Should I admit this? I’m really looking forward to a television show. There are very few programs I watch regularly, and most of the ones I do watch seem to be on the Food network. In a complete departure from my usual pattern, last year my husband got me sucked into the show Deadliest Catch on the Discovery Channel. The first episode of the new season airs tomorrow, Tuesday April 15.
The show tracks the captains and crews of six crab fishing boats in the Bering Sea as they fish for king and opilio crabs through the fall and winter season. First time I heard about it I thought “Hmm. Sounds a bit dull.”
Oh, no, baby. It’s compulsively watchable. This program gives a whole new meaning to the idea of reality tv. It’s nothing like the “reality” of shows like Survivor or The Bachelor or the new one I watched for five horrified minutes last week on MTV (with Flavor Flav choosing among three harsh-looking women). Deadliest Catch is true documentary, and it doesn’t get more real than this.
The show title doesn’t exaggerate the danger these men face. Since Discovery began filming these boats in 1999, several boats in the Alaskan crab fleet have gone down in the dangerous winter seas. Over that time 48 men have had to be rescued at sea, and 44 men were lost. In 2005, the crab boat Big Valley, sister ship to one of the show’s featured ships, went down fast in rough seas with only one survivor. The money the men earn is good, as much as $40,000 for a crew member on a boat with a good haul over a four-to-six week season. But man do they earn it. Shifts of up to twenty hours for two weeks straight on the heaving deck of a ship. Ice-cold waves tossed up over them all day sometimes.
The men are all characters, to say the least. There’s plenty of salty language that gets bleeped out. But much of the time it’s under circumstances that would have me swearing the air blue as well. For instance, there was the time last season when Captain Jonathan of the Time Bandit was gingerly steering his ship through a field of crushing ice that threatened to tear his hull open. I sat on the edge of my seat, feeling the stress and fear he felt for his boat and crew.
This year’s winter crab season is over, and I look forward to seeing how the men fared. I dare you to watch this show and not thank your lucky stars. That your work isn’t life threatening. That you don’t have to show the kind of endurance and raw tenacity that these guys put out in an ordinary day. That you know for sure you’ll be going home at the end of your day.