Reality television is always looking for the next big thing; the next place that will spawn a whole host of crazy new shows about unique people. From the mid-2000s on, it was all about Alaska, between “The Deadliest Catch, “Ice Road Truckers” and “Wild West Alaska.” Louisiana has no shortage of odd stories too; it’s home to “Duck Dynasty,” “Swamp People” and “My Big Redneck Vacation.”
Now, the hot reality TV spot appears to be Maine.
Maine? Us? Really? We’re used to hanging out here in the far northeastern corner of the country, not being paid attention to on the pop culture front unless there’s lobster to be eaten or Stephen King books to be read.
There are three reality TV shows being filmed simultaneously in the state. Who knows what other people and places producers are scoping out. What gives?
In truth, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that TV producers would be attracted to Maine. We have a definitive regional culture, vast swaths of unspoiled wilderness to explore, and plenty of hard-working entrepreneurs, artists and performers, rugged outdoorsmen and women, and “different” people.
Beyond that, however, the thing that makes a reality show succeed or fail is the story it tells — and Maine’s got stories in spades.
“I think the region is a help, but I think of our show as more of a microcosm of the country as a whole. People are working to make ends meet, and they get creative about it,” said Kevin Webb, publisher of Uncle Henry’s, who first pitched the idea of “Downeast Dickering” to the show’s eventual producers. “I think Maine is a part of its appeal, yeah, but it’s the story that is the bigger driver. It’s more than geographic. It’s all about the story.”
Just look at this list of Mainers that have appeared on reality TV over the past decade — from “Survivor” winners (and losers) to circus performers, game wardens and eligible bachelorettes — and you’ll see that there’s plenty out there already.
Some of them generally haven’t wanted to pursue further time in the limelight, such as Ashley Underwood, the Benton native who was on “Survivor” for a season and is a school nurse at an elementary school in Central Maine. Others are seen on TV semi-regularly, such as “Timber” Tina Scheer, a longtime Trenton resident, fellow “Survivor” alum and lumberjill extraordinaire, who earlier this year was seen on season two of “Ultimate Survival Alaska.”
“The most important thing that I have learned from being on reality TV is that it’s exciting to have been picked for these shows and to have enjoyed the journeys, but they are shows, and they are not real life,” said Scheer, who still operates the Great Maine Lumberjack Show each summer in Trenton. “The shows are short lived, and my real life is my reality show.”
Downeast Dickering — OK, so they aren’t from Down East. Cast members hail from Bethel, Sangerville and Auburn, but at least they’re actually from Maine (well, mostly; there are a few from Vermont). And, luckily for us, the folks on the History Channel’s newest Maine-centric hit series “Downeast Dickering” are both wildly entertaining and happily representative of many Mainers, with their good humor, practicality and no-nonsense attitude. Anyone who loves Maine periodical Uncle Henry’s, which loves Mainers, or who loves a good bargain would do well to look the show up. The first season of the series ended a few weeks back, and a second season starts filming in a couple weeks.
North Woods Law — This Animal Planet series that follows Maine game wardens landed on screens in the fall of 2012. It was a hit and, as of June, we’re in the midst of season three. You get to watch Maine game wardens track animals and navigate the rugged back woods of Maine — what’s not to love? The beauty and diversity of wildlife in Maine’s forests must be seen to be believed, as well as the skills and intelligence displayed by the wardens on each episode.
Cold River Cash — This Animal Planet show focuses on three teams of Maine fishermen who spend 10 weeks per year trying to earn thousands of dollars fishing for glass eels, or elvers — a hot, fiercely coveted commodity in Maine, the secretive catching of which can sometimes result in law-breaking and other shenanigans. There’s no word yet if a second season has been ordered. The final episode of the eight-week first season, shot in and around Brunswick, Scarborough and Hebron, aired in early March.
Linda Greenlaw — Fisherwoman, author and Isle au Haut resident Linda Greenlaw starred for three seasons between 2009 and 2011 on the Discovery Channel’s “Swords: Life on the Line,” which followed swordfishing boats around the fishing banks off New England. Greenlaw shot to fame in the late 1990s after her story was dramatized in the book and movie “The Perfect Storm,” and her book, “The Hungry Ocean,” became a bestseller in 1999. Since the show was canceled in 2011, Greenlaw has published a memoir, “Lifesaving Lessons: Notes From an Accidental Mother” in 2012, has worked with Hannaford Supermarkets to get sustainably harvested seafood in their stores, and continues to fish New England waters.
Bob Crowley — Crowley was a high school physics teacher in Gorham when, in 2008, he appeared on season 17 of “Survivor,” set in Gabon. Thanks to his smart, patient approach to the game, he won, taking the $1 million prize home to South Portland. Since then, he’s written an autobiography, “Making Waves: The Stories of Maine’s Bob Crowley,” and retired from teaching. With his family, Crowley this year launched Maine Forest Yurts, a camping retreat in the rural town of Durham featuring insulated, tent-like yurts for year-round camping.
Ashley Underwood — Underwood was a contestant on 2011’s “Survivor: Redemption Island” season, though she did not win. She also is a former Miss Maine who competed in the 2009 Miss USA competition. Before that, the Benton native was a star basketball player for Cony High School in Augusta, and she went to the University of Maine on a full-ride basketball scholarship. Just a few weeks ago, Underwood got married to her longtime fiance, former UMaine basketball player Chris Markwood. She’s a school nurse for RSU 18 in Oakland.
Ashley Hebert Rosenbaum — A Madawaska native and University of Maine alum, Rosenbaum was featured on season 15 of “The Bachelor” and then was the star of season seven of “The Bachelorette” on ABC. Unlike every other couple that’s come out of the show, her love match stuck, and she married J.P. Rosenbaum in a televised wedding in December 2012. Hebert, who received a doctorate in dental medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, is finishing up her pediatric dental residency at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in New York City. She and her husband are expecting their first child, a boy, in October.
“Timber” Tina Scheer — You can see Scheer every night from mid-June through early September, when she hosts the Great Maine Lumberjack Show in Trenton. You may also know her from her appearance on “Survivor: Panama” in 2006, where she was the first one voted off because of her clearly superior survival skills. Since then, she’s been seen on everything from “The Jeff Probst Show” to the Travel Channel series “Edge of America” to “Ultimate Survival Alaska” on the National Geographic Channel. Though she’s not a Maine native — she grew up in Wisconsin — she’s lived in Maine for more than 20 years.
The Pelletier Family — “American Loggers” may have felled its last tree after three seasons on the Discovery Channel in 2011, but the subjects of the show — the Pelletier family of Millinocket — keeps right on truckin’. Eldon, Rudy, Jeff, Jason and the rest of the crew from Pelletier Bros. Inc. are still around the area, where they own and operate the Pelletier Loggers Family Restaurant Bar & Grill in Millinocket, sell truck cab protectors and trailers branded with their logo and sell logging insurance, and keep hauling lumber out of the woods, as their family has done for more than 50 years.
Kara DioGuardi — This former “American Idol” judge and music industry executive isn’t a Maine native, but she’s lived in Maine for part of the year for more than seven years, and she married Mike McCuddy, a former art teacher at Orono High School and native of Prospect Harbor. She and McCuddy had a child in late 2012. DioGuardi opened up to the media about her experience on having a surrogate carrier for their son, Grayson, after she was diagnosed as having the BRCA2 gene, which gives her an extremely high likelihood of developing breast or ovarian cancer.
Brittany Ray and Ron Smith — This sweet couple and their four children were the recipients of a brand new house on the former ABC program “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” when it came to the Washington County town of Milbridge in 2007. Since then, the family has happily lived in their beautiful home, and both Ray and Smith work at Narraguagus High School — Ray as a guidance counselor and Smith as the IT director.
Sam Johnson — Johnson, a Houlton native living in Vermont, made it as far as the New York City round in the 2013 season of NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” with his gravity-defying balancing skills, including climbing to the top of an 80-foot pole, and riding a unicycle on a tightrope while juggling flaming batons. Though he didn’t advance after his third trick, he did cement himself as a leading circus performer in the country. He’s still doing circus arts in Vermont, taking care of his son, Phinneaus, and has taken on a new career — working for the U.S. Postal Service.
Pie Moms of Berry Manor Inn — The Pie Moms at Berry Manor Inn in Rockland are the mothers of owners Mike LaPosta and Cheryl Michaelsen, where they are beloved for the top-notch pies they’ve made over the years for guests. Over the past decade, Janet LaPosta, Ally Taylor and honorary pie mom Anne Mannheim have appeared on “Throwdown with Bobby Flay” on the Food Network, on the Discovery Channel’s “ Dirty Jobs” with Mike Rowe, and with Samantha Brown on the Travel Channel. The Pie Moms have retired from their pie-making responsibilities at the Inn, but they do come back to Rockland during the summer and to appear at the annual Pies on Parade tour, held every January.
Cousins Maine Lobster — Cousins Sabin Lomac and Jim Tselikis, from Scarborough and Cape Elizabeth, respectively, were featured on the popular ABC reality game show “Shark Tank” in October 2012, pitching their idea for a food truck selling delicious Maine lobster rolls. The panel of investors on the show liked their idea and gave them $55,000 to invest in the Cousins Maine Lobster truck, which continues to sell Maine lobster in Los Angeles, as well as a regular restaurant and online store, selling lobster pot pie and lobster mac and cheese.
Morninghead Bed Head Remover — Max Valverde also was on “Shark Tank,” appearing on an episode in March of this year, but he didn’t have quite as much luck with his pitch as the Lomac and Tselikis did. His Morninghead Bed Head Remover — a cap you wear to wet your hair and remove “bed head” in the morning without creating any mess — didn’t impress them, and his pitch was rejected.