‘Life Below Zero’ Exclusive Interview: Sue Aikens On Isolation, COVID, New Arctic Challenges

Life Below Zero

On Life Below Zero, National Geographic Channel’s unvarnished look at life lived completely alone for near 9-10 months is back this coming Monday with fan favorite Sue Aikens, a mother, grandmother and tough as hell broad who is as unpretentious as they make them.

Full of humor, grit and heart, Aikens is the one most people associate with this addictive show. She is capable and quite memorable in a sea of reality TV personalities, and as real as they come.

Ahead of the premiere, Aikens spoke to TV Shows Ace from the Arctic circle about the new season and more.

Programming note: There will be a new spinoff series Life Below Zero: Next Generation on the heels right after Life Below Zero this Monday, the subsequent weeks it will revert to Tuesdays at the same times. The Life Below Zero franchise is produced by BBC Studios’ Los Angeles production unit for National Geographic.

Sue Aikens, Alaskan mama bear

Aikens excels at living alone, thriving in the arctic despite constant and extreme life-threatening challenges. Apex predators, equipment failures, food stores and managing all of that…nothing is beyond her ability.

The series shows us how these hearty people, Aikens included, deal with deeply cold weather, lack of natural light all while being miles away from civilization. You ran out of milk? Tough toenails. Aikens gave us an exclusive update on how she manages it all on the Emmy winning series, Life Below Zero.

National Geographic Channel’s Life Below Zero is one of the best Alaskan reality series out there, with legions of fans. The series spawned a new spinoff, Life Below Zero: Next Generation following new people who call the remote wilderness of Alaska home.

Sue lives in the most remote section of the state, and over 500 miles from the nearest town. And as you will read in the interview below, her Kavik camp occupies a great deal of her time.

TV Shows Ace spoke to Sue Aikens ahead of the new season premiere:

How has making this show changed your life in the big picture? Has it facilitated a successful camp business, or has it hindered you in any way?

Sue Aikens: I think anytime you do something along these lines, and it remains on air as this has, it cannot help but be an influence on not only the talent but fans and all facets associated. The nature of life is to change, ebb and flow.

My business has not seen any uptick in actual reservations yet, but interest is great. The larger picture must be to focus on the health of our environment and to encourage youth to explore our wild places with care.

The show allows us to encourage this platform exceedingly well by its wonderful depiction of our lives through the best cinematography and editing.

The show has spawned a new spinoff series- Next Generation, do you think the premise is sound-and if so what are you looking forward to with this new show riding on the LBZ brand?

Sue Aikens: I think it sounds quite interesting to see what will come of following and seeing a younger or newer set of people attempt remote living bringing with them a fresh perspective.

The land will let you know how far you can push things… it can sometimes be the bigger challenge to remain teachable and see the line clearly between how you want things to go , and how they are going to go and being prepared for it.

Good television is not about always knowing the outcome beforehand, but being enticed and fully engaged, and seeing how they do, or don’t come to fruition. The premise has all this and more. Let’s see how it shakes out!

The producers reveal that Ricko DeWilde travels to cursed lands to finally lay his brother’s spirit to rest- what are these cursed lands-are you aware of them? Do you believe in cursed lands?

Sue Aikens: There are lands within each culture and village and within many countries that are steeped in beliefs and powerful ideology. I respect greatly these things and in Alaska our cultural beliefs are powerful.

I send my song to Ricko’s brother for safe journey and am glad that the family was able to do this for him.  I believe in a great many things… there is much in the world that is mysterious, and I am in wwe of much.

How much interaction do you have with the other people featured on LBZ? Do you interact much with Jessie Holmes, the Hailstones or Andy Bassich and Denise Becker? Or are you truly still a lone operator on the series, with only crew interactions?

Sue Aikens: I have met Jessie, Andy, Ricko and his awesome kids! Spoken with Chip and Denise over social platforms. There is and seems to be as ever, and very good yet difficult to explain connection that exists between remote peoples.

We can know very quickly and what is happening a thousand miles apart from each other faster than next door neighbors in town! I do live alone still, yes.

What is the key focus of your segments this season, is it procuring and securing food and needed items, or is there a twist coming for you? How do you keep the action fresh and interesting and what input do you have with producers and the DP to present your life in a new way?

Sue Aikens: Procuring food is always a concern. This high in the arctic I am not eligible for moose or Musk Ox or salmon… and I must have a business. Weather will play a huge role as well. The pandemic takes center stage for us all and the impact is felt and life adjusted.

I do have a few twists, if you will… Major spinal surgery T-12 through full Sacro. I took my few weeks as the pandemic struck then went to Chena to isolate and then Kavik.

Home is home and where I recover best. I cannot give away content, but this season is really REALLY raw, sometimes dark… and emotional as the OG and the New Normal battle it out.

To keep the action fresh and interesting. …. that’s not my job. My job is being me, and that takes up my full attention. I am a handful and then some. The DP’s and crew are amazing at what they do… I am six eggs shy of a dozen and that’s what I do. That’s the recipe that works. I be me, they do them… it becomes the heady brew we all love to watch.

Talk about these moments you have had in 13+ seasons, falling through the ice, bear attacks-how do you adjust how you move about your environment now as you get older?

Sue Aikens: I adjust if I need to and fail too, at times, before it is too late. The art is to work smarter not harder, but sometimes “harder” prevails. If you cannot get comfortable with your lifestyle potentially being the death of you, then real remote living may not be your thing.

You must first accept the worst possible outcome and plan for it, the rest is then a slide into experiential living and loving it. You may sweat and swear, but you will earn every stinkin’ bit of your life.

Where is home base for you now in Alaska, and what is the scope of the year-round Kavik River Camp up by the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. How do you manage this business?

Sue Aikens: I am still in Kavik, but with the State working on the lease auction I have to prepare the Chena Cabin if I am not the high bidder when and if the auction takes place.

I have fought it for four years and it is not my comfort zone to think of losing something I have worked more than two decades of my life to clean and improve and care for. BUT… accept and plan for the worst and enjoy the ride.

I manage the business as any owner operator might, with 24/7/365 attention to the safety and maintenance. Improve what I can, never stop working, and keep your eyes open and locked on the horizon. They may auction the land… it does not follow I leave the buildings as a gift.

Isolation-how does your day play out as you are snowed in and iced in as the weather progresses? Does having the cinematographer Michael Cheeseman there help in the grind? Do you grandkids ever come up to be with you in the Arctic?

Sue Aikens: Isolation is my jam. I like being me alone and able to live life with childlike abandon. I can get edgier with longer term visits with no clear escape plan or dates for extraction.

I have the highest respect and friendships with most all of the crew to date. Mike Cheeseman is indeed a good buddy but widen that net to all of the crew. This has been long enough that we all ask about kids, grandkids… and go to birthday parties and know that one day life will change, the cameras will turn off and lives will go in new directions.

The goal is to live fully and be in the present, so that when that day comes, we can hug, and say … good luck my friend that was a hoot! My grandchildren do come up as well as my children. Other cousins and my boyfriend as well.

Unexpected fan encounters-does ever happen? People trekking to find you in Chena and Kavik?

Sue Aikens: Yes, this does happen from time to time. I am always gracious and genuinely happy to meet and say hello. People are kind enough to watch, write, send things and just beam with happiness!

I truly like people and am interested. I just don’t want to live with them side-by-side. Occasionally you get a loose cannon, but those things happen too. Most people are amazing and just want to say hello, be seen, heard and get a Sue-hug.

Lastly, COVID and your show-how has your life been impacted?

Sue Aikens: I cannot think of anyone anywhere who has not been impacted. Is still being impacted. The fallout is cancerous and lingering in many ways. The information is unclear, and the side aggression is heartbreaking and unchecked.

My business lost 100% of clients and I would not and will not budge on proper hygiene and social distancing and isolation. Is it necessary? WELL…. I would rather err on the side of foolish caution, then to attend even one funeral for someone. I choose humanity.

Life Below Zero returns Monday, September 7 at 8 PM ET on National Geographic Channel. NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC’S FAN-FAVORITE FRANCHISE, Life Below Zero: Next Generation airs at 9 PM ET

*The second episode of each show will air back to back the next night, on Tuesday, Sept. 8, at 8 pm ET, with both shows falling into their regular Tuesday time slot for the rest of the season.

April Neale

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