Alaska Experiment changes producers, format to raise “stakes” and “limit resources”

One of 2008’s best series, The Alaska Experiment, will return in April on The Discovery Channel, but the new season will have a new format and new producers: Pilgrim Films and Television, which has produced shows such as Dirty Jobs and Tommy Hilfiger’s The Cut, replaces Ricochet Television, which most recently produced The Real Housewives of New York City’s first season.

A Discovery channel spokesperson told me that the first Alaska Experiment season “was a great concept (and rated well) but Discovery wanted to take it to the next level. Pilgrim Films had some great ideas to do that.” Now, instead of living in the wilderness for three months like during the first season, the nine cast members of Out of the Wild: The Alaska Experiment will try to find their way back to civilization. Discovery’s announcement says they “were flown to Ttsusena Lake in the rugged Alaskan interior” and “given the first piece of a rudimentary map (additional pieces were given to the team along the route), a compass and a few basic tools and told to hike to civilization before the harsh winter weather sets in.”

The show’s executive producer, Pilgrim Films and Television’s Eddie Barbini, told me Friday that when he and his team watched the first season (he hadn’t seen the first), he found it to be “well produced” but said they “didn’t think the stakes were high enough.” In addition, “we needed to make it much more raw than it was last time. I think that they probably had too many resources in the first season. The plan was to limit their resources as much as possible.” Now contestants have just “self-made backpacks and their will.”

100,000 people applied for the new season, and the nine new cast members—“all strangers, all different walks of life—were prepped “what to expect” because “this was going to be a different approach and a different show,” Barbini told me. “Every single one of them is likable in their own way. I think the result at the end is very surprising,” he said, adding that nobody on the crew was right predicting who would make it to the end.

The new location was selected because of its remoteness. After the initial drop-off by plane, the locations were only accessible by helicopter, even for the crew. “The terrain is relentless. You look at Alaska and think it’s so beautiful,” Barbini said, but “there’s not a flat piece of ground out there; it’s like walking on an egg carton.” As to the danger, he told me, “Obviously, we’re making a TV show and we’re not trying to kill anybody. In order to create the reality, we wanted to bring it to the brink of their breaking point. And we obviously monitored it as producers—we didn’t want anybody to get hurt—but Alaska is incredibly unpredictable, and you don’t know from one minute to the next what the weather’s going to be like.”

The new journey the contestants will take from nowhere to civilization this season is affected by that. “The stakes are, basically, you have to get out alive,” Barbini said, “and that changed the whole perspective and approach to the show.”

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