Life Below Zero: Port Protection is a National Geographic documentary reality show about people living in isolation in a small town in Alaska, where their geographic location, and the lack of roads and other resources, mean they have to be self-sufficient. That resonated with viewers way back in 2015, but perhaps takes on new meaning and appreciation today.
In a clip below, fan-favorite resident Gary Muehlberger deals with a problem, using his ingenuity and quick wit. Plus: an answer to a frequently-asked question about cast members from Port Protection’s earlier seasons.
Tonight’s episode, “Dark Days” (NatGeo, Tuesdays at 9), deals with preparations for winter. The episode description says:
“Winter has arrived in Port Protection, forcing residents into the deadly elements to secure needed resources to survive through the long season. Curly Leach braves the sea with hopes of securing firewood and Sam Carlson tries to acquire fur to provide warmth. Meanwhile, Matt Carlson and Kaylee Burke go on a mission in search of needed water for their camp and Gary Muehlberger is on a quest to replenish his food supply and tackle crucial handy work at home.”
That “crucial handy work” is Gary’s frozen plumbing, which is preventing him from flushing the toilet.
Gary crawls under his house to investigate and figure out how to solve his problem. “Just about everything I fix is a Gary rig—it’s not right, it’s just how it works for me, and how my brain there comes up with the answer,” he says.
Later, when he hears the sound of his toilet flushing again, he tells the camera crew, “That’s better than Pink Floyd.” And that line is better than many in scripted shows.
What happened to Port Protection cast members Amanda, Timbi, and Hans?
My husband and I are so glad Port Protection has returned but we are wondering what happened to Amanda, Timbi, and Hans? —Mrs. West
Good question! And I have answers. First, a little history. Life Below Zero: Port Protection premiered earlier this year, but was actually just a renamed version of a series that first premiered in the summer of 2015.
The producers of Life Below Zero were behind that show, too, with both series set in remote parts of Alaska. (You can watch the first two seasons of Port Protection on Amazon.) While the shows don’t share cast members, the rebranding connects them thematically.
The earlier version concluded its third season in March of 2018, so there was a two-year gap between seasons.
It’s common for cast members to change between seasons—just look at The Real Housewives for an example—and that can happen for all kinds of reasons. Someone might just be done with the show, or decide not to return for their own personal reasons; the producers might decide that a cast member’s storyline has concluded, or that the person isn’t interesting enough to bring back; or there could be other factors, from contracts to logistics.
It’s clear that viewers create bonds with certain cast members; years ago, a fan created a petition to encourage National Geographic to renew the show and wrote, “I love Hans and Timbi Porter ; Hans with his big booming voice and contagious laugh, and Timbi is so smart knowing how to find healing herbs and start her farm to help the people survive together.”
Hans and Timbi Porter and Amanda Makar all left the show after its second season; this season is technically its fourth.
I asked NatGeo about the cast changes, and a spokesperson told me, “it’s been a couple of years in between filming and some of the residents have moved away. The good news is that there are new residents who will start to be incorporated in the cast as the season progresses.”
Life Below Zero: Port Protection began with seven primary cast members, who together comprise about 15 percent of the population of Port Protection, Alaska.