During its four-year run, Discovery’s reality series “Edge of Alaska” has become recognized as one of the most intriguing shows about Alaskan way of life, particularly centering on the modernization of a small town. While the show had high viewership and a dedicated fanbase, it was ended by the network seemingly abruptly in 2017. As the tensions among the main star Neil Darish, McCarthy residents, and the showrunners grew behind the scenes, there may be more to “Edge of Alaska” ending than meets the eye.

“Edge of Alaska”

Produced by Discovery Channel, “Edge of Alaska” is one of numerous reality/documentary TV shows set in the northern-most and largest US state. The series follows the daily lives of the residents of the small, isolated town McCarthy. During the famous 19th century Gold Rush, the town became a Mecca for people looking to become rich. While there was no gold, the town held significant reserves of copper – in fact, at one point McCarthy had the richest known concentration of copper ore in the world. Around that time, this small Alaskan town also grew to become an area to provide illicit services, including prostitution, gambling and alcohol, which were not available in the nearby towns, earning the nickname ‘Sin City of Alaska’.

Posted by Edge of Alaska on Tuesday, April 2, 2019

As copper reserves were depleted in 1938, McCarthy was nearly completely abandoned, with only a few inhabitants persisting, before small groups of adventurers and mavericks moved into the remote town. Surrounded by abandoned mines, in addition to large glaciers and steep slopes, the town is extremely secluded, with only dirt roads connecting it with the rest of Alaska. Today, it houses a little over 100 people, most of whom have to deal with the potential changes to their way of life, brought about by the increasing modernization of Alaska. While some citizens welcome the changes, others are fighting to keep things as they are.

This conflict is one of the focal points of “Edge of Alaska”. One of the show’s most prominent stars is businessman Neil Darish, who moved to McCarthy years ago, wanting to modernize the town. He has been buying a large number of properties in the area, including the local hotel, hoping to make it into a hot tourist area which would in turn attract more residents and businesses.

Neil’s way of thinking, however, clashes with that of most other McCarthy residents, who have grown used to their quiet and peaceful lifestyle. Among them are Jeremy Keller and his wife Allison, a pair of homesteaders who moved to Alaska to live a quiet life away from city crowds. On the show, we see their deep-rooted opposition to Darish play out, as they lead other resident into the conflict.

Cancellation

In 2017, Discovery Channel revealed that the fourth season of “Edge of Alaska” would be its final; during which, Neil gives up on his ambition of transforming McCarthy by himself, and starts looking into selling all of his properties to the highest bidder. The preparation for this move took months of upgrade and repair, causing more drama with other residents.

Before the season finale, Jeremy Keller will be talking #EdgeOfAlaska LIVE!

Posted by Edge of Alaska on Saturday, December 17, 2016

After nearly 30 years of effort on his part, at the end of the season we see that Neil’s sold practically the entire town for roughly $3.7 million. He didn’t abandon McCarthy, however, nor does he plan to. Instead, he wants to make sure that the town doesn’t lose its appeal and authenticity. ‘People that are visiting here can have authentic experiences, and I don’t want to lose the authentic’, Neil stated in one of the last episodes of the show.

While Discovery Channel never officially addressed the reason behind cancelling “Edge of Alaska”, there has been some speculation about it. Perhaps the most obvious conclusion is that the series had progressed to its naturally ending, since there isn’t a lot to show or comment on after Neil sold his properties. That may not be the only possible cause for the cancellation of the show – it’s been no secret that residents of McCarthy not featured in the show were quite unhappy with how their town was portrayed in the series. Some put the blame on Neil Darish for bringing unwanted attention to McCarthy, as he was the one to pitch the show to Discovery Channel. Jeremy Pataky, one of the members of the town council, has also accused Neil and Discovery Channel of deceiving the community. The residents were initially told that the crew was filming a documentary, apparently adamant that it wasn’t an edited reality TV show.

To make things even more complicated, Neil himself had squabbles about his own portrayal on “Edge of Alaska”. Despite being one of the people who initially made the show possible, he was largely portrayed in a negative manner, and came out looking like a ‘bad guy’. According to him, he never had bad intentions, and had simply wanted to help the town grow. In an interview he gave before the season four premiere, Neil spoke about the situation. ‘When I talk to people in a wilderness setting or a remote setting, they don’t want anyone else there. I don’t like that sentiment. I don’t agree with that sentiment, and there were probably a number of people that come in for the summer. And their heart is there, and they’re way more upset than the people that you see on the show that live there year-round, because they realize that it’s a logistics struggle to get supplies and all that, and it’s a resource struggle. How do we make it all happen? And they recognize that tourism is a part of what this place needs in order to sustain itself.’

Is “Edge of Alaska” real or staged?

Unfortunately, as with most reality TV show, there is only so much that is real about “Edge of Alaska”. Although it features real people and their stories, the majority of scenes are scripted and rehearsed. In his interview with “AlJazeera”, Neil revealed that he had expected that the series would be scripted from the get go, and accepted the fate of having to ‘play a character’ of an unlikeable business owner. ‘The show is somewhat scripted, but that doesn’t matter. It captures the ethos of the town of McCarthy’, he said.

It has since been discovered that the show producers also mislead the viewers about Jenny Rosenbaum’s past. According to her bio posted on the Discovery Channel website, she’s a solitary individual who moved to Alaska right out of high school. This isn’t totally untrue, but certainly an embellishment. A quick glance though Jenny’s social media reveals that she’s been married, and it appears is currently in a relationship. She also hadn’t moved to Alaska when 18 years old, and has actually been enrolled at the University of Texas, Austin for a few years.

Similarly, the show has never mentioned that Neil Darish is openly gay, and has been for more than 30 years. It’s not clear why this hasn’t been brought up, but Neil has stated that his sexuality has never been a problem for him in McCarthy.

On the other hand, according to the town’s residents, it appears that the show also tends to exaggerate certain aspects of life in McCarthy. ‘I currently live in McCarthy, Alaska where they film “Edge of Alaska”. They make the winters here seem much much worse than they actually are, and they just make it seem like life in general here is a struggle. I mean, we are off the grid, but I don’t fight off bears on my way to work as they would have you believe. It’s all so far from reality’, one Reddit user has written in a post.

Another resident who spoke with “Anchorage Daily News” found the branding of the series to be a tad ridiculous, as Discovery Channel labeled McCarthy as a ‘place where young men go to prove themselves, and old outlaws go to die’. ‘The way things work, given we don’t have a lot of law enforcement, is there’s a really strong code of being neighborly, and respecting each other’s property. It’s a lot of people who are maybe even more law-abiding than people in a city, because they’re able to maintain their lives without that kind of external enforcement.’ they said.

Where is the cast now?

After the show ended in 2018, the cast returned to living as usual, outside media attention. Neil Darish seems to still be living in McCarthy, and is co-running Mo Johnson’s Hotel. His ‘rival’, Jeremy Keller is living a peaceful life in his home 12 miles away from McCarthy, with his wife and their two children. Since the show concluded, he’s committed more of his time to mushing, and in March 2020, he and his son Bjorn participated in the annual Iditarod Trail Dog Sled Race (aka The Iditarod), considered one of the most important sporting events in the state of Alaska.

Jenny Rosenbaum is also living a family life in the Alaskan wilderness, alongside her boyfriend Caleb, and their son Jasper. Furthermore, she’s been working as a women’s health advocate, updating fans on her campaigns via social media. Another prominent cast member, Mark Wacht, is still running his small cabin rental business. In 2018, he married his long-term girlfriend, Livvivi Lantry, who helps him run his business.

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In 2015, Tim Mischel suffered a heart attack which forced him to withdraw from the show. Fortunately, Tim has sfully recovered following heart surgery, and has returned to McCarthy.

Another cast member who endured a devastating event during the filming of “Edge of Alaska” is bush pilot Jason Lobo. In October 2017, Jason’s house burned down at night, while he was sleeping. He managed to escape, but his dog was sadly lost in the flames, along with nearly all of Jason’s material possessions. To help him, one of his friends set up a GoFundMe campaign, which has assisted Jason to stand back on his own two feet and rebuild his house.

Similar shows

While “Edge of Alaska” concluded four years ago, there are plenty of similar shows which are still running. It’s shouldn’t come as a surprise, as since the early 2000s, Alaska has been a popular location for filming reality TV shows, due to tax breaks offered by the state of Alaska, combined with a general interest in off-the-grid lifestyle among the general public. One of the first such series is Discovery’s “Deadliest Catch”, which premiered in 2005. The show followed crab fishermen from Alaska, who often face life-threatening situation while out on the sea. It’s one of the rare reality series which have earned consistent critical acclaim, and in 2014, won a Primetime Emmy. “Deadliest Catch” has also received two spin-off shows, entitled “Dungeon Cove” and “Bloodline”.

Another long-running series set in Alaska is “Alaskan Bush People”, which follows the Brown family who sometimes live in the deep wilderness, detached from modern civilization. Aside from the survival aspect, the series also often focuses on the dynamic between members of the family of nine, sometimes to its own detriment. Sadly, in recent years the show has fallen from grace, as the cast were charged with fraud for lying about being full-time Alaska residents.

For a more raw and realistic approach to the reality of living in remote areas of Alaska, there is National Geographic’s documentary series “Life Below Zero”, focusing on a variety of individuals who live their lives off the grid.

Another Discovery Channel series set in the state is “The Last Alaskans”, which centers on several families who are the last settlers still allowed to live and trap in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge. Unlike the other shows mentioned, the series also deals with themes of preservation, as these families are the only ones keeping the historical practice of fir trapping in Alaska alive.

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