Are you sitting down? If not, please brace yourself. It brings me absolutely no pleasure to report this, but 2022 has racked up yet another low stakes, niche community cheating scandal: Fat Bear Week’s voting system, perhaps along with its integrity, has been compromised. Earlier this week, the Katmai National Park Twitter account announced that Holly (Bear 435) had triumphed over Unnamed Male Bear 747 in a semi-final, only to retract her win a day later.
Fat Bear Week is a bracket-style competition designed to name the beefiest bear in Alaska’s Katmai National Park, which is home to over 2,200 brown bears. Slim in the summer, these bears thicken up before the hibernating months, and in a body positive celebration, the public gets to crown one bear the most beloved and buxom among them. In many ways, Fat Bear Week is among the best things to exist, which makes this drama that much more upsetting.
Katmai National Park was quick to make the scandal transparent, which I am sure is a part of their election protocol, and announced that someone had stuffed the ballot box in favor of Holly. The park’s account tweeted, “Fortunately it is easy for us to tell which votes are fraudulent,” and said they tossed the bogus votes. Unnamed Male Bear 747 was named the actual winner-winner-salmon-dinner of this semi-final matchup.
According to the FBW website, Holly has “reared several litters of cubs and in the process has become one of the most experienced bears at Brooks River.” While that is certainly impressive, it can’t be ignored that 747 is ONE OF THE LARGEST BROWN BEARS ON EARTH!!! He weighs nearly 1,400 pounds and is currently the river’s most dominant bear. 747, whose size and number have earned him the nickname Bear Force One, and Holly have both won Fat Bear Week before: 747 took the chunky crown in 2020, and Holly was the 2019 winner. Aside from the two of them, only two other bears have ever won Fat Bear Week since its inception eight years ago: Otis and Beadnose. You read that right: Four bears dominate Fat Bear Week. That, my friends, is the real scandal.
Again: There are over 2,200 bears in Katmai National Forest, yet only four have held the Title of Fattest Bear. Fat Bear Week is an illusion of democracy. Even scientists are in on this joke of a candidate pool—it’s called the Animal Kingdom, not the Animal Democracy. What’s more is that the community’s power dynamics are not reflected in these elections, and they don’t even try to hide it. Do you know the name of the male bear that dominated the best salmon catching spots in Brooks Falls from 2011-2020? Of course not, because he’s never risen to power in the public sphere aka won Fat Bear Week. His name is Unnamed Male Bear 856.
While I deeply love Fat Bear Week, I would appreciate more transparency when it comes to the candidates and their qualifications. Are there more bears in the forest who would be good contenders? Is there dark money behind four-time winning chunk-master Otis? Did the voters spamming the ballot box with votes for Holly have an agenda? Do they know something about 747 that we don’t? These are important questions to ask. Jezebel has reached out to Fat Bear Week to ask how its standards have improved and whether its election security has heightened since the fraud. We have not received a response.
Just remember when you vote—and it’s essential that you do—to do your OWN research on who the fattest, biggest, and most dominant bears are. I’m glad that Fat Bear Week came clean about this latest scandal, but I suspect there is more drama hibernating deep within the fatty outer layer of this organization.