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Liveblog: ‘Svalbard: Life on the Edge,’ Episode Nine from Coal Miners Cabins

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9:30 p.m.: Two episodes to go and, based on the number of characters in this one, I wonder if they’ll do sort of a reverse of the opening two episodes, where they cram half the characters into each show. Best I can tell Chris will be doing the Svalbard Skimaraton (yes, that’s the proper spelling…and nice to have him doing something besides avalanche stuff), Wiggo (and maybe Claudia) will be doing something, Alex will be doing more outdoor recreation, Mary Ann is doing some kind of outdoor project for her lodge and Martin (the doctor who visited last week) will be doing more hospital stuff. So maybe the “theme,” if one exists, will largely be outdoor life/recreation? Which would be really, really repetitive and chiche given that it’s been a dominent thing in every episode so far. But since my guesses are usually at least partially off…

9:40 p.m.: Standard disclaimer: There will be errors and omissions as I do this live, which I’ll go back and fix afterward.

9:55 p.m.: Don’t recognize anyone who’s here watching yet (maybe half a dozen people who may be guests of the hotel), but one interesting name that may show up: Jason Roberts, maybe our most prominent film producer. He supplied the filming crew with their vehicles, many of their places to live and other essentials. And…I noticed last week they showed Wiggo and Claudia snowmobiling in outfits with his company’s logo and this week he gets a scene with Mary-Ann. Product placement, so to speak?

10:01 p.m.: Uh-oh. Guy working here doesn’t know how to operate the remote to turn on the volume.

10:02 p.m.: Title: “Svalbard Solutions.”

10:03 p.m.: Guy got a ladder, climbed to the cable box to try to do something and now we’ve lost the picture as well. I may have to race over to Ben’s at the other end of the building and hope he’s there.

10:04 p.m.: Pictures of doctor at hospital. Guy here says he how no idea to turn on sound.

10:08 p.m.: I’ve run – or what passes for running with my infamous limb, in turth I look like a penguin chasing someone I’m trying to mate – to the other end of the building where Polar Permaculture is (and told the pub audience to follow if they wanted to watch). Ben, who was coming over the watch with me, ran ahead of me to set up his TV screen in a rush.

10:08 p.m.: We’re back. Chris is now talking about avalanche risk at the ski marathon. (Edit after show: I missed a scene with Martin at the hospital where he had to deal with a baby with pnenomia.)

10:10 p.m.: To Leif, planning to record a CD inside Mine 3 with his church trio. (BREAKING NEWS: Leif went to the mainland today to pick up the finished CDs and will be back here with them on Monday. Review totally coming in next week’s fishwrapper, but since I was at the recording session I can say it was very promising – however, it all depends on if they go crazy with instrument textures in the mix.)

10:11 p.m.: He talks about the sometime sorrows (and art) of being alone, and possible hope he has a family someday while walking along outdoor roads. OK, that’s a side I’ve never seen from here before after eight years here. Hat tip to the show and crew.

10:12 p.m.: Leif talks about the mine, which was closed in 1996 and is now a relic-filled tourist place.

10:12 p.m.: Wow…a ton of people are crammed into Ben’s place after that emergency move.

10:13 p.m.: Interesting: As I said, I was covering Leif’s recording session in the abandoned mone and no scenes with me (not an ego thing, but since they seemed obsessed with scenes where characters interact that’s very strange. Also, I had a moment where I nearly passed out on camera due to weeks of overwork and exhaustion – I barely made it a chair whete I collapsed for maybe 10 minutes before I got over the dizzyness – I thought for sure it would be reality TV fodder). As I wrote a couple episodes ago, I suspect I’m now being blacklisted from the show due to my criticism of it (which they became aware of while editing episodes seven and beyond). If they don’t show me covering the ski marathon, which I also covered and they filmed me during, then I’d say you’ve seen the last of me for sure. I’m fine with it, but they’ll bury some stuff that, if nothing else, cost them a lot of money (such as a two-day trip to Pyramiden).

10:14 p.m.: To Mary-Ann, hoping to fulfill a dream by getting Bruce Springstein here for a show. Yeah, I rolled my eyes a bit too, but after a moment of reflection realized I once tried to lure one of my jazz idols to Antarctica – and Mary-Ann stands a much better chance of getting her wish. She and Jason Roberts talk about a potential outdoor stage site in the parking lot of her lodge. Um, is this whole scene a real or staged thing, meaning the idea was suggested to her? Betting odds are 50-50. BTW, not to mention myself again (which, of course I am), but I think I went to her place shortly after this scene or others in the episode were filmed to drop off some fishwrappers and ended up interviewing her (while being filmed) because some tour bus driver destroyed the decorative entrance gateway to her lodge to the point access was scarcely possible. It was a rather great interview because of how she blasted the tour company’s reluctance to pay for repairs. Mary-Ann at her real-world best. Sorry it didn’t make the final cut.

10:15 p.m.: Alex at (YEA! AT LAST!) the Svalbard Satellite Station – his main job, not all the tourism stuff from previous shows – checking the weather for the ski marathon and talking a bit about what station does. And then he and a co-worker do a safety check of the snow ont he way up to the station. (BTW, there have been times been conditions are unsafe and people have had to use a helicopter to go to work…which he just mentioned). Ugh, the series wasted this potential storyline. The station he works at isn’t just one of the most important global weather stations on Earth, but a suspected center for massive war crimes. The suspicions are insane, yet so much could be told about this place as a strategic asset in the global battles during the next frew decades. But, of course, endless footage about everyday life here has to dominate (it’s these types of comments which is why I’m not-so-curiously absent as of late. Which I’m totally cool with if it expands on showing the lives of characters such as Alex who have been way overlooked to date.

10:18 p.m.: BTW, another note on the move to Ben’s: apparently management changed the sound system for some reason last week. Oops. That cost them a lot of customers tonight (I count eight I assume are from there). Nothing that will be meaningful in the year-end bottom line, but I’ve still got mental images of them doing anything to deter attempts to show anything but the company’s PR video on their TV screens. Sorry to tell you this, but once you’ve crossed that line of “you’ll obey your masters no matter what” you’ve joined the deplorables. (UPDATE: according to someone in the know, I’m being overly cynical – and in this case I agree. The technical stuff, to simplfy, was just a glitch due to some rerouting of the sound system and the pub “proudly” plans to show the finale next week. As for money lost? I guess it depends on how many drinks viewers might have had afterwards. Some post-show discussions where cast members were present (notably Mary Ann’s) have been rather lively. But like I said, in the grand scheme of things it’s a nothingburger.)

10:20 p.m.: Chris on a bike, training for marathon. And then to him waxing the skis inside. He talks about various techniques, not being an experienced ski racer or in great shape, but he’ll probably push himself painfully. Then he talks about some injuries he’s suffered, which narrator referrs to as preparing his excuses.

10:22 p.m.: -8C. In a sunny and snowy valley, that’s mild weather just to stand in – I could envision some racers finishing in t-shirts if they didn’t have to carry all the extra clothes in their pack. People going to the starting line of the skimarathon. Narrator says no risk of avalanche. And Chris “against doctor’s orders” – oh, if it was Martin and it was filmed – is among the roughly 1,000 racers.

10:24 p.m.: Turns out Chris is just going to do the half marathon. Feels like a bit of a cheat like Christine at Trappers Trail last week (her reason for bowing out, BTW, was rather misrepresented – no surpise).

10:24 p.m.: To hospital, where narrator says a huge event like the race could overwhelm that hospital. Yes, a single large event like last year’s avalanche was overwhelming, but with no such threat during the race I don’t see any chaos unless seven people suffer heart attacks or are attacked by bears all at once. Which means some lunatic will have dropped laxatives in the water containers at the snack stations and I’ll yet again be way beyong wrong. Martin is dealing with that ill baby (the scene I missed early) and the doctor’s decides to send the infant to the mainland with his mom. Part of the reason, alledgedly, is if the hospital gets a bunch of people from race. I’m not sure I buy that since the doctor didn’t say it, but without proof to the contrary. (BTW, in more all-about-me: the broken hip that caused the infamous limp you see required surgery at a mainland hospital, but weather kept the air ambulance from arriving for four days. The “other” local paper wrote about my painful plight, using a photo showing me workimg on two laptop computers at the same time – I had a reason, but it just makes the story duller. Anyhow, that and a bunch of nurses high-kick dancing  around my bed in garter belts while I was oblivious ended up being a rather classic skit in one of our annual spoof theater shows looking at the past year.)

10:27 p.m.: To the race and Leif, doing the announcer duties (yes, he does it regularly and impressively). And he has control over the music. Nice tie-in to earlier and with all of Chris’s stuff. I won’t swear 100 percent to this, but I think there may have been previous events – Leif does others besides the ski marathon – where he’s played hit songs with profane lyrics. My experience is Norwegians have a thing about violence, not profanity and sex. Not that I’d be surprised by his music choices since we’ve published more nude photos of him than any other local resident, but it’d be nice if folks recognized he’s not hung up on such stuff and focusing on the bigger picture.

10:28 p.m.: Racers line up for half marthon. They wave with poles to overhead helicopter which is doing surveilance. And the race starts. Minor note: tons of scene cutting here between the full- and half-matathon starts, but WTF. And they cut all the footage of me covering it. Not that I contributed much. As I’ve told some folks in the scenes this week and last, I was in a bit of a “F.U.” mode toward the project by then, although I always cooperated when asked. Although, it is an interesting question: would I be bettter off now keeping my gripes quiet? The original title of the series was “Ice People: Life on the Edge,” as a supposed tribute the fishwrapper. And if they’d offered some money for “borrowing” my name I might have been OK with it. I didn’t go nuts, but my less than 100 percent endorsement resulted in a rather generic and boring title change outside Norway (“Ice Town: Life on the Edge”) – my opinion is “Svalbard: Life on the Edge” is the best of the three, while “Ice People” at least suggests the focus will be on the characters. Of course, it’s also an absurd question since, while the existence of the fishwrapper remains utterly uncertain, I’d consider it the ultimage disgrace to hold back critical comments in order to benefit it commercially. At that point, the fishwrapper is already dead.

BTW, in what will likely be something I expand on at-length soon: all I had to do was shut my mouth a bit and I could have had a reality series named after the fishwrapper and a lot more scenes in the series. Considering I want to stay here more than anything else, why would I give the series a bunch of bad headlines during filming? Um…because I felt it was merited?

Remember my mention of nearly collapsing at Leif’s album recording in the mine? I’d go on to work at least ten hours of covering local satellite facilities that are not SvalSat facilities you’ll never see, due to union rules or whatever. Frankly, I could find find fault in what we both did that day from a labor rights standpoint, but at least I went home that night feeling I did everything I could on my own.

10:29 p.m.: To Wiggo in his cab, by side of road near shoreline. Based on previews, looked like he’s doing a bird survey. Narrator says he’s planning latest get-rick-quick sceme of doing bird tours. “Great idea…if only he knew anything about birds.” He’s paging through book trying to pronounce their names. Honestly, I’d pay for his “who gives a f***” tour rather than one when he fakes where he knows his stuff. (OMG: late add-on a few days later – saw flyers of him basically advertising…himself. He’s calling them authentic Polar Beard tours. Thing is, with the attention he’s getting lately he’ll make a mint. And, as I’ve said often, he may be a more of a lunatic in real life than he is on the show.)

10:31 p.m.: Flashback to failed Northern Lights tour from episode two. But unlike that, Wiggo says he finds birds boring. He says 144 different species registered since 1989 in a book and many more have shown up since it was unpublished. He tosses out a line basically saying he’s referring to any sightings as new species. Kind of like the TV preacher with his backup lines if he doesn’t “heal” the crippled in wheelchairs.

10:32 p.m.: To Mary-Ann’s where she and Jason are planning on getting Bruce here on her “cheese and wine boat,” which I assume is the non-working thing outside. She’s written a formal proposal to send to his manager and agent. Except she says he needs to talk directly to Bruce because she’ll have better luck. And, hey, it turns out he’s performing on the mainland during the summer. OK, this might be interesting, but will happen well after filming, which ended at the end of May. (I’ll say this: if I knew from the start Bruce would be touring on the mainland it’d give this storyline a ton of credibility; much stranger things have happened.)

10:35 p.m.: Ski marathon and nice overhead drone shot of Chris skiing alone through a valley approaching halfway point. He talks about feeling more alive in outdoor places like this. Narrator keeps droning on about his lack of conditioning and hurt foot, but I’m not hearing any bitching or drama from Chris.

10:37 p.m.: They show snack station with bananas and, more amusing, a female w/c that’s just a sign and an open snowfield. Gets a decent amount of laughs here. And, yeah, if can’t pee openly where others might see you, forget about moving here. Took me 33 years before I learned at nearly 6,000 meters in Nepal everyone needs to visit the john at times regardless of settings.

10:38 p.m.: Chris gets to halfway point. He talks a little about being in pain, but says the last part was toughest because of uphill slant. He starts downhill optimisitically.

10:38 p.m.: To Wiggo doing a trial run with Claudia and her friends. This ought to be amusing. He talks about hoping to see a woodpecker. He talks about lots of trees here when his grandfather was here. Obviously it’s all complete bullshit, which is his 50/50 language…the other 50 being some of most authentic old-school and wise folklore you can get here. I never said he wasn’t brilliantly intelligent and insightful.

10:39 p.m.: Wiggo talks how there’s only three birds: small, medium and large. Yup, my kind of nature tour.

10:40 p.m.: Then they see some long-tail ducks for real. Wiggo: “if the birds and not here, then they’re something else.” They stop by roadside plaque listing birds. Apparently not a lot of them there. It’d be interesting to know when this was filmed (it may have totally been the wrong time of year and everyone knew it). Driving back he talks about other favorite birds, like fried chicken. “I’ve been a bird lover all my life.” I’m sure there are viewers thinking there’s no way he’s like this in real life and they’re right: he’s far more demented…to listen to him on any subject is a true work of art. If he offers these tours next year, look for a long fishwrapper feature about them.

10:42 p.m.: Zero degrees (think about that amount of temperature rise in two or three hours in place with 24-hour daylight). Which means I’m guessing despite the narrator’s intonation, this isn’t actually happening on the same day as the ski race. Narrator says Alex is skipping race and preparing for a kayaking trip. Alex, fulfilling the show’s wishes, talks about all the potential dangers of kayaking here. And he also says he spends lots of time preparing, including making sure the kayak is safe after months of inactivity.

10:44 p.m.: One of first things he does is test drysuit in water, getting some laughs here, and there’s a leak. He fixes it and heads out on water. Having gone through hell in those suits and climbed aboard a boat without one properly fitted, you definitely don’t want a leak sonce your survival suit would essentially become a set of concrete shoes.

10:45 p.m.: A few shots of him paddling and then sitting on a beach looking at..wait for it…birds.

10:46 p.m.: Ooooo…climactic and uplifting build-up music as Chris gets near finish line. First racers start crossing and then Chris finishes in, according to the narrator, “a respectable time.” Chris talks about struggling at first because of crowds, but could set good pace when out in open. Said his foot hurts, but not as bad as feared.

10:47 p.m.: Narrator: says hospital should be proud because no fractures in race. Huh?

10:48 p.m.: Chris gives the closing “I love this place” statement. I’m sure viewers get weary of it, but imagine being among the family friends who get similar rants from me by e-mail daily. And I’ve done hundreds (possibly nearing thousands) of interviews where that’s something I never find myself tiredly reciting lines about. I can’t imagine London or NYC, or even my childhood town of Aspen, inspiring the same passions. But if I could, I’d probably be too normal to live here.

10:48 p.m.: Next time. Ben and his greenhouse, Mary-Ann, me in Pryamiden, Wiggo’s phony fish trip (oh, will you hear the details).

12:56 a.m.: Honestly, the potential for the finale is enormous, knowing things about most of what happened with these characters and their scenes (althougb I haven’t seen them). And nice to see I’m not blacklisted after all…if the episode goes as it should the two incidents that seemed like they’d have to air – one very serious and one that will easily be the most profanely comical of series – should make the final cut. I’d be quite happy with that – and no, not just to see myself on-screen. One, the preview of Pyramiden means they’ll be showing another significant place here (and the infamous “Sasha” doing his tour guide schtick – and something very, very different). And the cursing comedy scene ties into the settlement and my overall storyline, so it seems logical to include it…and since it will show what an utter and complete asshole I can be at times, it will be the perfect fodder for all the people I lauched missiles at to fire back.

Finally: I will be liveblogging the finale from Mary-Ann’s Polarrigg. Ben will be there. Hopefully Wiggo, Claudia and Chris will be there again, and I’m going to urge any other cast members to show up as well. And hopefully Mary-Ann will be back from her holiday. If so, that should be quite a wrap party (where you can get your drinks stirred with a penis, as seen during the episode).




About Post Author

Mark Sabbatini

I'm a professional transient living on a tiny Norwegian island next door to the North Pole, where once a week (or thereabouts) I pollute our extreme and pristine environment with paper fishwrappers decorated with seemingly random letters that would cause a thousand monkeys with a thousand typewriters to die of humiliation. Such is the wisdom one acquires after more than 25 years in the world's second-least-respected occupation, much of it roaming the seven continents in search of jazz, unrecognizable street food and escorts I f****d with by insisting they give me the platonic tours of their cities promised in their ads. But it turns out this tiny group of islands known as Svalbard is my True Love and, generous contributions from you willing, I'll keep littering until they dig my body out when my climate-change-deformed apartment collapses or they exile my penniless ass because I'm not even worthy of washing your dirty dishes.
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