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If Alaska's the holy grail of reality TV, consider Wasilla its Mecca

Suzanna Caldwell
Momma's Grizzly Grub photo

Since former half-term governor and 2008 vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin hit the national scene, reality TV in Alaska has blossomed, especially with shows that have ties to Wasilla and the greater Mat-Su area. The latest is "The Great Food Truck Race," which in its third season that started Sunday featured Wasilla-based catering company Momma's Grizzly Grub.

Perhaps Momma's Grizzly Grub would have eventually made it to a reality TV competition. Or maybe Mamma Grizzly herself is to thank.

Sarah and her family blazed the trail for a flood of reality shows since Sen. John McCain picked her as is running-mate nearly four years ago. Consider this breakdown of the Palins' collective reality shows since 2008:

--"Sarah Palin's Alaska" (pretty much everybody from the Palin clan make an appearance)

--"Dancing with the Stars" (Bristol in seasons 11 and the upcoming 15th, “All-Stars” edition)

--"Life's a Tripp" (Most of the Palins, but mainly Bristol, Tripp and Willow)

--"Stars Earn Stripes" (Todd)

That's not counting shows that have been in development, like Levi Johnston's proposed show, with its tentative title “Loving Levi,” which would have documented his mayoral bid for Wasilla office. Or earlier versions of “Life's a Tripp,” which is currently in litigation, as Bristol's "Dancing With the Stars" competitor Kyle Massey claims the original concept for the series was his idea.

National Geographic's “Alaska State Troopers” seems to have a Mat-Su Valley incident in nearly every episode. Discovery's “Dirty Jobs” went to Martin Buser's Happy Trails Kennel in Big Lake to help scoop dog poop and remove puppy dew claws. Running with the popularity of Sarah, Wasilla's Beehive Beauty Shop -- birthplace of Palin's signature hairdo -- had its own show in late 2011: “Big Hair Alaska.”

Some quick math shows that about 10 Wasilla residents (or nearby Wasilla residents) have had their own reality show, been the focus of a show, or been in the process of developing a program. Admittedly, that's not many. But how many other towns of about 8,000 can boast the same numbers?

And so now we get to watch the Wasilla women of Momma's Grizzly Grub on “The Great Food Truck Race” on the Food Network. Eight groups from around the country are competing for a chance to win a food truck. In this season's first episode, Angela Reynolds and her partners -- Tiffany Seth and Adriane Richey -- survived the first round of competition, selling food from a truck in Los Angeles (each episode takes place in a different city).

These are my people. I'm a Wasilla girl who's lived in the area since before I can remember. I graduated from Wasilla High School (I'm young enough to have attended school with two of the Palin kids). I can safely say that I've never seen a food truck in this small community 40-miles north of Alaska's largest city.

Maybe I'm too close to Wasilla, but I don't find my hometown so exotic, at least not for a television series. At the same time, I've lived a life some from the Lower 48 might consider exotic. I grew up with 40 sled dogs in the front yard. I've spent every summer camping, fishing, kayaking and hiking all over the state. Visiting Wasilla-proper, with its strip malls, big-box stores and fast-food restaurants, is the least interesting thing I can do with my free time.

Don't get me wrong, I think reality TV is a great guilty pleasure. I'm the kind of girl who makes time for “Project Runway” and “Top Chef” (rumor has it the crew was recently in Juneau filming a finale). Those crazy Duggars couldn't be living a life further from mine, but I'll be damned if I miss an episode of “19 Kids and Counting.” Anything with “weird” “strange” or “crazy” in the title and I'll probably be there.

When I spoke to Reynolds on Monday, she said she's sure that hailing from Alaska helped her team win a spot on the show. So far, though, there's been no media hoopla surrounding the show. At the Tanana Valley State Fair in Fairbanks earlier this month, I spotted Momma's selling buffalo chicken tacos and various “bear bowls” -- corkscrew pasta with homemade sauces, ranging from a traditional Italian-style marinara to the more exotic spicy Southwest bowl with peppers, chicken and blue cheese. It's not food I haven't seen before, but it was filling, well-prepared and just different enough to catch my attention. The only indication these were reality TV stars was a small whiteboard telling people to tune in to the Aug. 19 show.

Reynolds obviously can't say much about the show at this point -- that would ruin future episodes. Like everyone else on the show, she's hoping to win the food truck -- no small price, a new truck can cost up to $100,000. Parked at the Tanana Valley State Fair was a bright orange camper trailer, which she was using as a kitchen. It looked to be a few decades old.

Reynolds and her crew on “The Great Food Truck Race” deserve support. Personally, as a Food Network aficionado, I think this is one of the more entertaining shows on the network. It is less about personalities and more about entrepreneurial spirit, as contestants stay or leave depending on who makes the most cash.

With food trucks and other mobile vendors slowly making appearances in Alaska, there's no reason Momma's Grizzly Grub shouldn't get a chance to enter that territory.

And there's no question Wasilla's getting enough attention; for all of that, it at least deserves a food truck.

Contact Suzanna Caldwell at suzanna(at)alaskadispatch.com