Published: November 27, 2005: Anchorage Daily News
I spent Thanksgiving giving thanks I was celebrating with turkey instead of king crab.
That’s because I spent a good chunk of the day glued to the Discovery Channel’s “The Deadliest Catch” marathon, a series that shows us just how deadly work can be for the men and women who catch the crab that winds up in our melted butter.
Somehow it would’ve seemed wrong to sit there, a nutcracker in one hand and a crab leg in the other, and watch people risk their lives for my dining pleasure.
I planned to watch for only a couple minutes, but I got trapped like a crab in a baited pot. As a result, I now can casually toss off phrases like “baited pot.” Just don’t ask me why they’re called pots. From the perspective of my La-Z-Boy, they look like cages. Or, from the crab’s perspective, steel-cage death traps.
“The Deadliest Catch” documents triumphs and tragedies from the 2004-05 Bering Sea crab season. It originally aired in 10 one-hour weekly segments last spring and was re-aired in its entirety on Thursday — a marathon conveniently timed with the DVD release of the series.
Anyone hooked on reality TV will love this show. Anyone who eschews reality TV as contrived and stupid will love this show. It puts the “real” in reality.
Crab fishermen take on the unforgiving Bering Sea every year, whether or not a camera crew joins them or a TV network offers prize money.
That’s why the Discovery Channel didn’t need to resort to hyperbole when it came time to pitch the series to viewers. It just stated the facts:
“$140,000 for five days’ work is a job some men would die for. And some do.”
That prophesy was fulfilled in the second half of the series, during January’s snow crab season. On the first day of the opening, six men were killed — one fell overboard to his death and five died when their boat, the Big Valley, sank. Both accidents are touched on during the series, although camera crews weren’t aboard either boat that suffered fatalities.
Needless to say, this isn’t “The Apprentice,” where the show assigns contestants tasks like marketing a new candy bar. This isn’t “Survivor,” where the show dumps people onto a primitive island and lets them eat slugs and otherwise fend for themselves.
About the only thing “The Deadliest Catch” has to do with those shows is some of the fishermen have become minicelebrities. They’re regular guys dressed in rain gear and sporting an assortment of facial hair, but producer Rick Deppe told the Kodiak Daily Mirror last month that women viewers are wild about them because they’re “cute and tough.”
Visitors to a Discovery Channel chat room gush about hunky Blake Painter, a crew member of the Maverick, and young Bradford Davis, a dauntless greenhorn aboard the Northwestern. There’s a group called The Hansenettes who are crazy for Sig Hansen, a blond fourth-generation fisherman who captains a crew that includes two of his brothers on the Northwestern.
“It would behoove the Discovery Channel to publish a calendar of some of the guys on the show,” urged one woman. A man claiming to be Larry Hendricks, captain of the Seastar, responded by saying he hoped the calendar wouldn’t include him. “Cause I’m portly and round.” After that came messages from women saying they adore barrel-chested men.
I sense a spinoff. “The Deadliest Catch” meets “The Bachelor.” Women vie to throw a net over Blake.
(Besides the gushing, the best thing in the chat room was the expected PETA-like rant from a person who made accusations of mass murder and torture, and the LOL-response it inspired: “Wow. I guess the caped crusader of crustacean safety has spoken.”)
Tortured or not, the crabs didn’t get my sympathy. I was too busy worrying about deckhands one misstep away from injury or worse in a job often described as the deadliest in the country.
The filmmakers followed half a dozen boats for each of the two brief Bering Sea crab seasons (80 hours for king crab last October, six days for snow crab last January). The drama is inherent, because the stakes are high — during last January’s snow crab season, for example, 171 boats chased 19.4 million pounds of crab worth an estimated $35 million.
Filmmakers are working on “The Deadliest Catch 2” and have already filmed the October king crab season. Reruns of the first season air occasionally on the Discovery Channel, and are well worth watching.
If nothing else, it’s refreshing to watch something on television about Alaska where the crab isn’t named Stevens and the catch of the day isn’t pork.