Since it first aired in 2005, Discovery Channel documentary series, Deadliest Catch has been keeping audiences on each of their sofas, covering the events of crab fishing vessels on the icy Bering Sea. It’s showcased the lives of the captains and their crews as they risk their lives in one of the deadliest jobs in the world. But there’s a good reason why these men brave massive waves and below freezing temperatures to bring in their haul – the substantial amount of cash they can earn if their Captain gets them “on the crab”. Audiences are hooked on the antics of the fishermen and their skippers and can’t seem to get enough of this real-life high sea adventure.
But just like any other so-called “reality show”, there is plenty that goes on behind the scenes that ends up on the cutting room floor, in order to make it more pleasing to the general audience. The show is of course edited, which means that executives decide what goes in and how they want to frame it. So just what secrets have Deadliest Catch executives been trying to keep from us? What is fact and what is actually just TV fiction? Here are 15 things that they’ve tried to cover up and facts they don’t want you to know…
15. It’s Not Just Coffee Keeping Them Awake
In an exclusive interview with Cracked, Dash Adams, a former deckhand who worked on an Alaskan fishing boat, revealed that the crews of Deadliest Catch might be using more than coffee to keep them awake on those fishing marathons. On the show, we see men working for incredibly long hours when the captain gets them “on the crab” and we all know that even the toughest human being cannot go so long without some kind of stimulation. According to Dash drug use does exist in the industry, but it’s mostly glossed over for the show. And did get a glimpse into one Captain’s struggle with substance abuse when Elliott Ness battled his own inner demons, so what Adams is saying is likely to be true.
14. There’s Always A Camera Crew Stationed With The Coast Guard
The U.S. Coast Guard has often been shown on Deadliest Catch, rescuing crab boat crew members who are unlucky enough to find themselves stuck in the middle of the harsh Bering Sea. Because of the danger of the fishing activities in the area, the U.S Coast Guard keeps rescue squads stationed at their Integrated Support Command in Kodiak, and on their outpost on St. Paul Island, which is near the northern end of the crab fishing grounds. The rescue squad was prominently featured during the loss of vessels like the F/V Big Valley in January 2005 and the F/V Ocean Challenger in October 2006. Because the producers never know what will happen, they always keep a camera crew stationed with the U.S Coast Guard.
13. One Deckhand Sued The Hillstrands And Was Awarded $1.4 Million In Damages
Earlier this year a story concerning the Hillstrand brothers of the F/V Time Bandit surfaced and it did not paint them in a very flattering light. A former deckhand David “Beaver” Zielinski filed a lawsuit against the brothers after an accident onboard in 2013 put an abrupt halt to his long career as a crab fisherman. A firecracker – which was aimed at the F/V Cape Caution (Wild Bill’s boat) at the time – exploded in the launcher he was holding and shattered his right hand and forearm. And not surprising all the film footage from the Discovery Channel, which captured the incident, mysteriously disappeared – how convenient. Zielinski’s lawyers even claimed that a member of the Hillstrand family deliberately destroyed evidence of the grisly incident. David was awarded $1.4 million in damages.
12. The Show Doesn’t Really Cover The Deadliest Type Of Crab Fishing
We can’t argue that Deadliest Catch showcases one of the most dangerous professions in the world but is it actually the deadliest? According to some observers, the show actually doesn’t quite live up to its name because it covers red king and opilio crab fishing, which traditionally do not have the highest death rates for fishermen.
The Dungeness crab industry is far deadlier – with a death rate almost double that of any other type of fishing. This is because Dungeness boats don’t require a Coast Guard safety inspection to get permitted and the industry still operates on a “derby” system which means that inexperienced captains take greater risks to bring in the crab. The Discovery Channel has recognized this and launched a spin-off series covering the Dungeness crab industry called Deadliest Catch: Dungeon Cove.
11. The Cameramen Have Had A Few Close Calls Of Their Own
The crab fishermen aren’t the only ones who put their lives on the line, the Discovery Channel film crew has also had a few close calls. You have to remember that during the early seasons the film crews had very little experience of crab boats and were encountering dangers that are not usually present in documentary filming. And accidents have happened, one cameraman suffered a serious chest injury when his leg fell through an open hatch. Captain Sig Hansen of the Northwestern told talk show host Jimmy Kimmel about another incident when he appeared on his show. He recounted how he saved a cameraman’s life by screaming at him to move just moments before a 900-pound crab pot landed where he had been standing.
10. Producers Need To Be Creative When It Comes To Swearing
Deadliest Catch centers around everyday life in one of the most stressful working environments imaginable, so a lot of rude hand gestures and language has to be censored out to make it appropriate for audiences. That’s why injuries or rude gestures will always be pixilated or blurred out. If you were working in the freezing cold, in the middle of the ocean, with a hundred things that could kill you at any minute you’d swear too right? Well, the men on this show certainly don’t hold back even when the cameras are around. But when it comes to the swearing, the producers have to be creative with their censoring – otherwise, we would just hear bleeps for most of the show. The way they do this is by alternating with other sounds like the “clang” of a hatch door, the ship’s horn, or a burst of radio static.
9. Phil Harris Insisted Discovery Channel Film His Final Hours
During the filming of season 6, Captain Phil Harris (of the Cornelia Marie) complained of feeling tired and went to his room to rest. Not long after one of the crew members found that he had collapsed, and although he was still conscious, he was unable to move the left side of his body. While they waited for the paramedics to arrive Phil insisted that the camera crews continue to film. According to Thom Beers (producer and creator of Deadliest Catch), they honored his wishes and continued to shoot until he was airlifted off the boat. He said, “We want to remember Phil as who he was. We want to remember all the dynamics, but at the same time, the guy was insistent when we were doing this, saying, ‘Dude, you’ve got to. We’ve got to have an end to the story (about the strength and resiliency of familial bonds, especially the father/son bond). You want to film this, film this.'” Harris was rushed to surgery but sadly died from stroke complications a few days later.
8. The Way Greenhorns Are Treated Has Led To Mixed Reactions
Fans of the show aren’t crazy about the way that the greenhorns on the crabbing boats are often treated. Understandably the experienced salt-hardened fishermen have a low tolerance when it comes to poor performance, but sometimes they take it too far with the greenhorns and many fans have commented that their behavior amounts to bullying. The greenhorns do need to listen to the more experienced deckhands (of course – especially if they want to live long enough to spend their share of the haul) but where do you draw the line? And if the greenhorns complain about the treatment (or fight back) then they just get fired the moment the ship returns to port – and that has led to mixed reactions among fans. What do you think of the way the greenhorns are treated?
7. How Much The Captains Really Earn For Appearing On The Show
From what we’ve seen on the show we know that crab fishing is a highly lucrative job on its own but how much are the captains paid by Discovery Channel to appear on the show? It’s estimated that captains can rake in a six-figure income (after expenses) per a fishing season and that’s before their TV earnings hit their bank accounts. Insiders say that the captains earn a per-episode talent fee–standard practice for reality shows and point out that the amount can vary based on how popular the season is with fans. It’s thought that this number might be around the $25,000 mark for guys like Sig Hansen and Bill Wichrowski, and if that estimate is correct, it means they could be earning between $500,000 and $1,000,000 per a season – before they’ve counted a single crab.
6. The Show Almost Lost Sig Hansen And The Hillstrand Brothers
There’s hardly ever a day of smooth sailing on Deadliest Catch, and behind the scenes, things can get pretty turbulent as well. At one point it even looked like Sig Hansen (who also acts as a technical advisor for the show) and the Hillstrand brothers might leave the show because of the issues with the Discovery Channel.
In 2010 the network sued the Hillstrands for $3 million after they failed to finish production on a spin-off show called Hillstranded but just a few months later they announced that they would be returning to show after all. “We’re happy we worked everything out with Discovery,” they said in a statement. “A deal’s a deal. We’re heading up to Dutch Harbor to start filming the new season of Deadliest Catch and hopefully, it will be the best one yet.”
5. Jake Harris’ Downward Spiral
Jake Harris took the death of his father, Captain Harris, hard and has struggled to hold things together. According to People Magazine, not long after his dad passed away Jake was arrested for hit and run accident and was charged with drinking and driving. Then the police were called to investigate claims that Jake was abusing drugs while at sea and his brother Josh confessed that Jake was struggling with substance abuse, brought on by grief. “Jake’s gotta take care of his own stuff right now. Deal with his demons,” he said. It’s sad to see how losing his father has affected Jake, who was so adamant about honoring his father and now seems to be doing quite the opposite. But hopefully, he’ll still be able to turn it all around.
4. You Shouldn’t Believe Everything You See
Like almost any type of reality TV show, you shouldn’t believe everything you see on Deadliest Catch because the show does sometimes exaggerate and dress up real-life events to make them more entertaining for their audiences. In one case the executives made it look as though one of the ships was in danger of sinking under massive waves during a storm (which is a real hazard for crab fishermen) but according to The Hollywood Reporter, the scenes aboard the boat and the waves themselves were not filmed at the same time. They alleged that the choppy waves were actually filmed more than a month later! It should come as no surprise that the Discovery Channel strongly denied this trickery, but we’re not so sure.
3. Their Most Popular Captain Is A Controversy Magnet
Sig Hansen, the captain of the hugely successful Northwestern fishing vessel, is undoubtedly one of the show’s most popular characters but he’s been embroiled in quite a few scandals lately.
Firstly, there are the allegations of abuse from his estranged daughter, who is seeking, surprise-surprise, “an undisclosed amount of damages” from him in a civil suit. So far no evidence has been brought forward to prove these claims and Hansen denies any wrongdoing stating, “This is nothing more than an old-fashioned shakedown. It’s a completely frivolous lawsuit full of lies that my ex-wife made up to take away my daughter, and still uses to try to extort money from me. It’s blackmail.”
2. It’s Not That Hard To Get A Job As A Greenhorn
According to those in the know, it’s really not that difficult to land a job as a greenhorn abroad one of the crabbing boats. On the show, we’ve seen plenty of fishermen come and go, and often seen that the captains aren’t too fussy about those they take abroad. All they need to do is have the appropriate license to fish – which can be easily purchased – and then all that remains is whether or not they can convince one of the captains to give them a shot. If you look like you are decent and can convince the skipper you’re worth the risk, then you’ll be in there like swimwear. Of course, you have to prove yourself once you are aboard and if you’ve lied about something it will probably come back to bite you. But it seems pretty easy to land the deadliest job in the world, doesn’t it?
1. Climate Change Might Spell The End Of The Show
The show might be in trouble – not because of its ratings – but because of the effects of climate change. And if something doesn’t change soon Discovery Channel might not have anything to film. The temperature of the Bering Sea is on the rise, it rose four degrees last year, which might not sound like a lot but it’s 50 times the global average. And this means that the crabs will also be on the move looking for cooler waters. And if there are no crabs, there’s no show. Deadliest Catch executive producer R. Decker Watson, Jr explained, “The first thing that you need in order to film a show about crab fishing are the crabs. If the crabs don’t show up, then we’re all out of business.”
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