About Sam Carlson
Sam Carlson was born in the early 1960s, and has lived all his life in the small Alaskan community of Port Protection, which is the subject of the National Geographic series of the same name. In the show, the trapper and commercial fisherman is nicknamed The Engineer, thanks to his skills as a self-taught inventor and jack-of-all-trades.
Prior to becoming a small-screen celebrity, Sam is believed to have married and formed a family in the early 1980s. Although his wife doesn’t like to appear in “Port Protection”, Sam’s son Matt is a regular cast member, who’s following in his father’s self-sufficient footsteps.
During the sixth season of “Port Protection”, viewers got to witness a heartwarming family reunion as Sam’s youngest son Kelly visited the Carlson clan for a short stay, which included a fishing trip and other activities. However, this sparked concerns, as Sam’s fans began speculating that Kelly’s unexpected visit was due to his father’s ailing health.
So, where did the health concerns come from? In late December 2022, a Facebook user posted: “Prayers for Sam Carlson. Hope he’s OK,” on the social media platform’s official Port Protection group; it was later confirmed by other users that Sam had suffered a mild heart attack, and had to be airlifted to the nearest hospital. Thankfully, news outlets later reported that Matt had provided fans with a health update, and posted that his father was recovering well.
As a staple of the show since its inaugural season, viewers can’t imagine “Port Protection” without Sam’s steady presence, and were thrilled to hear that the ingenuous Alaskan has now recovered from his heart attack, and is taking good care of himself.
For those who aren’t as familiar with Sam and his personal life, we can confirm that the TV star studied at Garfield High School, then matriculated from Ketchikan High School in the late 1970s. Before being contacted by National Geographic, Sam was the breadwinner of the family, working as a tour guide for Kawanti Adventures. His interests include reading about quantum physics, perfecting his woodworking skills, and enjoying everything nature has to offer.
Sam’s son Matt originally moved away from Port Protection, when his relationship with longtime girlfriend Kaylee became serious. Matt and Kaylee would later marry and have a daughter named Shipley, but the couple separated, and Matt decided to return to his hometown and roots. From hunting tactics to survival tips, Sam has made sure to teach his prodigal son everything he knows.
As for his other son, Kelly Carlson would be considered the black sheep of the family, as he is radically different from his father and brother. Kelly currently resides in Seattle, Washington State, and plays bass for Raw Dogs, an edgy indie band, under the stage name Kelly Carcinogen. It remains unclear if he and his wife Celeste Mora share any children.
Matt Carlson "The Prodigal Son." Sam’s son, Matt grew up in Port Protection but moved to the mainland where he lived with his partner Kaylee & daughter Shipley. Now, Matt & Kaylee are separated so Matt returned home to spend quality time with his father and get back to his roots. pic.twitter.com/pwJgNsARG8
— Life Below Zero (@LifeBelowZeroTV) January 19, 2021
Port Protection is a census-designated place (CDP) in Alaska’s Prince of Wales-Hyder Census Area. With a population of just 36 as of 2020, the CDP’s total area is 3.91 square miles. Port Protection made national news in the mid-1970s, when three Point Baker residents – Alan Stein and Charles and Herb Zieske – filed a landmark lawsuit against the US Forest Service. The lawsuit, which was initiated by Alan Stein and the Point Baker Association, halted the US Forest Service’s plans to clear-cut 400,000 acres of land on the North end of Prince of Wales Island.
Port Protection and Point Baker made headlines yet again in 1989 with another landmark lawsuit, Stein v Barton, as many residents of both areas fought for the protection of the Salmon Bay watershed. Despite its minuscule population, Port Protection later caught the attention of the National Geographic Channel, and spawned two reality documentary series: “Life Below Zero: Port Protection”, and the spin-off, “Lawless Island”.
As of 2000, there were 63 people in Port Protection spread out across 52 housing units. With a median household income of just over $10,000, it’s interesting to note that over half of the population was living below the official poverty line.
“Port Protection” – TV Show
The National Geographic series “Port Protection” first aired in July 2015, and has been offering viewers a glimpse into the isolated lives of members of the remote Alaskan community ever since. With no government assistance or law enforcement in the area, the residents of Port Protection have opted to fend for themselves, and cheerfully make the best of their unusual circumstances.
Apart from Sam and Matt Carlson, the other main cast members of “Port Protection” were Gary Muehlberger, Hans and Timbi Porter, Mary Miller, Stuart Andrews, Timothy Leach, David Squibb, Amanda Makar and Litzi Botello.
Gary Muehlberger’s tragic death was announced in March 2021. Having lived in Alaska for almost four decades at the time of his passing, Gary’s wealth of knowledge and specific skillset – especially his trapping and fishing expertise – made him a real asset to the community.
The TV star’s death came as a big shock to his fans, and a Facebook post from the official Life Before Zero page described the survival expert as someone who “had an incredibly big heart, epitomized so much of the human spirit and welcomed the world into his life with open arms”. Within hours, thousands of fans had expressed their condolences – it was confirmed that Gary had died in a house fire; Gary’s beloved pet dog Trapper would die in the following months.
In June 2021, while many were still mourning Gary’s untimely demise, fans of “Port Protection” were once again left reeling by the announcement of Litzi Botello’s death, which was posted online by her husband John Dean. According to John, Litzi had been fighting cancer since winter 2020, and passed away peacefully at the couple’s home. It remains unclear if Litzi was undergoing chemotherapy or other cancer treatments following her diagnosis.
About “Life Below Zero”
“Port Protection” is part of the successful “Life Before Zero” franchise, which is viewed by millions on a weekly basis. The National Geographic documentary series, which is currently in its 17th season, first aired in May 2013, and is produced by BBC Studios.
The cast members of “Life Below Zero” are all rugged Alaskans who survive off the land, and spend months preparing for the harsh and unforgiving winter seasons of the area. The main cast members are Sue Aikens, Glenn Villeneuve, Chip and Agnes Hailstone, Jessie Holmes and Andy Bassich; former cast members include Erik and Martha Mae Salitan.
Sue Aikens tries her hand at fishing during the summer season along the Kavik River.
Sue Aikens was born in July 1963 in Chicago, Illinois. The TV personality and producer had an unstable childhood caused by the separation of her parents, and in the early 1970s, a young Sue began moving from place to place with her mother, until they settled down in Alaska in 1975.
After completing high school at just 13 years old, thanks to participating in an accelerated learning program at Lowell Whiteman School, Sue learned how to hunt with a rifle and other invaluable skills that would serve her well in the years to come. These days, Sue is the sole resident of the Kavik river camp, almost 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle.
To say that Sue has had an interesting life would be an understatement. In 2007, the TV star was attacked by a male grizzly bear, and only escaped the situation thanks to her tenacity and quick thinking. It all began when Sue noticed the grizzly bear burying caribou carcasses in an open space near her camp that she used as a helipad. Sue removed the carcasses – and was attacked by the bear days later while fetching water from the nearby river.
“The bear was hiding in a riverbank that I couldn’t see and he snatched me up, dragged me into the tundra between the dining hall and the river,” Sue explained in an interview. Although Sue managed to escape and shoot the bear, she was badly injured, having dislocated both hips during the harrowing incident.
Ten days passed before Sue was found by anyone. In that time, she called the troopers and other people in hopes of getting help – but didn’t receive an answer., Sue was totally vulnerable and unable to protect herself due to her injuries for almost two weeks. Although she made a full recovery, the “Life Below Zero” star feels the scars to this day.
Chip and Agnes Hailstone, along with their seven children, live on the Kobuk River in Noorvik. Before relocating to Alaska, Chip resided in Kalispell, Montana, whereas Agnes is a native Alaskan with thousands of years of family ties to the area. Agnes’s distinctive chin tattoo was given to her when she reached puberty, symbolizing her maturity and work ethic; it’s believed that her first marriage to a fellow native Alaskan took place when both were young adults.
Glenn Villeneuve relocated from Vermont to Alaska in 1999, and for many years lived alone in Chandalar, 200 miles north of Fairbanks. Although many are fascinated by Glenn’s unconventional lifestyle, his childhood was also rather unusual, as he only attended school for one year before being home-schooled by his parents.
Not much is known about Glenn’s life before becoming a small-screen celebrity, but we can confirm that he has two children named Willow Leaves and Wolf Song from his first marriage. He shares a daughter Agatha with his second wife, Trisha Kazan, and has also adopted Trisha’s daughter Amelia.
Glenn’s first wife, Silvia Daeumichen, is a German opera singer. The couple tied the knot in 2001 and welcomed their children in 2006 and 2009; however, their differences became more and more evident as time passed, as Silvia was disillusioned with her life in Alaska. There isn’t much online information regarding Silvia’s whereabouts these days, but it’s interesting to note that Willow and Wolf live with their father and Trisha.
As a self-described nomad, Glenn has never spent too long in one place; in 2019, he left the cast of “Life Below Zero” and disappeared from the public eye. Fans were angered by Glenn’s departure, as it is believed that he was asked to leave the show by the production team. Keeping in mind that the former National Geographic alum has no social media, it’s almost impossible for fans to keep up with Glenn’s comings and goings.
Next is Jessie Holmes, who lives in Brushkana with dozens of sled dogs. The fisherman, hunter, and dogsled racer joined the cast of the show in 2015, but was an outdoors enthusiast long before then. Born and raised in Odenville, Alabama, Jessie became interested in survival skills during his formative years.
After a three-year work stint as a carpenter in Montana, Jessie and his dog Freedom moved to Alaska to begin their off-the-grid existence. Their first stop was the city of Eagle, on the US-Canada border. The duo later moved to Nenana, where Jessie perfected his fishing and hunting skills, and worked as a musher.
Jessie was going through a bad break-up when he was contacted by National Geographic to appear in “Life Below Zero”, and was at first totally against the idea. However, he later changed his mind and became a recurring cast member. When he isn’t busy filming and surviving in the harsh wilderness, Jessie participates in the yearly Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race and similar events.
Similarly to Jessie, Andy Bassich lives near Eagle with his 25 sled dogs. In the early 2000s, he and his wife Kate left Washington D.C behind, and settled down in Alaska; sadly, the couple divorced for unknown reasons in 2016. A charismatic and likeable individual who is described by many as the show’s fan favorite, it didn’t take Andy long to find love again, with his new girlfriend, Denise.
A potentially life-threatening injury led to Andy missing out on six months of filming. After recovering from the muscle and bone infections caused by said injury, Andy returned to the show, having spent half a year receiving treatment in Florida.
New seasons of “Life Below Zero” have yet to be confirmed. However, “Port Protection” is currently in its eighth season, and has received positive viewing figures.