Sure, the other drivers — including Alex Debogorski and Hugh “The Polar Bear” Rowland — have their fans, but it’s Ms. Kelly who arguably makes the show “appointment TV” for a wide range of viewers.
“You truck girl,” a man in British Columbia posted recently. “I only watch the show to make sure you are doing well OR should I say doing great at what you like doing.”
Tonight’s episode, the second of the eighth season, allows viewers to ride shotgun as drivers negotiate the nastiest roads in Canada to deliver supplies to rural areas.
The 2014 Emmy Award nominations may have snubbed the show in favor of “The Amazing Race,” “Dancing with the Stars,” and “Project Runway” for Outstanding Reality Competition Program, but Matt Ginsburg, the show’s co-executive producer, said “Ice Road Truckers” is rewarded by its ardent fans.
“We have a tremendous fan base that has been loyal since Season 1. It is a cross-section of your typical History Channel viewer,” he said. “At the same time, I [recently] saw a letter from a little kid who wants to be an ice road trucker. The magic of the show is that you don’t need to be a fan of truck driving or trucks in general to love the show.”
Think of “Ice Road Truckers” as a real-life version of the NBC mockumentary “The Office.” The difference, of course, is that the stars are professional, full-time truck drivers.
Crews occasionally film the drivers when they are at home, in their boss’ offices and even at medical clinics, giving viewers a sense of the off-road struggles they face. That’s not to say there aren’t some — perhaps unintentional — comedic elements to the show.
“I don’t like reality shows. But this is a good show about semis and things I like,” a fan with the online handle Animal4055 wrote on a fan board. “It’s also entertaining when they cuss back and forth at each other on the CB radio. The only time it’s bad is when a truck falls through the ice, and that hasn’t happened yet.”
Everyone hopes it never will, but the skills needed to sidestep the possibility is one of the elements that drew the Michigan-born, Alaska-raised Ms. Kelly to the profession. The show, she said, is a great way to keep the work even fresher.
“It is just fun to do,” Ms. Kelly said from her Alaska home late last week as she prepared to ride her horse in a barrel race competition. “It kind of switches things up.
“If my job is to drive a truck all year, this makes it a totally different job, because you’re in [the truck cab] getting to know people. It’s an almost-instant relationship. You can’t kick them out.”
That can make for some tense moments, such as this year when a producer questioned a trucker during a perilous moment on a Canadian ice road. Viewers will see that scene — and the driver’s furious reaction — in a future episode, Mr. Ginsburg said.
The show also creates an additional vulnerability: When the truckers watch the show, they hear the comments made about them when they’re not present.
“I didn’t know [Mr. Rowland] was trash-talking me so bad the whole season,” said Ms. Kelly. “It’s definitely hard when people say things about you. If I was acting, playing a role, I could understand it. But I’m playing me.”