"Reality Shows" or Why I'm a Fan of Ice Road Truckers

Sunday, September 29, 2013
Yes, I have watched a few reality shows in my life. I didn't used to. There was a time when I was above all of that. Oh, I did check in on Survivor once when everyone was talking about it just so I could understand the conversations. I watched a few episodes and then I stopped. It was so obvious to me that the shows were engineered and not reality at all it didn't hold my interest for more than a few weeks. And that's all I had to do with reality shows for a long time.

Then a coworker mentioned she was a fan of Pawn Stars. Obviously this was another show I hadn't seen, although I had noticed the name while scrolling through the TV listings with my remote. One night, with nothing I wanted to watch on television, I clicked it on. And promptly became hooked. Soon after that, I added Storage Wars. The attraction of both these shows is the same as that of Antiques Roadshow, a program I had been watching because, you know, it's on Public Television, so it must be quality. You watch all of them for the vicarious thrill of seeing someone find something they own is worth a lot of money. We all dream that that ugly painting Aunt Martha left us will be worth a million dollars so we can quit the day job and have someone else clean the bathrooms and take out the garbage. American Pickers is similar, although the stories of the people Mike and Frank meet are as fascinating as the objects they find.

After a while, these shows get to be all too similar. The pawn shop guys continue to bid low on items so they can sell high. Storage lockers contain something amazing--or they don't. The pickers stumble upon a treasure trove of items they can sell or run into a "collector" (many of whom would also fit on Hoarders) who refuses to part with any of his beloved goods. The shows then try to add tension by scripting in conflict. On Pawn Stars this included sending Chumley off in search of Bob Dylan's autograph, a weight loss segment, and other things. Since these guys are not actors, it was obvious we had crossed the line from reality, such as it was, to scripted.

Worse, they spawn clone shows with a different set of characters: Storage Wars Texas, Storage Wars New York, for example. I'm not sure how that's supposed to make any of them more interesting.

So what reality show am I still watching, indeed, am sorry the season is over and that it will be months before new episodes are shown?

Ice Road Truckers

When you stop laughing, I'll tell you why.

Ready yet? No. Okay, I'll wait.

That's long enough! People have better things to do than listen to you laughing your head off.

I think the key to the success of this show is the variety of characters. Hugh and Todd are what I think of as stereotypical truckers. They're tough, it's all about the money for them, and half of what they say has to be bleeped. Darrell is the seasoned pro, the one you hand the toughest jobs over to, confident that he'll deliver the goods.

Lisa is one of my favorites. A rookie just a few years ago, she's applied herself to learning everything, taking every challenge, and succeeding in a rough world. She's an attractive blonde whose appearance at first misleads you. But if there's anyone who deserves the title of kickass heroine, Lisa is it.

And then there's Alex. He's older, more experienced, and never seems to be other than calm. He doesn't swear. He prays. A devout Catholic, he prays when starting out, when he thinks someone could use some help that he can't give, when approaching a dangerous situation, and, after the crisis has passed, he gives thanks. Definitely a role model and a man I respect.

I've come to respect him even more after following him on Twitter at @IceRoadAlex. That's where he promotes the message #DontTextAndDrive. Having been t-boned by a teenager whom I'm sure was on her cell phone at the time of the accident, this is a cause near and dear to my heart. He isn't a celebrity showing off on Twitter. He's a real person you can connect to.

Then there's the premise of the show. It's not just the competition among the drivers. It's the drivers against nature. Driving the ice roads in northern Canada and Alaska isn't for sissies. It's cold. Really cold. There are snowstorms and the potential for breakdowns (worse because of the cold) and driving across a lake on a layer of ice that might give way, especially in the spring, is often a case of--literally--you bet your life. And because the roads are... uh... ice, sliding into the ditch is not out of the question. And this is not a case of whipping out your cell phone and calling Triple A. Triple A doesn't drive those roads. Some of them are so remote, there is no cell service.

Sometimes a trucker in trouble will get help from another driver who's passing by. But sometimes he--or she--just has to improvise and figure out a way to get going again. Overcoming obstacles is a lesson in cooperation and resourcefulness.

It's possible I'll get bored with this reality show just like I have the others. But, for now, I'm looking forward to Season 8.

Photo Credits:
Ice Road: cityofstrangers via photopin cc
Alex: Lester Public Library via photopin cc

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