Alaskan Bush People is a popular reality TV show that started airing on the Discovery Channel in 2014. The series follows the seemingly treacherous lives of the Brown family, but members of the public have repeatedly called it out as fake. Here are a few solid reasons viewers should maintain a strong sense of skepticism.
Did you know that Alaskan Bush People is loosely based on a book? After family patriarch Billy Brown published One Wave at a Time in 2007, his family allegedly ventured into the lower 48 for the sole purpose of turning the story into a movie or TV show. According to Capital City Weekly, the Browns returned to Alaska with a production crew “to recreate the journey described in the book.” What was initially intended to be a one-season documentary, proved so popular, it was repackaged into an ongoing series. Does this mean the whole show is fake? No, but it does prove this off-the-grid family courted very on-the-grid opportunities.
The Browns claim that their Alaskan hardship began when the government burned down a cabin they’d built, because it was “in the wrong location on public land.” Patriarch Billy made this claim during the four-episode first season of the show that tracked their dramatic attempts to build another makeshift cabin, only to be foiled by supposedly violent, gun-toting neighbors. It was a bold claim and a shockingly effective way to begin a reality TV series.
The only problem being if you’re going to claim the government burned your house down, you should probably be able to prove it, which the Browns cannot. In fact, according to Channel Guide Mag, by the time the show returned for the second season, Billy walked his tragic origin story all the way back to just: “My cabin burned and I wasn’t home. That’s all I can say.” That’s a pretty far cry from accusing the U.S. government of arson, so let it never be said the even people who live of the land know how to heed the advice of a powerful network entertainment attorney.
True isolation means there are no roads, nearby towns, or neighbors. This wasn’t the case with the Browns when they set up shop during the show’s first season. According to the Alaska Dispatch-News, the series filmed close enough to civilization to tick off some neighbors. Jason Hoke told the publication he “grew increasingly frustrated during the show’s production by vehicles speeding up the dirt road, the shouting from next door and the constant buzz of chainsaws.”
The paper also pointed out that the property the Browns were living on in that first season was “easily accessible from a dirt road just off the highway,” and there was even a pizza shop, Grizzly Pizza, about a half-mile away—because nothing says “wilderness” quite like melted cheese and pepperoni. It was also pointed out — though in fairness, it was portrayed on the show — that the family’s impending winter doom was in fact staved off by helpful locals, organized by none other than the owner of Grizzly Pizza, Billy Williams, who actually tried defending the Brown’s bushman authenticity. “[Discovery] did try to make them live in the tarp shack. At the end of the last scenes here, it started snowing on them. It was 10 below and it was snowing on them. They got caught by the weather,” he said. Notice his use of the phrase “did try to make them.”The family’s hilariously-named homestead, “Browntown,” is a supposedly remote tract of Alaskan wilderness that they own. But according to Channel Guide Mag, patriarch Billy’s claim during the “Now or Never” episode that, “We have our own home on our own land,” is far from the truth. Billy says they’re able to do this via “a Special Use Permit on the [Hoonah Ranger District] Tongass National Forest.” Setting aside the fact that what they refer to as “a home” is just a shabbily constructed cabin with no running water or electricity, it is almost a certainty that they do not own the land.
“Tim,” a commenter on the post, who claims to “work for the US Forest Service” and lives in the nearby town of Hoonah said the following: “They are leasing a private in-holding, surrounded by the Tongass NF. The special use permit is required to access the dock, road system, and film the surrounding land. You cannot LEASE public land – unless you have a mining claim, mineral extraction, grazing permit, etc. – which still isn’t actually A LEASE. Their permit is up next month and the production crew is already returning rental vehicles, construction equipment,etc. to Tyler Rental in Juneau. They have a 7 year lease on the PRIVATE land; which is, in fact, owned by relatives of the mayor of Hoonah.” So, rather than being “bush people,” it would appear they’re basically just semi-permanent campers living in a national park.
After leaving the first cabin site that was eventually assembled for them by helpful neighbors, the “Wolf Pack” relocated to Chichagof Island, which The Discovery Channel describes as “deeper into the wilderness.” Except Chichagof Island is actually a popular destination spot that can be found on the marketing site Travel Alaska, which boasts “the world’s largest and highest zip line,” as well as “a museum, local arts and crafts shops, restaurants and a mid-1930’s cannery line display.” It’s even a port for cruise ships.
On top of that, users of the Facebook group, Alaskan Bush People Exposed, who purportedly track the local movements of the Browns have made claims that the family is regularly flown “in and out by float planes to Browntown.” And when they’re not shooting scenes for the show at “Browntown,” which is apparently the only thing the site is used for, they’re apparently cozied up at the Icy Strait Lodge in Hoonah, according to locals Jay Erickson and Becky Hunnicutt, who told Radar Online that they’ve seen multiple members of the family “coming and going from the Icy Strait Lodge at all hours.” Phew, life in the Alaskan bush sure sounds rough!Sometime between Seasons 4 and 5, the Browns found themselves in California, where Noah Brown allegedly met a West Coast girl named Karryna L. Kauffman. She accepted an invitation to “Browntown” to reunite with him, and their date was filmed, of course. Shortly after their awkward encounter aired, social media sleuths tracked down Kauffman’s Twitter, Facebook, and an IMDb page. Her career consists primarily of bit parts and walk-on roles, but that’s enough to suggest that the show may have courted her to help drive ratings; not because a real romance was budding. Not to mention, much of the “date” focused on Brown getting over his ex-girlfriend. He even performed a song about it for Kauffman.
There have been many strange instances on the show centering on the Brown boys’ search for love, like the time Noah took a girl out for milkshakes on a second date only to then insist she meet his mother, who immediately grilled her about having children. It was a disaster, but a genuine one, which is more than can be said for the case of Christina O’Malley, whose mother, Ramona, told Reality TV Scandals that her daughter was tricked into having phone conversations with Gabe “Bear” Brown under the guise that she was participating in an Alaskan dating show.
Ramona claims that Susie Carter, who owns the dating website, AlaskaMen.com, courted Christina after she signed up for a profile. Soon after opening her account, Christina was then mysteriously contacted by Alaskan Bush People producers, who eventually arranged a phone call with Bear that was recorded under the auspices that it was for the dating show. Thinking she was waiting around for “the next stage” of the show, Christina was eventually brushed off by Carter who told her “Gabe wasn’t feeling well” and was “so upset” that he couldn’t bring her to Alaska. Gabe and Christina’s phone call was then edited for a segment on the show during which they even used a still image of Christina. Both she and her mother were outraged at the deception, and if it truly went down this way, it just goes to show the elaborate lengths this show has taken to keep up the lies.
Before they were known as Alaskan Bush People, the Browns called themselves “The Alaskan Wilderness Family.” They even created a website to market the brood and Billy’s books. According to Channel Guide Mag, Billy claims their original website that was designed to promote children’s books he’d written was basically created on a whim by Bam when they’d visit “harbor shacks” for supplies and were able to “get Internet every once in a while.”
So, take that for what it’s worth, but also take into account that it’s a decent website—so decent that it shatters the idea that these free spirits have no concept of modern technology. One could make the argument that the site was professionally built for the Browns because of their lack of computer savvy, but evidence abounds that this family is well connected to the outside world.
When audiences met this backwoods family in Season 1, the show went out of its way to demonstrate how deeply the brood despised modern inconveniences, suggesting the seven Brown kids had no clue how an iPhone works or who Kim Kardashian is. But a trip to YouTube reveals that most of the kids are actually quite internet savvy: Bam, Gabe, Noah, Snow, and Rain Brown all seem to have been active on the video-sharing site. In addition to promoting Billy’s book, their channels featured assorted tidbits about their perfectly civilized lives.
CNN and the Juneau Empire reported that the Brown family pleaded guilty to lying on its Permanent Fund Dividend forms, a program that allows Alaskan residents to collect annual funding from the state. According to the Juneau Empire, “The stars of the reality TV show Alaskan Bush People admitted to lying about their Alaska residency and absences from the state on their Permanent Fund Dividend applications from 2010 through 2013.”
In this video, the show’s narrator and father Billy attempt to explain the family’s legal problems to TV viewers. The show implies the family is innocent because the government won’t allow them to live free and wild. One could argue that using state money to support yourself is kind of the antithesis of off the grid independence. More importantly, breaking the law is breaking the law, even in the bush.
The court case wasn’t the only conflict that was potentially skewed on the show. Remember disgruntled neighbor Hoke? Well, he may be the guy behind the “gunshots” played up on the Season 1 episode titled “Fight or Flight.” The show plays up the idea that mysterious locals may be threatening the families’ lives, but Hoke has readily admitted to shooting “two or three mortar-type fireworks” at a helicopter hovering near his home, telling the Alaska Dispatch-News that he fired the shots as a warning because the chopper was shaking his house and upsetting his youngest son. No charges were filed, but the Federal Aviation Administration reportedly fined Hoke $500. The Alaskan Bush People never bothered to clarify this event, opting to paint the locals as some sort of gun-toting maniacs (instead of firework-toting…oh, nevermind.)
Nothing says living off the land like jetting of to Hawaii, right? Well, that’s what the Browns did instead of sticking around their beloved bush dwellings when Ami’s estranged 83-year-old mother made the journey to see her. Yep. According to Juneau Empire, Earlene “Memaw” Branson, who supposedly hadn’t had contact with her daughter in 37 years, made the trip from Texas to Alaska because she wanted to see her daughter one more time before she died. But it never happened, because the Browns were attempting a low-key getaway in Maui. Unfortunately for them, they’re now highly recognizable reality TV stars, and oh yeah, posing for photos with fans that ended up all over social media didn’t help either.
In addition to that, Juneau Empire also alleges that the entire Memaw trip may have been a publicity stunt by Ami’s extended estranged family, as evidence on social media also indicated that the organizers of Memaw’s trip — Ami’s nephew and brother —were possibly aware that the Browns would be away during her visit. It’s like something out of a spy novel, but if it was written by an ex-producer of Keeping Up With The Kardashians.
Under the pretense that acquiring a cow for “Browntown” would provide them the steady source of milk that’s been the missing key to their “bush life” independence, Billy supposedly arranged the purchase of one, named Sabrina, in nearby Hoonah. The only problem was the logistical nightmare of getting her back to their wild homestead, which according to the “All That Matters” episode of the show, they achieved by building a makeshift pen onto their makeshift barge, and transporting her across stormy Alaskan waters. Which they dramatically staged for the show, except, surprise! It was all mostly bull… well, you know.
According to The Lynden Tribune, who interviewed Hans Wolfisberg, the owner of Edelweiss Dairy, Sabrina was transferred directly to the family property upon which time his daughter, Jan, who was Sabrina’s owner, “stayed with the family and crew to teach them how to properly care for the prize-winning cow.” Not only that, but Wolfisberg also said, “After moving to Alaska, Sabrina would stay with the Brown family for a month while video footage was shot, before being adopted by an Alaskan local to live out the remainder of her life.” We could be wrong, but it doesn’t seem possible to get enough milk from one cow in the span of a month to sustain a family of nine for a lifetime of wilderness independence, but then again, we aren’t lying fake bush people, so what do we know? Moo