In Episode 4 of Discovery Channel’s Alaskan Bush People, “Fight or Flight,” premiering Tuesday, May 27, the Brown family is faced with another life-altering decision when gunshots are fired on their land. The Browns suffer yet another hardship and face an uncertain future.
So after last week’s episode in which the locals decided to come build the Browns’ cabin and sing “Kumbaya” and celebrate the spirit of Alaska, now we get people shooting guns at them and death threats aimed at the Browns and the show’s crew reported to us by ominous onscreen titles.
And then this show goes totally wheels-off.
We’re told that someone, angry about the Browns bringing TV cameras with them, opened fire on them. We’re given few details about what happened next. Did the authorities get involved? Was there an investigation? Look, I know law enforcement is probably pretty stretched in these parts, but I think death threats and someone shooting at you is probably enough to get a visit from Alaska State Troopers (a whole different show!) in the very least. And why did they stop production on the show just when the FIRST AND ONLY INTERESTING THING IN THIS ENTIRE SERIES just happened? It just doesn’t make any damn sense. [Update: Zaz Hollander of Alaska Dispatch has some excellent reporting on this incident and how the production impacted Copper River Valley residents.]
We’re told the Browns just decided to pack up, sell the land, sell the SUV and go back to Southeast Alaska by boat, thereby making everything you’ve watched so far utterly pointless. It’s like the producers said, “So, Billy, this cabin-building thing was great and all. But this stable home stuff, it’s just not good TV. And, you know, it’s a lot colder up here than we thought it was going to be. And the crew’s already sick of Grizzly Pizza. Here’s an idea: How about we pretend you get forced off the land in dramatic fashion and we go back to Ketchikan and show some whole new and exciting ways for you and your family to always be on the brink of death? We’ll get picked up for another season, and we can get someone blonder and perkier to play the part of Birdie. How’s about it?”
The Browns get a rickety old boat and live out of it for a few days while they travel back down the coast. Billy was a commercial fisherman for a long time, so he’s no stranger to the sea. The family sets anchor on an island in a national forest and establishes a temporary camp. The island is pretty. There’s lots of moss. I half expect them to discover the remnants of the Dharma Initiative.
“Meanwhile, a thousand miles away …” there’s this really jarring jump to an in-show commercial for Siberian Cut, the show that’s going to be in this time slot next week.
We’re given a little more backstory about Billy. He’s originally from Texas. His parents and his sister were killed in a plane crash, which must have been a horrible ordeal for him. How much that event influenced Billy’s decision to live in the Alaskan bush isn’t really clear.
Things on the island are kind of dull. “I’m bored. There’s nothing to shoot at. There’s nothing to do,” Bam says.
But wait! Rainy has a toothache. Normally, they’d just yank the tooth with pliers (or have Bam shoot it), but Rainy gets the privilege of actual medical treatment. Billy knows a dentist that will accept a barter, so they sail into town. The receptionist at the office is a little annoyed that they don’t have an appointment and that this child has a name like Merry Christmas Catherine Raindrop Brown. The dentist is accommodating, though, and accepts some fresh-caught salmon in trade.
Bear, Bam and Birdie go salmon fishing in a shallow river, using their “bear fishing” technique to grab the fish by hand and then have Bear punch them in the head. Bam is terrible at bear fishing. He should’ve brought his gun.
Billy catches a ride with a bush pilot to scout for a new place to live on Prince of Wales Island, where he knows this guy Animal Dave who lives on a floathouse. These things are actual homes floating offshore that are built from random parts of boats, trucks or whatever can be scrounged up. People live on them without dying, apparently. It is here that we take a solemn moment to memorialize “Insane” Duane. And then we meet Peckerhead, the seagull who is Animal Dave’s best friend. All of this appeals to Billy, and it sounds like the Browns’ next adventure will be building a floathouse. And then the Browns will be forced off of it by a jealous, vengeful Peckerhead.
So then things really go bad. The incident wasn’t caught on camera, but we’re told that Billy’s boat hit something, suffered hull damage and took on water. He was able to bring it to the dock and get the family to safety. We’re left with the image of the family standing on the dock with their boat and everything they own submerged at their feet. The family vows to press on.
How you feel about this depends on how you’ve bought into everything you’ve seen so far. You might be heartbroken for the Browns, a family who just lost everything and is at a crossroads. Or maybe you’ve just seen a harrowing cliffhanger written for the characters of the Alaskan Bush People docudrama.
Obviously, a lot of the debate in the comments is about the show’s authenticity. Are the Browns for real? Are these situations real or are they contrived? Most of all, why does someone who truly desires to live off the grid in the Alaskan wilderness even want to be on a reality TV show in the first place?
And it is, after all, a TV show. The very fact that there’s a camera crew present alters the “reality” of the Browns’ every situation. It’s further manipulated by someone who has to edit this reality and create some kind of cohesive story for our entertainment. This and every “unscripted” TV show warrants some degree of skepticism, and I’ve had plenty throughout these recaps. Some of you have been able to simply enjoy the Browns as a family as they’re portrayed, invest in them emotionally, and admire if not embrace what they stand for. That’s fine. Again, it’s a TV show. Others doubt everything about the Browns, their lifestyle, their motives, their history, and the very idea that they’re even a family and not actors. That’s fine. Again, it’s a TV show. It’s that polarization of opinion about this show that has made it more fun to discuss than it is to actually watch. Either way, you’re watching it and you’re interested enough in it to come to here, so the Browns must be doing something right.
Photo: Credit: Discovery Channel