You have to think of “The Odd Couple” when a series about building cabins in the wilderness features a furry, fuzzy fellow in a tee-shirt who’s called Tuffy and city slicker and master builder Paul DiMeo, formerly of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” But Pat “Tuffy” Bakaitis and DiMeo were not paired by Nat Geo Wild execs for the purpose of hosting “Building Wild” (premiered Jan 14). The two are business partners who build cabins in the wilderness with the assistance of the eventual homeowner, who’s required to pitch in with sweat equity. “That’s how we keep our costs down,” DiMeo said. The other twist is that “we look through your farms and your yards and your land, and we find things, and we’re able to repurpose that stuff” as building materials. When a TCA critic told DiMeo her husband would love a cabin but there are no building materials to be found in her yard, Tuffy joked, “We’ll raid the neighbor’s yard.”
All kidding aside, the need to be resourceful with materials is integral to the series. “You’re building a cabin in the middle of nowhere…on top of a mountain…we aren’t two blocks from Home Depot…we’re dealing with the elements…and trying to do it…in five days” to rein in costs, exec prod George Verschoor said. Fortunately, Tuffy’s not only a character but a veteran of wilderness building and he owns five cabins himself. Why so many? Each has a purpose—one is for hunting, another for his family, then there’s the happy-hour cabin for him and his crew, “and obviously I built my wife a camp,” he said to laughter from critics. But can city-boy DiMeo survive out in the wild? While he said “part of me” longs for a cabin in the outdoors, clearly it’s only part of him. “I try not to cry” too much in the forest. Not missing a beat, Tuffy responded, “You do your fair share of crying.”
Rest assured, the trio billed as the Wild Women of Nat Geo Wild aren’t prone to crying. First there’s Dr. Michelle Oakley, a veterinarian in the Yukon Territory who regularly tends to bison and caribou (“The Amazing Dr. Oakley,” April premiere). Next is Susan Denicker, the tough-talking proprietor of an animal-moving business that has transported everything from tarantulas to crocodiles (“We Move Animals,” Jan 18 premiere). Last is Natalie Redding, a shepherdess who spent 6 years roping her 300-pound critters before she found what she calls “my partner in crime,” Lacey, her sheep dog (“Sheer Madness,” March premiere). While Dr. Oakley seemed the meekest of the three ladies, her toughness was apparent when she noted “there are more wolves than people” in the Yukon and that she does a lot of wildlife capture work for preservation groups.
Animal mover Denicker showed a warm side when speaking of her 2 children, yet her steely business acumen and knowledge of regulations impressed. For her company to move a small dog from the U.S. to Australia, “you’re looking at $12,000…the entry permit alone is $600…then you have to pay quarantine fees….” For shepherdess Redding, the sheep business is not for amateurs. While it’s a labor of love for her—her husband’s curly hair led her to love sheep—“my hands are heinous…[the work] is absolutely 1000% brutal and [is] 24 hours a day,” she told critics. We agree with Nat Geo Wild chief Geoff Daniels’s assessment: These are “three of the coolest and greatest working moms I know.”