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USA Insider Race to Survive: Alaska

How Medics Assessed and Pulled Esther Out in 'Race to Survive: Alaska'

In just the very first episode, a racer gets bested by an Alaskan heat wave.

By Tara Bennett
Rts Alaska 101

If you had any doubts that "Race to Survive: Alaska" was a legit, hardcore competition series, then the first episode certainly proved its bonafides as audiences watched one competitor crumble in an Alaskan heatwave. Her reaction was so intense that she ultimately had to be airlifted from the race. 

How to Watch

Catch up with Race to Survive: Alaska on the USA Network app.

As harrowing as it was watching Esther Sanderlin — part of the Alaskan team also featuring Brett Gatten — wilt under the brutal heat, "Race to Survive: Alaska" co-executive producer Alan Bishop told USA Insider that they spent more than a year of meticulous preparation for this series to be able to handle any "worst case scenario" such as Esther's. 

"We were with the cast 24/7," Bishop said of how they created a safety net for the eight competing adventuring teams. "They were never left on their own. We always had either risk management people there, or some sort of [camera person] there. And obviously, our expedition team would always be close at hand for the safety side of things."

RELATED: How 'Race To Survive: Alaska' Cast, Producers Approached Bear Safety

In Esther Sanderlin's case, despite being an Alaskan well versed in outdoor sports from snowmobiling to fishing, the extreme elements of her home state proved to be a humbling reminder of human limitations. And particularly with "Race to Survive: Alaska," even the most tested adventurers can forget to anticipate how their bodies will react to the unique mix of the adrenaline kick at the start of the competition, the physical rigors of carrying a lot of gear, and how much a heat wave can deplete your body. 

However, Bishop said he and his frontline and backend producers never let themselves forget how fragile everyone can be in the wilds of Alaska. He said it took them a long time to find the right, experienced partners to set up "Race to Survive: Alaska."

"Getting the right partners involved that can help with the logistical side and the expedition side of this thing was crucial," he said. "You don't do the show unless you've got the right people in the right spot. When we see what happened in Episode 1, I had 100 percent confidence knowing that we executed a plan flawlessly. At the end of the day, Esther wouldn't be alive if we didn't execute flawlessly."

Bishop said their entire goal was assessing the safety of Sanderlin and getting her to medical support, regardless of whether it took her and Gatten out of the series on the first day of competition. "At the end of the day, this is what outdoor professionals do. Your filter for television is gone and you execute, 'What do I need to do?'" Bishop explained. "It's like assessing an avalanche risk, or a cold water immersion risk, or a terrain risk and saying, "Actually, you know what? You're making a bad decision. We've given you all the rope in the world to hang yourself, you would have hung yourself, you can't go that way. And then you would have fallen."

Because of the experience of the team in the field, Bishop said he had no fears about anyone making the right call about Sanderlin's condition and getting her out of the woods.

"I gave those professionals all of the rights in the world to say, 'This is a risk management decision. You're not allowed to go any further.' Anybody had an issue with that, they would come to me. But the [cast] knew that the expedition at any point in time could say, 'Here's the line in the sand,'" he explained. "And that's part of us working with cast and that's part of us expressing what they need to know in order to play by the rules of the game. Nobody disagrees with that because that's how to mitigate risks. Everything we do outside is safe. And the process we use in trying to ensure that, it's as risk-free as possible."

You can watch Esther Sanderlin's very bad day on the first episode of “Race To Survive: Alaska” on USA Network. And you can catch other survival content on Peacock now. 

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