Alaskans are renowned for their outdoor prowess, so when ESPN went searching for contestants to star in its outdoor reality show "The Wild Rules," Juneau hunter Chuck Orsborn was a perfect match.
Airing this fall on ESPN and ESPN2, the show was filmed in British Columbia during a 12-day stretch in June, with 12 contestants competing for a $100,000 cash prize.
The show pits two six-person teams against each other in daily races and physical challenges, until the field is whittled down to one team whose members compete as individuals for the grand prize.
On Monday's show, Orsborn and his team were seen racing through the woods aided by their knowledge and a compass, competing in a challenge involving shooting bows and arrows and throwing knives, as well as a race down a river in a makeshift wooden raft.
Orsborn said being the only Alaskan of the 12-person group played to his advantage.
"What most people do for work here (in Alaska) on a daily basis is way harder," said Orsborn. "What was supposed to be hard for them is what we do for vacation. ... The kind of stuff that we take as routine, that we take for granted, to other people it's just mind-boggling."
A land surveyor by trade and an avid hunter since his youth, Orsborn received a phone call from "The Wild Rules" producer after two of his friends participating in ESPN's X Games in Jackson Hole, Wyo., had struck up a conversation with the producer and recommended Orsborn for the show. He was selected for the show after he and a friend went to North Douglas and shot a three-minute video clip telling ESPN why he felt he would be a good contestant.
Show executives couldn't be reached for comment.
"It's kind of funny to watch yourself on TV," said Orsborn. "They can shape it any way they want. It's Hollywood, man. Some of the stuff and the way they twisted it was just unbelievable. They were really trying to get across more of the day-to-day living aspects, but it still kind of turned out to be a glorified form of "Eliminate," but just with an outdoor background to it."
His parents, Ozzie and Julie Orsborn of Juneau, said it has been exciting to watch their son on a national television program.
"It's really neat and of course we're really proud to see him on national television," said Ozzie Orsborn. "Who you see on TV, that's who he is when you meet him. That's the way Chuck is."
Julie Orsborn said she has family and friends watching the show from as far away as Texas, Montana and Nevada.
"I thought that they did a real good job on the episodes," she said. "I feel that he's been getting a lot of coverage, so that makes me really happy."
Both teams are outfitted with "a strongman, a hunter, an angler, a military guide and a weekend warrior," according to ESPN's Web site. The teams are left with almost no food or water, but each member is equipped with a specialty item to help in their search for food and to go about their daily functions. As the hunter, Orsborn was provided with a large knife and several bars of chocolate.
"The cool thing about it was they were pretty big size bars of chocolate, which was the only food," said Orsborn. "I came in with the only food that we had for all six members of the team. So I was trying to hoard that (chocolate) as much as possible so I couldn't get booted off. And I was hoarding it. I was only doling out little pieces at a time."
Because the show was filmed so early in the summer, it was very difficult to forage for food, Orsborn said.
"We caught a couple of fish, but that's what we had for 12 days, which kind of helped me out because I kind of trained on a diet of red meat and beer before I went, so I went with some body fat," he said.
"Some of these guys were full-on trained athletes and they went in there with zero body fat and were used to running and then doing 7,000 calories a day. After two days these guys hit the wall and they couldn't even move. They were done. I was actually feeling better after two or three days of fasting," he said.
Orsborn said his hunting experience made a big difference between himself and his competitors.
"I think hunting puts you in places that you would never go," he said. "There would be no reason you would be in some of those weird, God-awful places if you weren't out there hunting. What I like about it mainly is just getting yourself far away in weird places like that and chasing critters."
His parents said they weren't surprised about his dominating presence on the show this past Monday. In a challenge to locate avalanche beacons in a rock slide area, Orsborn single-handedly found all five of his team's beacons in a matter of minutes, before the other team had found even one.
"He was in his element," said Julie Orsborn. "He was there to win. He wasn't there to meet friends and look at the scenery; he was there to win."
"He's just a full-blooded outdoors person," said Ozzie Orsborn.
Chuck Orsborn said he has no intention of doing any more reality shows, but said the experience did spark his interest in putting together an Eco-Challenge team. He said he would like to compete in next year's North America championship of the rugged outdoor adventure race.
"I think we have put together a team that can really do something, so I'll be curious to see what happens," he said.
"The Wild Rules" airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on ESPN, as well as Tuesdays and Fridays on ESPN2 at varying times, and will run through Dec. 26. A schedule is at www.espn.go.com.
Eric Morrison can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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