The possibility had been on the table for a while, and I finally took up the opportunity to do a phone Q&A with the entire Brown family of Discovery Channel’s Alaskan Bush People.
I didn’t know what to expect, and I wasn’t exactly sure what I’d do with the interview after it was done. I knew it definitely wouldn’t be a promotional puff piece. The Browns are a family with a lot of off-camera issues, and there are so many inconsistencies between what we’ve seen on TV and what’s been reported publicly, that I wouldn’t be doing my job if I ignored them. Viewers and readers have many questions, and I was hoping to give them answers. I also wanted to give the Browns the opportunity to tell their side of the story and respond to critics and allegations. I figured there was a snowball’s chance I’d get answers, but there would be zero chance if I didn’t ask.
So here’s my Q&A with the Browns.
Channel Guide Magazine: Billy, Browntown is starting to expand in Season 3 with the boys all building homes of their own. But there seems to be some more competition for space and resources. In the first episode you run out of lumber because —
Billy: Very mild way to put it. What seemed like a very empty forest all of a sudden is a very busy neighborhood and our neighbors are quite rowdy.
The family’s always cooperated. How do you balance that cooperation and competition?
Billy: Really there’s not much we can do about it. It just makes it were you can’t relax very much, is what it really boils down to. Because we like living with the bears. We all do. But it gets to the point sometimes where there’s just so many, and so many come at you at once. At certain times of the year, it’s unrelenting. It really is. And it just gets to where, to be honest with you, it gets to be a real hassle because every time you walk out of the house, you’ve got to deal with a bear. And when you’re dealing with them, you never really know what kind of bear you’re dealing with, if he’s a friendly, or just looking around or if he’s just downright hungry. So it makes it a real hassle.
[I realize here that Billy probably misunderstood the question due to a problem with the volume on their speakerphone.]
I guess my question was more about in the family with the boys having their own cabins. The family’s always cooperated, but now you’re in a situation where the boys are building their own homes, they’re kind of competing against each other for resources within the family. You run out of lumber. How do you balance that cooperation with that sense that they need to become their own individuals?
Bam Bam: Basically, it’s the same that we’ve always been, because there’s always that little bit of competition between brothers or siblings. It’s just a different form of competition, I guess. But we’re all real ready to help each other when there’s the lumber shortage and stuff like that to give each other what they would need. There’s definitely that bit of competition for us to try and finish your one place first or your project first or something like that.
Ami: We as parents basically just sit back and referee and try to help them settle any discrepancies they might have.
Ami, there was a lot of unexpected drama last season when your brother and mother tried to contact you. Can you tell us if there has been any further attempts to contact them or any attempt at reconciliation?
Ami: Well, my mother, she sent me a necklace, but I haven’t contacted back yet. No, there’s been no contact whatsoever.
Ami, how are you feeling? How are the teeth? That was a big issue that you dealt with last season.
Ami: They’re perfectly wonderful, and I’m quite pleased that that’s all settled.
How does it feel being recognized by people or tourists when you’re in Hoonah? That’s probably something that you’ve never had to deal with before.
Ami: No, I’ve never had to deal with anything like that before. But everyone that I’ve met and we’ve met being out, everyone is so nice and has the kindest things to say.
Matt, I love Kenny from the junkyard. I think Kenny needs to become an honorary member of the Brown family. I could just watch you and Kenny bulldoze stuff in the junkyard all day. Would you consider doing a spinoff show or going into business with him?
Matt: [Laughs] I might consider it! I don’t know. He’s a heck of a character, though, isn’t he? He’s a good guy.
He is. He’s kind of crazy, but he’s really actually very witty and clever in the stuff that he says.
Matt: Yeah, that’s it. That’s a bush boy for you. We might be totally loco, but we still have a few things rattling around upstairs.
How’s the tire hut?
Matt: Not bad. I recently had a bear push down one of my walls. But that’s the advantage of building with tires. Something knocks them over, you can just restack it.
I am a huge fan of The Skiff. I think The Skiff is like the greatest boat ever made. How is The Skiff doing and how does The Skiff end up putting out a fire?
Gabe: We ended up dumping a skiff full of water after we had thawed the ice that was in it. And we dumped the skiff full of water onto the fire to put it out.
I was concerned that there might have been a fire in The Skiff at first, but I’m glad that’s not the case. Of all the boats that you guys have owned, The Skiff has been the most reliable.
Gabe: It’s gotten us where we’re going. There always seems to be something with it. It always seems to be breaking down or that kind of thing.
Billy, how’s the shipping business going?
Billy: Actually, it’s going pretty good. We’ve been kind of amazed with it especially with all the hassles we’ve had and everything else. But it’s going pretty good.
Any big fixes or upgrades to the Integrity?
Billy: It’s just a lot of small stuff. It’s just constant, like with the old boat.
So the hull is fixed permanently?
Billy: Well, for now.
Billy, you’ve said many times that living in the bush is the ultimate freedom. I guess I’ve always wondered why you would want to live life in the public eye and give up your privacy and have a television show if in fact you want that ultimate freedom?
Billy: We were naïve. I think that was it. [Laughs] We didn’t know. We didn’t realize what would happen. We were naïve, I think. We really thought that maybe we could just show people our world and that would kind of be the end of it. We didn’t realize that it would build up where it was, to where our world kind of became everyone’s world. It’s still cool. It’s a little bit more than we expected.
[A Discovery Channel representative declined to have the Browns comment on the last three questions below because they involved legal matters and wages.]
Billy, there are many viewers who are concerned for your family, and believe that you’re forced to live in the bush because you’re poor or something. Some readers have wanted to know how to send you money or care packages. Is the family compensated for the show by Park Slope or Discovery Channel?
Billy, I saw video of an altercation that your family had with I believe some of the Skaflestads on a dock in Hoonah. Can you tell us what happened in that incident — how it was started and how it got resolved?
Lastly, Billy, I wanted to give you the opportunity to tell your side of the story regarding the allegations that the family illegally claimed the Alaskan Permanent Fund dividend. Do you have any comment on those allegations?
I got to talk about The Skiff, Kenny from the junkyard, Ami’s teeth and why they would do this show in the first place, so I hope that was informative and entertaining for longtime readers of the recaps. Obviously, there are a million more questions I coulda/shoulda asked: What really went down in Chitina? What really went down with The Opal? Who really owns the land on which Brownton Abbey is built? How are the accommodations at the Icy Strait Lodge? Who’s shooting your deer? What’s up with the fishing licenses? Why did Bear shave? Why does Rainy now look like a Bush Goth Tween?
And what kind of jackass writes a clickbait headline asking a question that doesn’t actually get answered in the article?
Sorry, guys. I tried.