Sean Burch explains taking on ‘Ultimate Survival Alaska’ — for no cash prize

December 12, 2013

Sean Burch on “Ultimate Survival Alaska” (Brian Catalina Entertainment/National Geographic Channels)

So here’s the deal: We’ll drop you in the middle of the deserted Alaskan wilderness, where you’ll have to survive polar bears, freezing weather and hypothermia. Oh, and there’s no cash prize – not a dime. You in?

For Fairfax County native Sean Burch, the offer to compete on National Geographic Channel’s “Ultimate Survival Alaska” was too good to pass up.

“I was a little bit fearful, and that’s when I knew I had to do it,” Burch told us Wednesday. The 43-year-old extreme-fitness athlete/motivational speaker has made his mark by tackling expeditions across the globe. “Because that’s the only way you’re going to learn in life – if you’re fearful.”

That’s been the Northern Virginia resident’s mantra for the past decade, ever since he quit his 9-to-5 gig at a resolution dispute firm (good job and great boss, but “sounds as boring as it is”) and, inspired by his final conversation with his grandfather, decided to dedicate himself full time to Extremely Scary Expeditions.

We’re talking scaling mountains, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, running a marathon at the North Pole. Extreme, even for Washington’s obsessive overachievers. But Burch, who started out as a martial arts enthusiast, developed his own fitness program to learn mountain climbing – no easy feat given the shortage of tall peaks on the East Coast. In 2004, he was cited by the Virginia General Assembly for his solo climb of Mount Everest the year before.


Burch (R) and his teammates, Eddie Ahyakak (L) and Dallas Seavey, trekking through the wilderness. (Brian Catalina Entertainment/National Geographic Channels)

Which turned out to be perfect training for “Ultimate Survival Alaska,” a reality show that debuts Sunday at 9 p.m. Burch is one of 12 contestants who are left in the Arctic with only a backpack of gear and 60 hours to show up at a designated location. When the network was casting for Season 2, executives contacted Burch because National Geographic had covered several of his expeditions.

But even for an adrenaline junkie, Burch was a little hesitant to sign on because most of the other competitors were Alaska natives. Sure enough, in the first episode, we see Burch and his teammates: a dog musher and a marathon runner. The dog musher? Right at home racing on a glacier. Burch had to learn on the fly. No need for manufactured drama on this reality show, he told us: With terrifying conditions and multiple type-A personalities, there was already plenty of tension.

The three-month shoot ended in August (Burch couldn’t reveal to us how it turned out), and now he’s home in Warrenton, Va., busy with speaking gigs and his fitness-and-wellness firm, Hyperfitness. He’s really looking forward to seeing how his 9-year-old son reacts to seeing his dad on television.

So, great publicity, but really, no prize money?

“I mean, would it be nice? Absolutely. Do I need the money? Absolutely,” he laughed. “But it’s not like” – Burch slipped into a fake announcer’s voice – ” ‘You might win $100,000.’ . . . It’s not about that at all. It’s about what you’re made of inside.”


In Juneau, Dallas and Sean head out in their two-man sled as Eddie looks on (Brian Catalina Entertainment/National Geographic)

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