Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part story about a Soldotna mountaineer’s adventures in TV land.
By Jenny Neyman
When Tyler Johnson agreed to be a competitor on the first season of “Ultimate Survival Alaska,” he had no real idea what he was getting himself into, and even less idea when he was getting into it.
It was Friday, Aug. 19, 2012, when Johnson, originally from Soldotna, a civil engineer and 1995 graduate of Skyview High School, was called to a casting meeting Monday in Anchorage. He had just stepped off a plane after spending two months working in Bethel, and thought at first the call from a Los Angeles number was a telemarketer.
“He’s like, ‘You want to be on TV?’ I’m like, ‘All right, I’m about ready to hang up.’ ‘No, you interviewed for the show, you know, the thing in the spring?’ I was like, ‘Oh, yeah.’ He’s like, ‘Yeah, we want you to be on the show.’”
Oh, right — that interview. Catalina Productions had been seeking candidates for a new reality show for the National Geographic Channel, where experienced outdoorsmen would navigate through extreme backcountry environments in Alaska. A buddy recommended Johnson, so he did a seven-minute interview to LA over Skype.
“For the show, Season One they wanted people who know how to operate in the wilds of Alaska. … And it was really broad questions. They ask these really grandiose questions, like, ‘What’s the hell-raising, scariest thing you’ve ever …?’ I was like, ‘Well, uh… .’ I thought there was no chance of getting this.”
The interview quickly slipped his attention, subsumed by work — at the time he was co-owner of a busy engineering company — being dad to his daughter, Evie, now 11, and fitting in his own outdoor adventures.
But then, the call. He went to the meeting, curiosity piqued, and found the rest of the eight-member cast of Season One, including dog mushers Dallas and Tyrell Seavey and Brent Sass, and veteran mountain guides Marty Raney and Willi Prittie.
“Yeah, it was legit,” Johnson said. “They interviewed 500 people and picked eight.”
At first he thought the show was a race with a substantial cash prize at the end. He was less interested when he realized it was more of a wilderness survival expedition. And even less so when he realized the time frame.
“I was like, ‘Hey, did anybody ask when we’re leaving?’ ‘Uh, we’re leaving Friday’ — and this is Monday — for two months. And we can’t have cellphones, we can’t call home for two months, and they gave me a five-day notice,” he said.
But producers also said the magic word — adventure.
“They said they were going to take us to all these places,” Johnson said.
Arrigetch Peaks, the Valley of 10,000 Smokes. Places on an Alaska adventurer’s dream list, just not often within their budget.
It was a random. It was an unknown. It was adventure. He was in.