It seems impossible for a reality TV show to surprise anyone these days, but my latest Netflix binge did that and more; I haven't been so emotionally blindsided by something since Nanette.
I started Netflix's Win the Wilderness: Alaska rolling my eyes through the usual reality slog, but by the end, I was sobbing. I then stayed up till about 1am googling the stars of the show because their story is nothing short of Hollywood-worthy.
Sometimes events just scream for the big-screen treatment; for example, I've zero doubt that screenwriters around the world are writing thousands of Covid films this very second. This is one of those moments, and one which I never expected to come out of a reality show, but this one came with a wonderful sucker punch of a twist.
Win the Wilderness is slated as a reality contest in which six couples compete to win a home in the Alaskan wilderness and the trailer shows them undergoing a series of your average reality show challenges to win the top spot.
And at first, things very much go as expected. The couples awkwardly meet and size each other up and we all have a laugh at that one couple who have only been together for a year yet think moving to the middle of nowhere with no one but each other somehow seems like a good idea. Bless 'em.
Their first challenge is to work together to build their camp and it's here we find out what the real deal is; it's not about winning a bunch of challenges to be the last man standing at the end. You could nail every challenge there is - which include surviving cold water shock, navigation, shooting and butchering - and still get sent home because this isn't your average reality show.
The prize is a three-storey log cabin built solely by the hands of an extraordinary couple named Duane and Rena Ose. They spent 30 years clearing the land, building their home, a guest cabin, a greenhouse, a garden and all the infrastructure to keep water running and power on - they've somehow even got WiFi. Oh, and did I mention there's an airstrip?
However, as the Oses are getting older and unable to do the physical work necessary to maintain the property, they've decided to find a couple to inherit - and build upon - their legacy. Duane, who has penned several books about his adventures on the property dubbed Ose Mountain, was approached by a media group to do the show, which was eventually picked up by the BBC and is now available on Netflix.
On making the show, he told a news outlet in Minnesota that he and Rena were "emphatic" that the show be real and refused to "buy into the drama of other reality shows".
He wasn't kidding.
It quickly becomes evident that this isn't a game. It's something the Oses spent a lifetime building and something which the winners will have to give up their entire lives to maintain.
Screening the contestants, the Oses consider whether young couples with the travel bug will stick around to take care of the place and whether older couples have the strength and energy to do the physical work required. Meanwhile, the contestants consider whether they want to leave their families behind, to stop travelling and settle down, and whether they can handle having only one another to lean on.
And while the challenges seem like standard reality-TV fare, they're designed to teach the contestants what's necessary to survive and for the Oses to see if it's even safe to leave these people alone in the wilderness - they're acutely aware that if they pick the wrong couple and that couple gets mauled by a bear, it'll be on their conscience.
But what really sets Win the Wilderness apart is that the second half of the season changes tone dramatically to become part reality contest, part documentary - complete with old footage from the 90s in which Duane and Rena are first laying the foundations of Ose Mountain.
It also gives a tear-jerking insight into their relationship and their journey together, and really hits you in the guts with the gravity of what their decision to leave Ose Mountain really means.
When they finally announce a winner and hand over the keys, it's impossible not to cry. To see them say their final goodbyes to the property and to embrace each other on their trusty quad bike before riding off is heartbreaking. But it's also inspiring to see people who built something so magical, being willing and unafraid to let it go in order to take care of one another and live their best lives together.
By the end of Win the Wilderness you've had a dose of easy-watching reality TV, sure, but you've also witnessed an epic love story, a life's dream realised, a courageous step into the unknown, and also a new couple winning the chance to reinvent their entire lives and repeat history in the best possible way.
I never thought I'd say this about a reality show, but this is beautiful and could've - and should've - been so much more.