Toughest Race on Earth: Iditarod TV Poster Image

Toughest Race on Earth: Iditarod



Mushers, dogs go up against nature; viewers win.

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The Iditarod mushers are highly competitive and push themselves and their dogs to win, but there's very little unsportsmanlike behavior or cheating. In fact, there's plenty of camaraderie between the racers, and they often note that in the very harsh climate of Alaska, where even a small mistake can have fatal consequences, there's a strong ethos of looking out for one another. The mushers are also devoted to their dogs and often discuss how much they rely on these very impressive creatures. The majority of the featured mushers are men, but at least one woman participates.

Violence & scariness

Some dogsleds overturn during the race, but there's not much damage to the sleds, mushers, or dogs.

Sexy stuff
Not applicable

Some choice words escape during the heat of competition, including "s--t" and "f--k," though they're few and far between (and bleeped when they do occur).


The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race has many sponsors whose names and logos are frequently visible, including Wells Fargo and Cabelas.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

One musher is a diabetic and discusses his need for insulin.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that the title of this reality series is no understatement. The annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is one of the sporting world's most challenging adventures, and the men and women who sign on are a fascinating, diverse bunch united by a shared love for their dogs and a willingness to push themselves far beyond the normal limits of human endurance. There's some (generally bleeped) swearing, and the race's corporate sponsors' logos get a good bit of airtime, but in this competition, there's little time for sleep, much less romance or drinking.

Kids say

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What's the story?

There must be easier ways to get from Anchorage to Nome than via dog sled, but as TOUGHEST RACE ON EARTH: IDITAROD makes clear, none are more exciting. This exhilarating, entertaining reality show about the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race follows several competitors in the grueling 1,150-mile wintertime slog through the wilds of Alaska. The annual competition recreates a famous race against time in the winter of 1925, when a diphtheria epidemic in Nome was curbed after a Pony Express-style relay of sled dog teams rushed needed medicine across the snow and ice in six days. Today, the Iditarod is one of the biggest events in Alaska (and one of the most challenging events in sports); in March 2008, when this series was filmed, 96 mushers set out from Anchorage, pulled by more than 1,500 dogs. Only 78 finished.

Is it any good?


Watching this show is simply thrilling. There are few sporting events that show people pitting themselves so completely against each other, against the elements, against just about everything -- just completing this race is an amazing accomplishment. The fastest finish ever was just shy of nine days, and the slowest finisher in history took almost 33 days to cross the line. Plus, the amazing dogs are plenty of fun to watch in action, and the relationship between the mushers and their dogs is touching.

Some of the mushers are clearly in it to win; but many others are just trying to see if they have what it takes to survive the journey. It's rare to see such an unvarnished glimpse of people pushing the limits of human endurance and will power. Some Iditarod detractors might say the show provides a one-sided look at the race and doesn't show some poor treatment of animals, but whether a work of fiction or reality, the show is exhilarating.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about competition and cooperation. The mushers are all pushing hard to complete the grueling race, but they also frequently mention how they watch out for one another. Would you do the same? Where do you draw the line between cooperation and competition? Would that line move one way or another if the prize was bigger -- or smaller? How does this behavior compare to fictional cross-country races in movies or on TV?

  • Do you think you're getting the whole story about dog racing by watching this show? Is there anything left out? How would animal rights activists react to this show?

TV details

Premiere date:October 14, 2008
Cast:Bruce Linton, DeeDee Jonrowe, Martin Buser
Network:Discovery Channel
Genre:Reality TV
TV rating:TV-PG
Available on:DVD

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Parent Written byLucy Shelton June 9, 2011

"Common Sense" tells me the Iditarod must end.

The Iditarod routinely kills young, healthy dogs and it has to stop. Six dogs died in 2009, bringing the total known to 142. The dog deaths average nearly 4 a year. Although no dogs died in this year’s Iditarod, more than half did not finish (usually the case each year). Of the 992 dogs who started, 542 did not finish, which is 55%. They are among the best-conditioned dogs in the world due to their training year-round, yet they are dropped due to injury, illness, exhaustion, or just not wanting to continue. One musher scratched after one of her dogs collapsed while running. The distance is too long, and the conditions and rough terrain too grueling for the dogs. There are laws in at least 38 states against over-driving and over-working animals, which is exactly what the Iditarod does. The Alaska cruelty statue that would apply to the sled dogs was changed in 2008 to exempt them. When the dogs are not racing or training they are each kept on a short chain, attached to their small enclosure. This is considered inhumane and illegal in many communities. Mackey’s Kennel is just one example (scroll down at the website to see the chained dogs and enclosures): Animal welfare organizations including The Animal Legal Defense Fund, Friends of Animals, In Defense of Animals, PETA, and Sled Dog Action Coalition want this race to end. People concerned about animals should boycott this cruel race and contact the sponsors to end their support of it.