Why The History Channel's Mountain Men Is Completely Fake

More likely than not, a reality show on the History Channel is neither real nor historical. After all, the "History" Channel is the same outlet that gave us Bigfoot Captured, Hunting Hitler, and the meme-iest, most gloriously absurd show in the history of ever, Ancient Aliens. The channel also has a love affair with "dirty men shun the 21st century and act gritty while also rarely showering" shows, like AloneSwamp Peopleand Mountain Men. The "historical" aspect of these forays, it seems, revolves around embracing ancient methods of living, such as using makeshift sluices to fish $20's worth of gold flakes out of a river.

The series Mountain Men, however, has come under fire for being utterly fake, as discussed on Nicki Swift. Watching it definitely feels like watching the WWE (we all know that's staged, right?): Cue the blaring intro music, turn up the gravely narrator, blink your eyes in between supercut refreshers of previous episodes, and bam. Shove down that microwave popcorn while soaking in all the drama of old men definitely not getting paid a lot of money to pretend to be poor. 

At minimum, some of its cast, like Tom Oar, have talked about how the show overdramatizes the dangers its characters face, like cutting random shots of bears into sequences, as the Billings Gazette describes. (Oar, by the way, while being "off the grid," watches his own show with his wife every Sunday. He has limited cell phone reception, though.)

Paying the bills through manufactured drama

It's probably passé at this point to rag on reality TV for being unreal. Ever since MTV aired The Real World back in 1992, people have been wondering how "real" life can be while being followed by a camera and crew. Sure, dramatic, directed narratives about mountain men taking down wild cougars using bloodhounds make for more entertaining television than outdoorsy guys sitting around bored because there's no electricity. It fits America's rugged individualistic "man against all the odds" ethos (actually historical), and fits the expectations of the History Channel's target audience. The issue is when people mistake fiction for truth, and if a show isn't clearly branded as one or the other.

Take Eustace Conway, for example, a Mountain Men mainstay who admits in his biography The Last American Man, to faking his survivalist savagery anytime he leaves his property to head into town. Conway founded the Turtle Island Preserve, which on its homepage says, "We interact with the beautiful clarifying teachings of nature as we interpret its story." This kind of earnest, flowery language might not fly on a show about soapless and bearded dudes, and so Conway has more or less been caught in his own public persona. He does teach traditional crafts like spoon carving ($95), and outdoors skills like building a treehouse ($250), and makes a decent living doing so, but there's clearly a big difference between this kind of life and the one presented on Mountain Men.

Ridiculed by true-life outdoorsmen

Of course, the true measure of authenticity is armchair experts complaining on websites and forums (*cough, cough*). And so, a quick hop over to Off-Grid, a website for "reports on the people, technologies, events and influences throughout the global off-grid community," reveals a particularly savage and incensed stance towards Mountain Men. It criticizes the show for pretending to be real, and basically being about guys managing property and income under the guise of being true to nature, self-sustaining, and whatnot.

Comments are equally brutal, pointing out countless inconsistencies between what the characters on Mountain Men do, and what any sane person would do in a truly survivalist situation. And of course, they point out the fraudulent danger that Oar talked about as well, such as when one character's sled broke down and he traveled 10 miles on foot in the snow to get another, which of course broke down, too. All the while, the camera crew and their obviously working truck followed the whole thing around. Such is the skill and resolve that technologically pampered city slickers couldn't begin to understand.

Mountain Men has somehow stayed on the air since 2012. But, if the show's producers and writers keep upping the ante and manufacturing dilemma after disaster, it may become too much for the supposedly self-reliant, rugged actors on the show to handle ... in reality. It stands to reason that any true mountain man wouldn't even be found by the History Channel, to begin with.