A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What 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.
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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.
Talk to your kids 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?