Variety reports that Life Below Zero star Sue Aikens—who’s lived for more than a decade in the frozen Alaskan wilderness, 500 miles from the nearest city—is suing production company BBC Worldwide for intentionally endangering her life in the interest of getting better footage for the Nat Geo series. Aikens alleges that a producer ordered and badgered her to perform a number of dangerous actions because they made for “better TV,” and then opted for less efficient, more cinematic medical treatment when she was injured during filming.
Aikens—who operated a hunting camp in the far north for several years before BBC Worldwide pitched her on starring in a reality show—will have a tough battle, legally, to hold the studio accountable. She signed a release when filming first began, agreeing that “As a result of my participation in such activities, I acknowledge that I may suffer serious injuries, which could result in my death. Nevertheless, I am voluntarily participating in these activities with knowledge of the danger involved and I assume all risks of personal injury (including death) to myself associate with my participation in the Series.”
The focus of Aikens’ complaint is producer Aaron Mellman, whose other credits include Cold Justice and Duck Dynasty. Aikens claims that Mellman frequently asked her to film shots that she knew were dangerous, including working in a 72-below windchill without a facemask because “Mellman thought the audience needed to see her better.” More seriously, Aikens claims Mellman ordered her to drive her snow machine down a frozen river covered in dangerously slick overflow, telling the episode’s safety crew that “they worked for him and not for Aikens.” When Aikens ultimately relented, she was thrown from her machine, with the episode crew opting not to airlift her out, but instead drive the wounded Aikens six miles in freezing weather before ultimately flying her to a clinic. Aikens’s suit says that one cameraman filmed a statement disagreeing with Mellman’s choices, including telling crew they’d be fired if they helped the injured Aikens to the plane. Aikens suffered a broken collarbone and other serious injuries from the crash.
Aikens also alleges that Mellman drank “six gallons of whiskey” during the shoot, including from her personal supply, and that the production team mistreated her dogs. You can read her full complaint, enumerating a great many alleged abuses on the part of the producers, and Aikens’ general sense of being unable to say no to them, here. BBC Worldwide has yet to respond to the claim.