It’s icy, Alaskan and more deadlier than a polar bear in a kindergarten. But enough about Sarah Palin. Not very nice either is the Alaska’s Dalton Highway, the star of Channel 5’s manliest show, Ice Road Truckers. Now in its fourth series, Truckers tracks the grizzly drivers who spend 90 days a year hauling heavy loads up this treacherous stretch.
The men and woman (there’s only one lady driver) jeopardise their lives from the second they release the hand-brake at the start of the season to the moment their three months is up. To stop us forgetting these brave folks are risking it all, we’re blasted non-stop with someone’s-about-to-die music, shots of cracking ice and puffed up commentary (“A five hundred-mile gauntlet of terror!” “…most dangerous road in the world”). It’s ludicrously macho viewing and like its fishy Discovery Channel equivalent, The Deadliest Catch, there’s a real possibility that the people we get to know and care about on screen might not make it home. At least not with a pulse.
Last Friday’s opener documented two accidents, neither fatal but still the mangled wreckage seemed to scream, “Get a new job, morons!” at passing truckers. Yet they kept on driving, persuaded by a hefty paycheque and kudos from their colleagues. Your typical Alaskan IRT is likely to be more upset by not making it to their destination before a rival than a piffling near death experience. It’s this unnatural, almost sinister bravado that makes it impossible to flick past this show.
If you break it down, Ice Road Truckers is predominantly middle-aged blokes at the wheel talking inarticulately about their lives. Ask dad for a lift to the shops and you’ll achieve the same effect, so why watch? Because unlike your dad, who won’t go above 60 in his brand new Volvo, the truckers are likely crash and die at any moment. It’s like a game show with properly interesting stakes. Imagine how many more people would watch Countdown if every week the worst contestants were fed into a meat grinder.
Last season on Ice Road Truckers we met Lisa Kelly, the only woman to drive the Dalton. You might think her inclusion would add a softer, more feminine dynamic to the show, especially when you see her at home frolicking with her cute pet collection (which includes the world’s--or at least Alaska’s--shortest horse). But it turns out she’s a huge meathead like the rest of them, which is strangely reassuring. Just try not to think about who’ll take care of the animals if mummy carks it on the road.