Liveblog: ‘Svalbard: Life on the Edge,” Episode Eight, from Mary-Ann’s Polarrigg
9:30 p.m.: Three episodes to go and it seems I’m not the only one who feels monotony has been setting in the past few episodes. Tonight’s episode looks like it might break from some of the usual, thanks to a doctor who’s appearing as a guest star (and going on an emergency rescue drill at sea), and finally the return of Wiggo AND Claudia for the first time since Episode Two. They were a huge hit then and it’s baffling the show hasn’t been featuring more of the character (Wiggo) who’s literally the show’s poster boy. Also, Christine will be doing the two-day Trappers’ Trail and, while a dogsledding trip is one of those things that now seems to be obligatory every episode, this is a continuation of a storyline from a few episodes ago when she did the qualifying race.
9:35 p.m.: BTW, it’s worth noting that the show executives are at some trade show in Paris right now selling the series to other networks in countries where the show hasn’t aired, including the U.S. and U.K. One thing I was told at the end of filming is buyers don’t necessarily have to buy the show “as-is” they can cut it down to, say, five episodes instead of 10. I can definitely see that happening and I think it would make for a better series overall. Which is unfortunate, since at this point it seems certain a ton of great footage will never see the light of day…while other “mass market” stuff get shown over and over. I’ll name personal examples after the series ends, just in case it makes it into the next shows, but I can’t imagine how.
Meanwhile, here’s advice for how to get to five episodes if any folks at the trade show are reading this (obviously I wrote this after tonight’s show):
– Combine episodes one and two (introduce all the main charcters). You can still get Benjamin V’s worm cookies, and Wiggo and Claudia’s Christmas madness (by far the most popular scenes) in while trimming a bunch of other stuff out (I’d nominate that ridiculous polar bear scene with me at the end of Ep. 1, but it’ll never happen. More realistically though, those three minutes of me covering a new hotel opening and a few more trying to get my snowmobile fixed definitely deserve to die).
– Make the avalanche episode #2 instead of number #3 (removing a couple redundant scenes of me bitching about being broke and a couple of the Green Dog tour in a storm, and insert the infamous Mary-Ann’s/chef fight). That will make this the “showcase” episode to present to advertisers, etc. since I believe seven of the 11 main charcters – including Christine, now the obvious pick for the dominant star of the series – would have noteworthy scenes (even if hers is only being the most emotionally affected person discussing the avalanche). As I noted before, I thinking airing the best material right away is a mistake since everything else is a letdown, but because they all but ignore October to February in the series, aside from the avalanche, there’s not much hope of salvaging that.
– Simplifying things, basically combine E4-E6, E7-E8 and I’ll presume E9-10. There are a few complications. Depening on the doctor’s scenes in E8-9, maybe put it all in one episode. And deciding what scenes to cut might involve nuiance: I’d keep most of Wiggo and Claudia’s stuff, for example (since it’s been minimal), but I would radically chop the endless talk by Christine and about wanting to move off-the-grid, and their love of dogs and each other. They’ll still easily dominate the screentime, but in a five-episode series you can’t keep spending ten minutes a week reliving that rather than what they’re doing now. (And that’s not on them…frankly, one of my sharpest criticisms ofvthe show right now is the editing. I’m reminded of what I do for the fishwrapper when I’m overwhelmed by the amount of material I have on something complex and – needing to fill a certain amount of space in a short time – toss out whatever snippets of interesting stuff I have, even if it means huge gaps in what I should report. As I’ve always said, bad journalism is usually an act of inadequacy, not bias. And I’m seeing a lot of it in this series, which can’t be shocking given how they aired the show a few months after filming it (also, remember the maon editors were people not actually here during filming).
9:37 p.m.: And, as always, this will be full of typos and omissions while in progress. I generally go back and fix stuff about an hour after the show (as the above rant clearly indicates).
9:38 p.m.: Supposedly Clauda is coming to Mary-Ann’s to watch! Always fun to hear others react to how they’re presented. BTW, in one of those “everyday life in Svalbard moments,” she works at the one supermarket in town, which opened about three hours late today because their main power hookup went kaput. Seems like there’s always something out of kilter somewhere, whether it’s a lack of produce and mail because flights didn’t get in, muddy drinking water because of heavy rain/melt (speaking of, we had a landslide that closed a road this weekend due to heavy rain), or problems providing adequate central heating to all homes. You shrug and say, “that’s Svalbard” (or at least I do).
10 p.m.: Claudia has, indeed, landed. Along with an extremely chirpy woman from Argentina named Maria (oh, will I have things to say later…alas, she’s married). So right now it’s a group of four very energetic woman and myself. This should be entertaining (although there’s no way I can try to listen to their rapidchat – which I doubt I’d understand – while watching the show).
10:02 p.m.: “This program contains some swearing.” As usual.
10:03 p.m.: Opening preview: Doctor’s frostbite shots gets the women here recoiling. Wiggo and Claudia apparently will be going out on a”romantic” trip, something we’ve seen the past two episodes with various charcters.
10:04 p.m.: Women here are making fun of the theme music. No surprise – it happens every time I show episodes to folks.
10:05 p.m.: Title: “People Die Here.” More howls of laughter. (I’m thinking no more or less than anywhere, except here it’s not in gang shootings, earthquakes of whatever).
10:05 p.m.: Opens with Christine and Grace (that’s the fourth time in eight shows, I believe). More talking about moving from the city to coming here and planning to move to cabin as they prepare dogs for an outing. As I said, this show is repeating a lot of stuff seemingly every week, which is why it’ll be easy to trim down.
10:06 p.m.: Chris Borstad, UNIS professor and avalanche expert (and another character on the show) just arrived to watch. Great guy who’s bern underplayed most of time.
10:07 p.m.: And, in a different type of repetition that’s been popping up lately, the shows repeats scenes of Christine’s dog racing in the qualifying race. If I’m cutting the show down, all this is instantly nixed because it feels totally cheap.
10:08 p.m.: Cut to Wiggo, where narrator talks about Svalbard’s not a place for someone not fit. He’s basically Santa in shape and appearance, so…more laughter here. I might be the thinnest person here and I’m 20 years younger, but I’d bet real money on his health before mine.
10:09 p.m.: He talks about quitting smoking because of health problems. Gets a vape pipe in mail. He talks more about death, which he does every episode, including something about “burying grandma inm the basement.” I seriously wouldn’t put it past him, although it’s supossedly a hypothetical reference.
10:10 p.m. He struggles to assemble pipe. Claudia nags him about what he’s doing wrong. He talks about meeting her online, inviting her to his sister’s wedding. “So that was fast and furious.” He also mentions for Scandinavian, the exact opposite is a Latina. Says they maybe got together five times before they got married. If the BBC has more footage like this that went unaired, they need to be…OK, not shot, but heavily mocked.
10:11 p.m.: Everyone here is cracking up massively as it takes an hour to assemble pipe, thanks to Claudia reading the instructions. Seriously, this could be any married couple anywhere, but their personas are that strong. I wonder if execs simply didn’t feel there was enough “Svalbard” stuff to air such footage. To which I say: WE’RE NORMAL PEOPLE AND THEY ARE SOME OF THE MOST INTERESTING.
10:12 p.m.: WIGGO IS HERE AT MARY-ANN’S! Everyone cheers and he waves everyone down: “be seated, be seated.”
10:13 p.m.: Back to Grace and Christine as narrator mentions their training for race.
10:14 p.m.: Christine talks yet more about dogs. Interesting how Frantz is lead dog, but might be too old next year to race. (SPOILER: I missed a huge plot point here, to be revealed in a bit.)
10:15 p.m.: She talks about cuddling at home with dogs between them, so they don’t cuddle with each other much. Wiggo here makes a sound like a gunshot as Claudia says “don’t get a dog.” Audience does an “awwww” as Christine tears up (again about that spoiler thing).
10:16 p.m.: Martin the doctor is introduced: “You’re not suposed to die here because it would be a logistical nightmare.” A few eye rolls at the latter two words. But this guy is going to be maybe the best of the guest characters – by far – based on what I heard during filming.
10:16 p.m: He dies some routine checkups for a moment, but then he talks about a frostbite case where guy with sleeping bag and bottle of vodka fell asleep with his hand outside the bag. The photos of the hand are defintinately awful.
10:17 p.m.: Doctor: “If freeze your hand in January you probbly get your hand amputated in June.” I admit I’m going to store that line somewhere, having suffered mild frostbite a few years ago and as a result being highly vulnerable now.
10:18 p.m.: He talks about the group of idiots (my word) that got attacked by a polar bear last year because they didn’t have anyone standing guard or a proper alarm system. Seriously, I’ve seldom seen such anger against a group that resulted in a much-loved bear mom with born cubs being shot and killed. I am 100 percent in agreement with the locals. We’re intruding on them, not the other way around. The show uses bears shots from an absurd scene from episode one to highlight scary music.
10:20 p.m.: Christine and Grace: They’ve been here three years and the Trappers Trail is their first camping trip together? Weird. Christine says “marriage is bliss” during difficulties setting up the tent, which gets Wiggo here cracking up.
10:21 p.m.: To the starting line of the race. Narrator describes the looping course – except he gets it backward.
10:22 p.m.: First dogs are off, as teams set off at five minute intervals (although here maybe longer since the shots are in slo-mo).
10:23 p.m.: Christine helps another racer get her team hooked up. Another slo-mo start. Crowd starting to laugh at this.
10:24 p.m.: Back to Martin, who utters show’s title. He talks about few doctors taking care of 2,200 residents and all the visitors. And what happens if an emergency hits one day and then next day there’s another emergency. Which is the cue to show a rescue helicopter and Martin getting ready for a drill rescuing someone from a boat. Narrator talks about this being just as dangerous as real thing (eye roll).
10:27 p.m.: OMG, he puts on a suvivial suit and now I’m the massive butt of jokes from Maria and Chris. I’ll explain why here after the show. (OK, show’s over and, to greatly simplify, I turned into the Biggest Idiot In The History Of Svalbard because of that suit. Because of a hip I broke years ago here, I found myself largely unable to move in such a suit, which led to many embarassing moments during the governor’s shore cleanup cruise this summer, which the three of us were on).
10:27 p.m.: Martin on helo getting ready to rope down to governor’s service ship (which does have a helo deck, but I guess it’s all about training for all possibilities…and better footage).
10:29 p.m.: Relatively few shots of rescue and victim being lifted up to the helo after all that buildup.
10:29 p.m.: -29C and it’s an hour into Trapper’s Trail. Racers getting further apart. More slo-mo. (OK not all of the shots, but still).
10:31 p.m.: WAIT A DAMN MINUTE! I don’t know how I missed this at the start of the show, but after all the hype over two episodes about their love of dogs and qualifying for the race CHRISTINE IS NOT IN IT! Instead, she and Grace drove to the overnight checkpoint by snowmobile and are now setting up a tent (with about as mocuh smoothness and Wiggo, Claudia and the pipe). OK, how the hell did I get snookered by that??!!
10:33 p.m.: Sleds start coming in. Guy named Stefan is leading open class. Dogs are seen cooling dow rolling in the snow and then getting fed chunks of frozen whale meat. OK, now she talks about decision not to run with Franz…OK, this is whatI missed earlier because I was too busy writing. It happens. In a day or so I’ll be able to rewatch the show and explain exactly what happened.
10:34 p.m.: Wiggo and Claudia on morning of day two of race, getting ready for trip to watch the competitors do the toughest part of the race (a very sleep uphill climb to the top of a glacier).
10:35 p.m.: Narrator mentions Wiggo’s ancestors were among first to settle in Longyearbyen in early 1900s. Wiggo talks about being the fourth generation here. Meanwhile, Claudia is putting on an absurd number of layers to some laughs here – and more as Wiggo basically pounds her helmet on over all the wraps and she yelps. Wiggo here suggests he should have used a hammer.
10:37 p.m.: Back to Martin at hospital where there is a real emergency involving a 66-year-old woman on a cruise ship. She broke her arm when fell after opening door in gale. He says you see a lot of fractures because people slip on ice. etc. It’s a complex fracture, so the hospital doesn’t have equipment to properly operate..but due to cost of air ambulance Martin does what’s described as a tricky procedure of pulling thecfracture back into position. A few the women recoil at what’s more graphic footage. Chris here says it’s some of the most intriguing footage so far…weird, and yet, there’s no question it’s very, very real. Martin mentions there will be a need for further treatment in Tromsø or in France when she reaches there.
10:41 p.m.: Out to Trappers Trail and…Wiggo’s phone here rings because someone needs a cab, but apparently not immediately. Whew. Grace talks about the final challenging hill. Narrator talks about keeping an eye on changing weather conditions (not that they were happening, but always a possibility). Lots of spectators are threatening to get in path of dogsleds.
22:44 p.m.: Cut to Wiggo and Claudia. He bitches about all the other watchers. BTW, I was one of them. I imagine the show would have loved it if all five of us somehow ended up in a scene (actually, it’d be fun to see whatcwe discussed), but I’m pretty sure the show didn’t film anything of me, which is fine…everyone else was doing real stuff and I was just taking photos and doing a couple of interviews. Wiggo cheers on mushers as they reach summit.
20:46 p.m.: Wiggo talks about dog owners always walk behind dogs…and when they stop and shit “the owner is watching it.” Wiggo here: “Why doesn’t they just put the plastic bag under the dog instead of waiting for it.”
20:47 p.m.: Home stretch of race. More crowds gathering. Racers start crossing line. Stephan and ? ended up finishing second. Chrstine shown greeting the dogs. She talks about wishing she’d been able to race, and more about how it’s changed her life and Grace’s.
10:49 p.m: Next time: Chris at ski marathon, more with the doctor, more with Wiggo, and more outdoors stuff with Alex from other episodes. Lots of shoutouts from everyone here as the folks at Mary-Ann’s are shown.
Post-show notes: Wiggo went off and I can’t do it justice, so I’ll just note 1) he says few Norwegians are approaching him about the show, while he got held up at the airport in Olso for 15-20 minutes because of all the foreign tourists wanting selfies with him, 2) those of us in the show had a ball discussing entertaining scenes if various “stars” so far, and 3) yes, as has often been said from the start, it’s all overhyped reality…but the show isn’t targeted at locals with a true sense of everyday life here.