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Decoding 'Sarah Palin's Alaska': What we learned when Sarah met Kate + 8

December 13, 2010 |  1:52 pm

21239_2107 There are certain ideas that sound brilliant to reality TV producers, and to no one else in the world. "Conveyor Belt of Love." "Fat March." The all-too-straightforwardly named "Hurl." And now we can add: Kate Gosselin and her eight children join the Palin family on a camping trip in bear country. What could possibly go wrong?

Actually, not much does. The kids have a blast until their cold, whiny mother insists that they leave, an outcome that could have been predicted by anyone who has ever been camping. Or seen people camping on TV. Nevertheless, the show, as always, has valuable lessons to teach us.

1. If you love your kids, you’ll shoot to kill.

The first half of the episode is devoted to lessons in bear safety, the procurement of an enormous new gun for Palin, and a lot of remarks like this one: “Bein’ out and about in Alaska’s wilds, it’s more common than not to see somebody having some kind of weapon on their person. In fact, it’s probably as commonplace as if you’re walkin’ down the street in New York City and you see somebody with a BlackBerry on their hip.”

At this point, I have some questions. Like, do people still carry phones on their hips, or was that some kind of bizarre product placement/dog whistle mash-up, in which “BlackBerry” also means “imaginary illegal handgun that certain paranoid rural voters are sure all New Yorkers carry”? And when you’re out and about in Alaska’s wilds, how often do you see other people at all? And wait, didn’t you all say this show wasn’t an eight-hour political ad?

Palin answers that last one for us: “Even for those who, maybe on a political level, think they are anti-gun, they need to realize, if you are out in the wilderness -- and perhaps you’re with children -- camping, well, you’re putting yourself and your family in danger if you are not armed, if you are not prepared for a predator.” Sure, and that totally explains why your average suburban family needs a gun in the home. I mean, come on, does that really still work on anyone?

Yep! Kate Gosselin: “I can’t say I’m a gun advocate, necessarily, but there’s nothing I wouldn’t do to protect my kids.”

Except, say, refuse an invitation to take them camping in bear country for a reality TV stunt.

2. When your favorability rating is at an all-time low, it helps to hang out with someone the public finds even more odious than you.

Four words I never, ever, ever believed I would say: “Right on, Sarah Palin.” When she’s rolling her eyes and snarking about Gosselin’s completely predictable Oh my god, you meant outdoor camping? meltdown, it's awfully hard not to relate to her. 

3. But that only goes so far.

That brief moment of shared humanity was, of course, tempered by (among other things) Palin’s relentless lust for bear blood; the scene where she gently chides Piper for cheating on her homework but doesn’t actually insist that she stop; and the fact that once again, Mama Grizzly’s on vacation, banging on about the importance of spending time with loved ones, minus her youngest child. Perhaps this trip would have been unpleasant or unfeasible for Trig, but where I come from, parents usually plan “family vacations” that don’t require leaving a little kid behind. I guess that’s not how they do it in Alaska?

If that weren’t enough to undo my microsecond of appreciation for Sarah Palin, then there’s the fact that despite it all, she still has Kate Gosselin’s endorsement. “I admire her for being a strong woman who doesn’t back down, who doesn’t let the world’s opinion of her change her or get to her,” says Gosselin in an interview that could easily be from a “woman on the street” campaign commercial, if the woman on the street had Botox, a spray tan, and her own reality show.

I don’t suppose it’s occurred to either of them that when your approval rating is plummeting toward single digits, it might be worth giving the world’s opinion of you a second look.

-- Kate Harding

Photo: Kate Gosselin meets Trig Palin, carried by Willow Palin, as the Gosselin children climb aboard Todd Palin's plane at the Palins' house in Wasilla, Alaska. Credit: Gilles Mingasson / TLC