Decoding 'Sarah Palin's Alaska': Doing Potentially Deadly Rugged Alaskan Things
In every episode of "Sarah Palin's Alaska," there's at least one moment in which someone goes on and on about the grave risk involved in whatever our heroine's going to do next, building viewer expectations so high you begin to wonder if she really survived filming the series, or if the final episode will reveal that the Sarah Palin seen in public over the last six months has actually been an android.
But then, inevitably, she does the Potentially Deadly Rugged Alaskan Thing in question and breaks neither sweat nor nail. At this point in the season, I'm beginning to feel a little ripped off; if she's never going to get mauled by a bear or crushed beneath heavy machinery, it's just not fair to keep teasing us.
I kid, I kid! But seriously, last night's episode featured even more of those moments than usual, and offered a fascinating window into Palin's perception of danger.
Expectation of dangerous problems: High. Before Palin uses a chainsaw to cut into an enormous tree, we're warned that if she hits a knot, the blade could kick back into her face. Before said tree falls, we're warned that she could end up under it. Before she operates a shovel logger, we're warned that she could accidentally send the log flying right back through the window of the cab.
Why she conquered her fear and did it anyway: Because it's real Alaskan hard work, and if this show is about anything, it's about Sarah Palin showing her kids what it's like to put in an hour or so of hard work for the camera.
Actual dangerous problems encountered: 0. Zzzzzzzz.
Activity: Stock car racing
Expectation of dangerous problems: High. It's stock car racing. If that doesn't tell you all you need to know, watch as Willow dons a fireproof suit, then shimmies into the car and announces that she feels claustrophobic wedged in there. What if the engine explodes?
Why she conquered her fear and encouraged her unlicensed, 16-year-old daughter do it anyway: Because Willow's not competitive enough to want to crush her father like Sarah does. Seriously. Sarah tells Todd, who's already driven the course, “I don’t want her to crash, but I want her to go fast, because I want her to have a competitive bone in her body. I want her to beat you."
Actual dangerous problems encountered: 1. Sorta. After successfully competing three laps, Willow doesn't finish with quite as much aplomb, finally coming to a complete stop in a hill of dirt.
"Seeing Willow crash made the mama grizzly in me come out," says Palin in a later interview, but it's a little hard to swallow, given that she reacted to the "crash" by ambling down toward the car and (on finding Willow uninjured and giggling) hollering, "That was awesome!"
The dubbed sirens were a nice touch, though.
Activity: Bear watching
Expectation of dangerous problems: High, especially because the guide carries no gun. Never mind his professional opinion that bear spray "tends to be more effective anyway"; we’re still treated to Palin rolling her eyes, mocking the dirty hippie guide, and acting terrified of venturing into bear country unarmed.
Why she conquered her fear to do it anyway: There was a camera.
Actual dangerous problems encountered: 0. When they run across bears, the guide calmly but firmly instructs the group to... sit down and watch them, this being an observation trip and all. (He even brought chairs, so they don't have to get their butts wet.) The only casualty we see is one unfortunate salmon, although Sarah predictably identifies ferociousness in the eyes of a mother frolicking with her babies.
"When I watch a mama bear in her natural habitat, protecting her cubs, I get it,” she tells the camera.
Activity: Deforesting Alaska
Expectation of dangerous problems: Low
Why she has no fear: "The amazing thing about this industry," she explains, "is that when one tree is cut down, several trees will grow in its place." In other news, every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.
But seriously, there's no reason to worry about deforestation, because Palin is confident that faceless corporations will always do the right thing, for the right reasons. "Because these folks are so concerned with being good stewards of the land, they're ensuring the sustainability of their industry forever."
Also, stupid liberals are hypocrites! "Conservationists write me nasty letters because I support an industry like this," Palin complains. "They write me these nasty letters using their pretty little pencils on their pretty little stationery, not realizing: Where do you think your pencil and your piece of paper came from, people? It came from a tree that was harvested!"
Well, that point certainly makes one think. About who, apart from second graders, writes letters to elected representatives in pencil. But hey, this is Sarah Palin's Alaska, and the rules out here are different.
Actual dangerous problems encountered: Sob.
-- Kate Harding
Photo: Sarah Palin in "Sarah Palin's Alaska." Credit: Gilles Mingasson / TLC