If there’s one thing people expect to see out of Alaska other than salmon, it’s great reality television! Fortunately, there are shows like Alaska: The Last Frontier, which depicts the lives of the Kilcher clan as they live off the land on their 600 acre homestead outside of Homer, Alaska. You may already know that the family has some famous relatives like the singer/songwriter Jewel, but how much do you really know about these native Alaskans?
While life appears difficult and there is certainly some drama on the show, things aren’t always what they seem when you take a closer look at reality TV. Let’s face it, reality television isn’t always as close to reality as one might assume so it helps to take these things with a grain of salt.
Alaska: The Last Frontier has broken the familiar mold of other shows by letting folks into what it’s like to live the hard life in one of the most remote regions of the world and the fans love it. By 2018, the series had already put seven seasons and more than 100 episodes in the can with plenty more on the way, but we still did our due diligence and took a closer look to bring you these 15 Dark Secrets Behind Alaska: The Last Frontier
15. CHARGED FOR ILLEGAL HUNTING
Even if you have never seen one, odds are you recognize bears as dangerous animals. Most people avoid them, but some hunters will track down and engage the animals for their meat or as trophies. There are a number of laws in each state dealing with when, where, and how bears can be hunted, but it seems the Kilcher family either didn’t know of these or disregarded them completely when they took to the air to take out a Black Bear.
It is illegal to hunt from a helicopter in Alaska and seeing as they shot footage and a former member of the production company tipped off Alaska State Troopers about it, the family was charged. Wilma TV Inc., a subsidiary of Discovery was also charged in the hunting violation as were Atz and Cristina Kilcher. The charges were dismissed in a deal that resulted in a $17,500 fine.
14. PETA HATES THE KILCHER FAMILY
To be fair, it doesn’t take much to anger off PETA–the organization takes a harsh stance against anyone they feel has treated animals poorly. It’s in their name after all; the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Senior Vice President, Lisa Lange compared Atz Lee Kilcher and some other members on the series as parallels to Walter Palmer. He’s the fellow who tracked down and killed Cecil the Lion back in July, 2015.
The hatred and anger towards the Kilcher clan stems from the aforementioned bear-killing incident. Calling Kilcher a coward, Lange directly mentioned the killing of Cecil and said, “…hunting is a loser’s pastime, and it needs to be retired to the annals of history.” Whether you agree or disagree with PETA on hunting in general, it’s definitely illegal to hunt from a chopper in Alaska.
13. ATZ ABUSED HIS DAUGHTER, JEWEL
Atz Kilcher’s famous daughter, Jewel has had a few things to say about her father over the years and though she has appeared on the show, there were some major issues when she was younger.
In her book, The Architecture of All Abundance: Seven Foundations to Prosperity, the singer/songwriter describes her difficult upbringing at the hands of her father. She asked for his permission before publishing the tale of the abuses she suffered as a girl who left home at the age of 15.
While she admits they have a “great relationship” now, her father’s experiences during the Vietnam war and the abuses he suffered during his own childhood made her home a toxic environment. Her mother left the homestead when Jewel was only eight and life was difficult, but she has forgiven her dad and the two have developed a relationship she is now comfortable discussing in public.
12. DESPITE WHAT YOU SEE, THEY ARE SAFE
These folks decided to live off the land and far from civilization. There’s nothing wrong with that, but unlike some people who do so without the intervention of television crews and the publicity that comes with the series, the Kilcher family is perfectly safe. The music and editing make it seem like they are going to freeze to death if they don’t fix whatever’s broken, but the reality of reality television is a far cry from what is actually real.
Not only are they surrounded by a film crew, the people on this show– and other shows like it– can be rushed to a hospital or given life-saving treatment should the worst happen. Say they aren’t able to heat their home for the winter – are the cameras just going to continue rolling on a family as they freeze to death? Of course not, but that wouldn’t make for great television.
11. ALASKANS RESENT THE DEPICTION OF THEIR STATE
Many Alaskans don’t like the way their home is presented on some of the many, many series filmed there and Alaska: The Last Frontier tops many of their lists. For most Americans, Alaska is a far-off place they will never go to.
It’s expensive to get to Alaska and it really is far from the lower 48 states.
This essentially means that a person’s perception of Alaska is entirely built by reality television. Despite what you see on the show, Alaska is a modern state with the same conveniences found in the rest of the Western world. It’s just spread out and cold much of the time, but even the Kilchers aren’t as far from civilization as they suggest.
10. THEY LIVE JUST 12 MILES FROM A GROCERY STORE
The way the series is presented, it seems like the Kilcher Family Homestead is about as far from civilization as any human can get. That’s simply not the case and while their 600-acre plot of land is certainly large and away from the rat race of city life, they are closer to civilization that many realize. If the Kilchers decided they wanted to abandon their life of rugged living, it’s just a short trip to the nearest city of Homer, Alaska.
Homer is a small town of about 5,000 people about 218 miles southwest of Anchorage. Homer was only incorporated in 1964 so it’s a fairly new city, but it sports a Safeway Food Store, various schools, a public library, two newspapers, and a few radio stations. Essentially, it’s a small American town with whatever the Kilchers need to survive should they choose to go there.
9. ATZ LEE KILCHER HAS GOTTEN HURT… BADLY
Atz Lee isn’t necessarily the type of guy who takes it easy, given the lifestyle he has chosen. Living on the homestead can be hard, but he and his family seem to manage. Still, there is the risk of injury and he is no stranger to it. Back in 2015 while hiking, Atz Lee was in an accident while hiking in Otter Cove. He fell and broke more bones in one fall than most unlucky people break in a lifetime.
Atz Lee ended up breaking an arm, shoulder, ankle, and his hip.
He also crushed some ribs and those punctured both of his lungs. He was clearly seriously injured and his continued participation in the television show was in question for a while, but he pulled through. Thanks to the support from fans and his wife Jane, Atz Lee was able to make a full recovery and is back on the series.
8. AFTER LEAVING HOME, JEWEL WAS HOMELESS
When Jewel left home at the age of 15, she went from living on a homestead with a large family to being homeless. Initially thinking she would only be in that situation for a couple of months, she struck out and ended up living in her car for a year. She worked odd jobs when she could get them but found it difficult to get hired without an address to put onto her job applications. Instead of letting her existence get her down, she applied her troubles into her music, which helped her climb out of homelessness.
She has spoken about her upbringing helping her since the pioneer lifestyle she grew up in helped her to survive on her own. As an adult and a successful singer/songwriter, she has devoted her time and money to helping out young women who also suffer some of the indignities of homelessness.
7. JANE AND ATZ LEE’S KIDS AREN’T ON THE SHOW
For folks tuning in for the first time as well as longtime viewers, the question arises as to whether Jane and Atz Lee have children. They do, but they don’t appear on the television show and there’s a very good reason for that: Mrs. Kilcher doesn’t allow it. This has brought up some negativity online since, seeing as the children live on the homestead and 10 months out of the year are filmed, people want to know where they are and why they aren’t on television.
There are two children, Etienne (Steven) and a girl named Piper. Etienne is a teenager and has appeared a little bit, but Piper simply doesn’t want to be on TV. Ultimately, it’s a decision two parents made about respecting the privacy of their children. Perhaps, when they are older, they may choose to appear, but that seems unlikely given what Jane has said about them.
6. THE DRAMA IS MANUFACTURED
Despite what you may think, there is very little reality to these things and that’s not to fault the people on screen so much as it is the people behind the cameras. Alaska: The Last Frontier is filmed for ten months out of the year, which results in a lot of film. It then needs to be edited into episodes requiring hundreds of hours of work.
It’s all manufactured for the audience.
In order to make something seem direr than it truly is, music is added and shots are cut in a way to frame scenes the way the editors and producers want them. Are they going to starve? They make it look that way by cutting out hours of conversations and planning that goes into a hunt, making it seem like these people are on the verge of death.
5. IT’S HEAVILY EDITED AND OVER-PRODUCED
One of the principal complaints native Alaskans have about this series and others shot and set in their state is that it doesn’t represent Alaska or its people. In most shows like Deadliest Catch or Ultimate Survival Alaska, the show adds a narrator who provides context but doesn’t overly explain what is going on. Unfortunately, the opposite is true for Alaska: The Last Frontier, which finds the narrator carrying the weight of the story.
This isn’t a fault of the Kilcher family, but rather, the producers behind the show. With a narrator constantly reminding the viewers that an uncaught fish or a deer that survives being shot at may result in the death of the family, it gets old
4. YES, IT’S SCRIPTED
Anyone who has been watching reality television these past few decades should already know that these shows are heavily scripted. Imagine producing a show without a script where you actually do what they say: follow people around and film whatever they do for months on end but make it interesting. That’s not going to produce a good television show, so producers script out what needs to happen in advance.
Everything the family does is prepared in advance so they know what to do.
It’s not like a standard scripted show– they don’t necessarily feed them dialogue. It’s more about establishing a situation that needs to play out. Reality shows have been doing this for years and Alaska: The Last Frontier is no different.
3. JEWEL AND HER MOTHER ARE ESTRANGED
Jewel’s mother and former wife of Atz is no longer in contact with her daughter, Jewel. When her mother left the family and the homestead, Jewel was only eight, but they maintained contact. Jewel was left to grow up in a home with an abusive, alcoholic father for seven years before she left home. Her relationship with her dad has improved, but her relationship with her mother only deteriorated following a heartbreaking realization.
Lenedra Carroll came back into Jewel’s life when her career picked up.
She even picked up the reigns as her manager until things went south in 2010. It took her a few years to realize it, but her mother had been stealing from her. Jewel fired her mom and severed all ties. The two remain estranged to this day.
2. JANE KILCHER FOUGHT BACK AT THE HATERS ONLINE
Jane Kilcher lives her life on the land and while she does let the cameras in, she doesn’t often post to social media. It’s strange to think of someone on television as private with their lives, but she certainly keeps to herself… usually. In 2015, she broke her silence and not only posted quite a bit online, she called out the haters and all the negativity as well.
You can’t really blame her– nobody likes being harassed.
To summarize her comments, she asked people to respect her children who aren’t on the show, said she isn’t lazy, people shouldn’t wish them harm, and she wants her privacy. It appears that while she is willing to let people look in on her life via their television sets, they have no right to hate on her and the family. In a sense, she wants us to keep watching, but to leave her alone.
1. IT ONE OF 20 SHOWS FILMED IN ALASKA THANKS TO A TAX CREDIT
Alaska: The Last Frontier is one of 20 reality television shows set and filmed in the 49th state. This is all thanks to a tax credit, which came into being thanks to another popular series, Deadliest Catch. At the time, it was believed that creating a tax credit would bring more jobs to the state, but it only resulted in out-of-state film crews coming in to take advantage. The result has been shows like Alaskan Women Looking for Love and a number of fish out of water series.
Alaska now boasts the largest number of television series per capita than any other state.
Given that the state is only home to some 735,000 people, the massive influx of television series taking advantage of tax credits and the wide open spaces has brought in some money, sure, but it doesn’t come without controversy and some environmental concerns.
Do you know any Alaska: The Last Frontier secrets we might have missed? Let us know in the comments!
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