FAIRBANKS — A pandemic. An electromagnetic pulse. A seismic shift on the New Madrid Fault Line. A supervolcano sprouting from Yellowstone National Park.
It’s these potential disasters that have a subset of America’s population on edge, convinced that life as we know it will be altered for the worse sooner rather than later. It’s also this population of Americans who have found fame and national attention thanks to one of the top-rated broadcasts on reality TV — National Geographic’s “Doomsday Preppers.”
For Fairbanks resident and business owner Craig Compeau, it was a natural fit — the chance to dabble in the world of a hit TV show and to showcase his business, Compeau’s, which sells boats, snowmachines, ATVs and other outdoor equipment. Compeau, along with his daughter, Emily Wood, and longtime friend and Juneau resident Don Kubley are making their debut on the reality TV show on Tuesday night, cast as Alaska preppers seeking shelter from the end of the world.
“Doomsday Preppers” is NatGeo’s top rated show — more popular than “Alaska State Troopers” according to Nielsen ratings — and a big draw for the survivalist set. It features segments on people who are preparing for an apocalyptic event of some kind, be it government overthrow, a series of F6 tornadoes, massive tsunamis, or people like Compeau, who worries of an economic collapse of the government. It has a 60 percent male audience with an average viewer age of 44. It is available in 143 countries and seen in more than 160 million homes and in 25 languages. It’s those statistics that caught Compeau’s attention.
“Out pops that damn capitalist in me,” Compeau said.
In August 2012, Compeau got a call from his friend Don Kubley from Juneau. Kubley owns a company named InterShelter Inc. that produces a pop-up storm shelter. Because he sells his instant shelters to many preppers, the publication Business Week featured him in an article in August about the prepping phenomenon.
As a result of the article, an executive producer of National Geographic Television contacted Kubley and asked if Kubley would consider allowing NatGeo to feature Kubley and his domes in one of their “Doomsday Prepper” episodes. Being a businessman, he agreed, and NatGeo asked where they would shoot. Of the many domes around the state, Kubley chose the one he and Compeau use every year for moose and caribou hunting near Fairbanks. Kubley thought it would be a great opportunity for him to display his buildings and for Compeau to show off his SJX river boats, which are designed to easily travel Interior Alaska’s shallow rivers.
“Since Don and I already sell our unique domes and SJX boats all over the U.S, Canada, Russia and several European and African countries, I could spend hundreds of thousands of dollars buying a couple 30-second TV spots on the show to promote my SJX boats, or hmm, we could buy a few extra steaks and another case of beer, take these five New Yorkers out for the white-knuckle ride of their lives, show off our boat to millions of people, and have a lot of fun with a great crew from NatGeo,” Compeau said via email. “And for five days immediately after hunting season last fall, that is exactly what we did.”
There was one problem, though. Compeau had no idea what “Doomsday Preppers” was. Having never heard of the show (“Quite a surprise to the producer who called,” he said), Compeau declined, telling her he didn’t consider himself a prepper. He did tell her he had concerns about the current administration’s spending and the possibility of a global economic meltdown. He also talked about how he felt citizens’ Second Amendment rights were being stripped away and how the crime rate in Australia changed after the government there instituted a weapons ban and buy-back program.
“I started talking about my favorite subject, the manmade global warming theories, before she interrupted me and forced me to stay on topic,” Compeau said. “I told her I was not, however, one of these folks that lay awake at night hunkered down in an abandoned missile silo full of Spam, Top Ramen and Charmin.”
After numerous requests, Compeau agreed to fill out NatGeo’s bio sheet and fax it back so producers could review it. From there, Compeau started doing his own research on the show. He asked friends and family members about “Doomsday Preppers” and prepping in general, and learned that, to his surprise, several were what are called “practical preppers,” meaning they store dried foods, water, toiletries, medications, weapons and other goods in case some disruptive event cuts off supply routes to Fairbanks.
“‘Preppers’ is not a one-size fits all category,” Compeau said. “I own a wood boiler, I keep a pair of bunny boots and snowmachine gear in the back seat of my truck. My freezer is full of moose, caribou and salmon. I own a generator that can keep my home going if I lose power at minus 50 F. I have more than an adequate amount of weapons and ammo. I own some traps. Members of my family are ham radio operators and medical professionals. One is both.”
Compeau pitched the idea of being on the show to his daughter, Emily, who is a film media major at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She eagerly accepted the offer, excited to see a major TV network film and editing crew at work.
“It was a lot of fun, but what we do up there is pretty normal,” she said of taking the film crew approximately 200 miles north of Fairbanks to their prime hunting spot. “It’s where we hunt in the fall, and I’ve been up to the dome several times. But it’s the media, and when the media is involved, they do some editing to up the ratings.”
That’s a wrap
For five days just after hunting season, the NatGeo grew, Compeau, Kubley and Wood filmed scenes for the show airing Tuesday night. Skillfully edited clips on the National Geographic website show scenes of Kubley, Compeau and Wood hunting and harvesting moose, navigating Compeau’s SJX riverboat in rivers and playing the role of serious doomsday preppers. Compeau and Kubley shot the hunting footage used in the show before the end of hunting season to give the visual of taking moose down and harvesting the meat.
“Our angle on the whole prepper thing was that most folks from Alaska are naturally better prepared than those from the Lower 48,” Compeau said. “We don’t eat beetles, we don’t collect rainwater in an old bathtub out behind the barn and we don’t have to live underground in a 10,000-square-foot series of 42 school buses, buried underground by cement.”
Both Compeau and his daughter will tell you that yes, because it’s on TV, you can’t always believe everything you see.
“The people who know me, know me. If I’m portrayed in a particular way, I’m not worried about it — it’s television,” Wood said.
Like most made for TV reality shows, NatGeo dramatizes certain aspects of the show for ratings, Compeau said, adding there’s nothing wrong with that.
“It’s entertainment,” he said, “not a documentary.”
Contact Features Editor Gary Black at 459-7504 or on Twitter at @FDNMfeatures.