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Yukon Men exclusive: Stan Zuray on living the isolated life as new road brings change

Yukon Men star Stan Zuray left Boston more than 40 years ago to live in Tanana. Pic credit: Discovery/Jason Elias

Progress sometimes puts up a parking lot, as the famous song goes.

On tonight’s Yukon Men premiere on Discovery, the hamlet of Tanana is bracing for the outside world and progress, as they say, to invade.

It’s not sitting well with many of the townsfolk.

Natural disasters, wildfire scorching the land, and dwindling wildlife are among the issues they face.

Resident and Yukon Men star Stan Zuray spoke to Monsters and Critics ahead of tonight’s electric opener as he shared his concerns for this remote part of the world, which he loves dearly.

The sixth season brings us back to the interior of Alaska, 130 miles from the nearest city.

Zuray, originally from Boston, Massachusetts, calls Tanana his home.

A town formerly only accessible by boat or plane, the progress of which we speak is now a reality as years of isolation is upended by a new road which connects the village to the “big city” of Fairbanks.

Now, the villagers are connected more than ever to the outside world.

With new people in the area we see resources spread thin. The wildlife is now far more scarce as the premiere shows (no spoilers!) Charlie Wright and James Roberts go on a moose hunt only to be shocked at an “alarming discovery”.

Also tonight, Courtney Moore must provide for her family as Stan’s Yukon engineering is given the ultimate test when the town’s well runs dry.

As the premiere kicks off, we spoke to Stan — who was in New York — about the season ahead, where change is inevitable.

Stan relies on his wits, his neighbors and a lot of luck out in Tanana. Pic credit: Discovery/Jason Elias

Monsters and Critics: Could you tell us a little bit about your backstory? What made you want to leave one very cold (Boston) place for another?

Stan Zuray:
By the time I was 19, 20…you know, Boston in the 1960s was kind of in turmoil. It was time to move on.

It was a very lonely place for me, that’s the best way I can describe. It was time to do something, but I really didn’t know what it was.

I started traveling and looking for something, but I really didn’t know [at the time] what it was.

M&C: What makes this season of Yukon Men stand out from the others?

SZ: A lot of it isn’t different, and I don’t think that is a bad thing, just showing the lifestyle more, the various parts of it.

One thing that is different though is that it’s going into how the lifestyle has changed a little more in depth. Also the interactions between the family more, and things like that.

The people in the village…they are looking at the new road into the village.

For all this time, there’s never been a road close to the village. The closest road [we had] was 65 miles to the south. No roads in any other direction for a long way.

We’ve been really isolated and the only way in was by plane. Now we have a road, and all the things that a road brings — like people from the outside, and the trouble that come with that.

However, there are some good things about the road, like getting supplies and stuff.

There’s going to be a lot of that in the new season of Yukon Men, just a lot more good stuff of what we do. Things that have never been shown on the show.

M&C: Oh, really? Like what?

SZ: Different troubles that we’ve had, me doing special fixes on my trucks.

They call me MacGuyver and stuff, and there are just different things.

They like to show me fixing things, troubles and all that. But I probably shouldn’t say what they are!

M&C: Has the show’s popularity brought some reality TV stalker weirdos up there?

SZ: No, up until just recently it was like zero amount of people who would come into the village. Except for the camera guys.

They’re not weirdos, they are all good guys and our friends. There’s been no one. It’s too cold! It’s way too remote.

People come up to the city of Fairbanks, tourists and stuff like that. To make that extra jump in a little airplane to fly out to the village…there’s no tourist set-up really in the village for people.

M&C: What’s a bigger problem, a bear or a wolf?

SZ: A pack of wolves is a powerful thing, and sometimes even in the cities — there’s been lots of articles in the Fairbanks’ papers about dogs in dog yards getting wiped out by a wolf pack and a few days later it happens again.

Bears can do the same thing. I would say as far as human interaction stuff, it’s much more [we hear of] bear attacks on humans than wolf attacks on humans.

But in the last few years…there was a wolf attack a couple years ago. A guy was driving in his snow machine and had a wolf come at him from the side. Knocked him off the vehicle.

It didn’t kill him, he was able to get rid of it. But yes, they are both very respectable predators, you know? I look at them like they are a natural thing.

You are living with them and you have to have a lot of respect for those animals. I’ve been hauled out of a tree by a grizzly bear and I still respect grizzlies.

M&C: How did you survive that?

SZ: It was a she-bear, she let me go. I saw three bears and it turned out it was the mother and a pair of two-year-old cubs — which are really big cubs, you know?

In the end, once she beat me up after pulling me out of the tree, she realized I wasn’t a threat and she let me go.

Bears do that, that’s why people live through a lot of bear attacks because the bear, once they beat you up…the problem is, in the process of beating you up do they swipe you with their claws? Do they rip your face off?

Bears are so powerful, they might not want to kill you but they might as well have.

M&C: I assume one has to have a firearm or rifle at all times in Tanana?

On a snowmobile at dusk, the stark beauty is undeniable in the Yukon. Pic credit: Discovery

SZ: Everywhere! I usually have a firearm and a bunch of dogs everywhere I go. I go for a walk into the woods I usually bring both.

And I had both the time I got attacked by the bear so it’s not a 100 per cent guarantee, you know. Anything that happens the film guys are either with us or they travel around with us and catch these things happening.

Then they make a story out of it. That’s how we film the show, they don’t tell us this or that, they just spend time with us going out not knowing what to expect then coming back with a great story.

He caught a moose or a near death experience, it’s filmed, it’s how the show is made.

M&C: When you go back to the lower 48, do you have anxiety about go back?

SZ: I’ve gone back quite a bit in the last ten years because my parents got ill. Especially in the last ten years, I have gone back.

I haven’t seen my family in a year or more, and so you love to see them and then you get to a certain point that this is just a trip.

Like now. I’m used to Boston, but New York City is another world, it’s Boston three times over.

It is fascinating but not really stressful. My wife is with me now. She enjoys the city but we will both be glad to get back to our lives.

M&C: How do you manage the medical bits, checkups, and anything involving a doctor or dentist?

SZ: If something happens, the best you can do is get on an airplane. If it’s really bad they will send out Medivac planes from Fairbanks.

But you are talking about something that takes two and a half hours after a call gets made for the big city and a plane lands in Tanana. It’s another hour and a half before you get to the hospital in Fairbanks.

So people do…you just take that chance. There are sometimes when people don’t make it specifically because of that reason.

But that’s the price you pay for living out here.

M&C: What do people do — or make — in Tanana?

SZ: They don’t do so much to sell outside of the village. Like we have quite a fish camp forty miles upriver from the village, we just live up there and we put up lots of dried fish and fish strips and King Salmon — t’s the best fish in the world.

So we do that. A lot of people make fur hats and fur mitts and gloves. But all of that is kept in the extended family, because it’s quite a bit of work for the seamstresses to keep up with the grandkids and kids’ needs.

It’s not like anyone is looking to sell outside of the village. I tan all my fur, the hides, beaver, wolf, done all that on down for years. When it comes to that kind of stuff we keep it in the village.

M&C: It sounds very green, resourceful. Any other quirks about Tanana?

SZ: Let’s see, gas is $6.50 a gallon which is a lot of the reason why I use dogs. In the early years, there was no way I could afford that. I could barely afford gas for my chainsaw. I built my cabin with a bow saw and an ax.

It’s all about what you want to do. I would rather labor at butchering my own meat and fish and make my dog sleds and be sewing my own harnesses for the dogs than going to work at some job that I didn’t like.

And there’s not a lot of jobs in Tanana, that’s the other thing. I’m not interested in it anyways!

Yukon Men airs Fridays at 9/8c on Discovery

April is an accredited entertainment writer, interviewer and television critic. She is a current member of the Television Critics Association (TCA), Gay and Lesbian Entertainment more

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