This is actually perhaps one of the most dangerous “reality” tv shows to have ever aired on American tv screens. Working as a fisherman is no simple task; the chances of injury are pretty well 100%. The chances of death are probably one in a few hundred – which is not a good stat. So, The Deadliest Catch really has the potential to be a deadly tv show
That being said, how much of the show is actually real? Did the producers get everything right? Or did they just really get the crab fishing occupation completely wrong? Well, there is an answer to that, but it’s not as simple as yes or no. The answer is basically yes and no. Given the title of the article, I’m sure that doesn’t surprise you.
So, let’s look into the death and destruction of both the reality and the fakery behind The Deadliest Catch. The show did get some pretty important things right, but on the flip side of that, they also got some pretty important facts wrong. Not to mention the fact that the show’s existence has done the fishing industry wrong simply by existing.
16. Right – Camera Operators Don’t Get Special Treatment
Typically, in a “reality” tv show, camera operators get to film what they film and then head back off to their hotel room where they get to pamper themselves. There are very few productions where they really have to brave some crazy stuff. Planet Earth camera operators can have a hard time. Bear Grylls‘ cameraman does some crazy sh*t, but he still gets a hotel at the end of the day. The camera guys on The Deadliest Catch basically become part of the crew. So, in terms of getting in the way on the ship and constantly interrupting work, that’s not typically the case (aside from the camera guy at the helm with the captain). The fact that the camera operators are not pampered and get tossed around on the ships just like the crew (but with poorer visibility) is something they did very right.
15. Wrong – Far More Death And Injury In Reality
“Basically, the ocean wants you dead. If you wind up going overboard, the odds are heavily in the ocean’s favor — you’ve got roughly 20 minutes of useful survival time in water under 41 degrees Fahrenheit, even if you’re the world’s best swimmer. And there are just so, so many ways you can wind up in the water,” says deckhand Dash Adams. Adams is of the opinion that the show really didn’t show enough of just how deadly the job is. That being said, the show obviously can’t show off a ton of death. It doesn’t help that the show only follows about 6 of the hundred or so boats out there in the fishing season, but even with the injuries, it’s clear that they don’t show off everything that happens. I think shying away from that reality of the job is wrong.
14. Right – Derby Style Fishing Competitions
The very first season of the Deadliest Catch was back when the crabbing season up north was still a derby-style competition. This is something that the show talked about and got to actually show off a little. This helped the show build who they wanted to follow as the heroes and villains of the series as well. The following year, the regulations were changed for crabbing to try and make things safer (even though it took a ton of business from otherwise poor fishermen). I think it’s a credit to the show that they really did get into the details of both of these systems and that they got to show just how some fishing crews will work to screw over other crews…but will still show up to help them if someone goes overboard, or the ship has a fire or is capsizing.
13. Wrong – Faking Weather For Dramatic Purposes
This is something that the producers really did wrong. I was very surprised that they would even bother to do this considering that the life of these fishing crews is already dramatic enough, I think. At least when it comes to battling the environment. Anyhow, one of the ships happened to have a leak, but I guess the producers didn’t think this was enough drama for the show. So, what did they do? They waited until there was a heavy storm, then filmed that, and then they cut it with the leaking boat. This gave audiences the illusion that there was a raging storm battering the ship while the crew was trying to deal with the leak in the hull. Again, I think these guys have a pretty crazy life already, so the fact that the producers thought they needed to fake things like these dramatic moments, is pretty pathetic.
12. Right – The Fishing Fleet Has Been Heavily Reduced
Here’s something that they sort of got right but sort of wrong as well. The crabbing fleet up north has been greatly reduced over the years, especially since The Deadliest Catch began airing. After the derby-style race to catch as much crab as possible was stopped, crews couldn’t necessarily afford to get a ticket for the new “quota” system. Smaller boats were not given a large enough quota to make a living off of, so they had to call it quits. The show does capture some of this happening, and also does talk a decent amount about the change in systems. It’s good that they add that educational element about how the system is changing. It is sad to know though that The Deadliest Catch is at least partially responsible for some of these regulations and for some of these fishing crews losing their livings.
11. Wrong – There Is Rampant Drug Use In The Business
Here is something they definitely did not go out of their way to film in the show. Drug use and abuse. Now, it was always going to be unlikely that they would show this on the Discovery Channel simply because there would be law enforcement coming in and busting fishing crews and perhaps even the production crews. But it can’t be helped that this is something the producers got wrong. There is rampant drug use. Essentially, at least 85% of these fishing crews are on something while they are out on their expeditions. Deckhand Adams had this to say about the drug scene on boats, “Toughing it out can easily get you killed. You will fall asleep on your feet, so a lot of fishermen do about anything they can get their hands on. It’s a fine line between taking enough to do your job and not taking so much you trip over the railing and die.”
10. Right – The Jake Anderson Rescue
Here is something that the film crew definitely caught and didn’t doctor in the editing. There were two Jakes who were deckhands on two different ships. They were being swapped by the ships and so a transfer at sea had to be made. This is no easy thing, and perhaps the swap was set up by the production team. I don’t know that for sure, but the ridiculous situation of swapping crew members does seem like a risk these crews wouldn’t normally take. Anyway, one of the Jakes was transferred easily, but Jake Anderson ended up in the drink, unable to swim back to either boat. He even almost ended up heading directly toward the props on the back of one boat. This was a legitimate life and death concern that thankfully ended up with Anderson back on board, but not without a lot of stress.
9. Wrong – Messing With Crab Quotas
Ok, so the crab quota system is not the easiest thing to explain. I will try to do so quickly while stating how the Discovery Channel has messed everything up. The quota system is basically based on the size of your ship and the ability to buy certain tickets or tags for a certain quota. Often times, smaller vessels can’t get a big enough quota to actually make enough money to make it worth their while going out on the water. With the Discovery Channel buying up so many of the quota tags for the crews on The Deadliest Catch, this has led to the decline in value of the crab fishing industry. That has further put other boats out of business. So, the show might talk about the new system, but people neglect to mention how the Discovery Channel is actually killing the industry they’re filming. They’re putting fishermen out on the street, basically.
8. Right – The Kodiak Crew And The Sinking Ship
Alright, to be fair the entry title is a little misleading. The Kodiak didn’t actually sink. But it did end up out of the show for a time. The captain of the boat and the owner of the boat had a bit of a disagreement between seasons of The Deadliest Catch, so a different boat had to be found for the captain to keep going. That doesn’t change the fact though that after a season with the Kodiak, Captain Wild Bill got rid of every single crew member with the exception of Zach Larson. Wild Bill was given his name because of the amount of yelling and crazy talk he seemed to have on the show. That was selective editing, but his canning of almost his entire crew was definitely real. And that’s not an unusual thing to have happen. If a crew doesn’t work well with a captain, as soon as they hit land, the crew is gone.
7. Wrong – The Elliott Neese Drama Is All Fake
For those of you who watched the show, you’ll know Elliott Neese and the way that he was becoming the main villain on The Deadliest Catch. It’s pretty sad that the producers feel the need to have heroes and villains in a show where most of these guys are seconds away from injury and death for hours and hours at a time. But I guess they think that would boost ratings enough. Anyway, it is very interesting to hear that Neese claims that all of the drama with his “character” is completely made up. Now, of course, this could just be a villain lying to us all because he wants us to believe he’s a good guy, but I’m inclined to believe him. I mean, he’s got no real reason to lie. He’s making money on the show, so it hardly matters if he’s good or bad. The reality is that he has a crew and he is a hard-ass captain. You have to be firm to make it in the crabbing business.
6. Right – Leave The Women And Children Alone!
This is something that is very important to the crabbing industry. the baby crabs and the female crabs all have to be left alone. And it’s a serious charge if you’re caught with either when you bring your final haul in. Inspections can be brutal and even just a couple of baby crabs or a couple of female crabs can result in heavy fines, the loss of an entire load of crab (and therefore no money for all the work), or even the loss of the entire boat! So, it is of great importance that they sort through the crab quickly enough to get more in, but with enough scrutiny to be able to get all of the “women and children” out. This is something they hammer home on the show. I’m not sure how the hell you tell the difference. I imagine it’s both a size and color thing, but I am just very happy that I don’t have to be the one sorting through a mountain of crab.
5. Wrong – The Captains Didn’t Want The Show At First
This is a very interesting thing. The Deadliest Catch would have you believe that having the camera crew wandering around the decks and the cabins are just totally normal and that the captains have no real care about them being there; they’re just like part of the fishing crew. But that was not the case at all when the producers first approached the captains in the show. Of the six vessels they began following, only one of the captains was on board (pun intended) with the project right away. Every other captain took some persuading to coax them into it. What was their gripe? Well, if I were a fishing captain, I wouldn’t want two extra bodies on my boat who aren’t doing anything useful for the fishing season. They were finally persuaded by the producers when they mentioned it would show their legacy…too bad it’s a heavily edited legacy sometimes.
4. Right – Fishermen Don’t Sleep
Deckhand Adams, when talking about the drug use on fishing boats, commented about sleep as well. “…if you can find a better way to stay awake and alert for six days while the entire ocean is trying to swallow you, I’d like to hear it. And I mean I’d seriously like to hear it – there’s an industry full of people who will make you insanely wealthy for this fabulous invention, and I want in on the ground floor.” On The Deadliest Catch, you actually get to see moments where new fishermen are wandering around the boat sleepwalking. That is a very dangerous thing. This is something the show definitely gets right. And they’re lucky they didn’t have to film someone sleepwalking over the rail of the boat. This is why drugs are such a big part of the industry. Drugs can kill…but so can sleep.
3. Wrong – Brown King Crabs Aren’t In The Bering Sea
This is a very interesting error in the show. Most of the show takes place in the Bering Sea, where all of the crews go out, drop their pots (crab cages), and troll along, hoping that they catch a ton of crab to fill their quota. Now, there are many different types of crab. One of the men working on the show, Mike Rowe, was talking about the bounty of the Bering Sea when bringing up a load of brown king crab. What’s interesting about that though is that brown king crabs are not found in the Bering Sea at all. They’re caught off the coast of Alaska. I don’t know if you think so as well, but that really makes me wonder just how real the whole show is. There is a lot that seems dangerously real, but if they don’t even know what crabs they’re fishing for…then how the hell can I really take the show seriously?
2. Right – Phil Harris’ Stroke And Death
This is something I’m surprised even made it on to the show at all. Captain Phil Harris, during shooting, had a stroke while at his seat at the helm of his boat. What’s kind of crazy about this is that the cameraman captured the whole thing… rather than trying to help him out. But that stroke was very real. Thankfully, the crew rushed to help him and they managed to get him to a hospital, but not soon enough. I’m not sure if he would have died anyway, but camera crews caught everything from the moment of the stroke to his last moments on his deathbed in the hospital. It’s amazing to know that his son, while distraught over the loss of his father, did a very typical fisherman thing which is: immediately think of the fate of the fishing boat, rather than what he was going to do with his now dead father. That is sadly real.
1. Wrong – Unless You Look Crazy…You Get The Job
Here’s something that they don’t really touch on in the show, but it’s pretty clear that the Discovery Channel really only wanted to follow fishermen who were at least decent-looking. You don’t really see much of a rag-tag crew. They all look pretty clean and straight-up sort of guys. But there are some sketchy looking guys in reality. You don’t need to train to get the job. You just need to lie and not look like Charles Manson. Deckhand Adams said, “I personally was hired because I’m from the same place as one of the crew and I ‘didn’t look like a Charles Manson.’ That was the sum total of my qualifications to do what is, let me remind you, one of the most dangerous jobs on Earth.” The Deadliest Catch makes it look like all of these guys are trained for what’s going on (aside from when they poke fun at greenhorns)…but that’s just not the case.
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