comradely between the pilots and villagers makes it feel like I’m watching a show about a close-knit family, just don’t invite me to dinner. I’ll pass on the seal blubber.
Man, Woman, Wild—This husband and wife survivor team got axed after two seasons, but it’s worth investing a summer afternoon snooping into their marriage. The premise of the show is that Mykel, a former Special Forces survival expert, and his television journalist wife Ruth are plopped in the deserts of Mexico, coasts of Tasmania and remote locals throughout the globe. They’re forced to live off the land (i.e. bugs and turtles), start fire and stay together until they find help. A heady task for any couple. Watching this show makes me appreciate my husband’s suggestion for our next getaway: a romantic weekend strolling through Washington’s vineyards. Ruth and Mykel’s commitment to making the show feel authentic (I highly suspect it’s the most produced of my list) and to each other, lead to amusing and sometimes revolting episodes.
The Amazing Race—There’s a reason The Amazing Race has won eight Emmy’s and is going in to its twenty-first season. It’s amazing. Unlike the other reality shows on my summer list, The Amazing Race does have a million dollar prize at the finish line. It’s also the most elaborate reality production on modern television. Imagine the logistics of setting up an adventure race that treks through every continent on the planet over the course of twenty-five days. Not a job I’d want to take on. Viewing the race however, is definitely on my agenda. From the slums of Africa to the streets of Paris, the race makes me feel like I’m in the heart of the action. Sure some of the challenges are hooky, but the anticipation of who Phil Keoghan (the best reality host hands down) will eliminate at the finish line gets my blood running every time. My advice—start from the beginning. While the first few seasons aren’t as polished as todays, their grittiness, shaky camera angles and authentic teams make them much more entertaining.
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