One of my guilty pleasures is shows like “Ice Road Truckers” and “Deadliest Catch”. The former is on The History Channel, the latter on The Discovery Channel. Both have really drawn me in, so I set the DVR to catch new episodes of both.
But a couple of days ago, somebody on Facebook asked the question, and I’m paraphrasing, “Why would anyone want to watch “Deadliest Catch”? It’s just a bunch of macho posturing”. I replied, and then the comment was taken down for some reason. It’s a fair question, but it made me think about why I watch such shows.
What I see in these two shows is real reality TV. While there are a few things that are a little contrived, such as the scorecard on who’s catching the most crabs or who’s moved the most freight over the ice road, there is genuine human drama in these programs. Particularly “Catch”, where so many of the fishing operations are generations-old family run businesses that can live or die by success of a very short crab season. The skippers have hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in boats, traps, fuel, food, and (apparently) cigarettes. The spend weeks putting in 48 hour+ shifts on the heaving deck of a crab boat in freezing weather and sometimes 20-30 foot seas.
You can see why they might be given to a little machismo.
But I think the real appeal is that so much of “Reality Television” has very little to do with reality. Shows like “Survivor” or “Apprentice” or even some of my favorite cooking shows such as “Next Food Network Star” or “Top Chef” are contrived contests with a big payoff at the end. It’s fine, and I like to watch them, but it’s not what the contestants do every day. They come together for the purpose of the competition, and most go home with little more than the memories and a “great experience”.
What “Catch” and “Truckers” bring to the table is true reality. Here are people doing the jobs they’d done long before the television cameras were allowed onboard, and will be doing long after the interest in them has faded and television is off to the next fad. I’m sure there is some compensation from the cable networks for allowing them to film, and that’s fine. But they’re doing the same job for the cameras as they would have if the only thing they got at the end of the day was a paycheck, or the ability to keep their boat.
The sea under any conditions is a particularly harsh and unforgiving mistress. Things can go wrong on a flat calm day that can cost you your life. On the Bearing Sea under hurricane conditions … 70+ miles per hour winds and 30 foot + seas hauling half-ton steel cages full of crabs when the outside base temperature is about 35-40 degrees … well, it’s not exactly a pleasure cruise.
There are very few of us who would want to have a television crew follow us around on our jobs, and for the most part anyone else would find it to be crashingly boring. A lot of people I know who HAVE jobs think they’re crashingly boring … and in some cases they’d be right. And obviously for some, the thought of watching someone else fish for crabs is not exactly entertaining. I suppose that part of it is the sailor that lives not very far under the surface of me … who feels a twinge when he hears Jimmy Buffett sing “As the son of a son of a sailor, I went out on the sea for adventure”. I’ve felt the call of the ocean strongly enough that I now live within walking distance of the Atlantic. Some might ask is it work risking men’s lives for a tasty crustacean? I suppose the only people who can answer that question are the guys on the decks and in the wheelhouses.
But watch a couple of episodes, and you may never complain about the price of king crab again.