Tom and I are huge fans of a reality show called “Deadliest Catch”. We’ve watched it religiously for 13 years. The show follows six or seven crab boats, based in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, as they fish for crab each year in the Bering Sea.
Crab fishing used to be known as the most dangerous profession in the United States because of the high rates of injuries and deaths on crab boats each season. It’s less deadly these days, but still treacherous. An intrepid production crews live on the boats with the fishermen while they fish. They film conversations with and between the captain and the crew as well as following the ups and downs of the hunt for large quantities of the lucrative crab.
Why do we avidly watch people fishing day after day? Well, the viewers also get to know the captain and crew very well. There’s always tension between crew members and/or between crew members and the captain. On several boats, the captains bring along family members as part of the crew – brothers, sons, nephews, even a daughter once. So there’s plenty of family drama as well.
We’ve followed medical crises, including heart attacks, injuries, addiction, and even the death of a beloved captain. We’ve watched fights and feuds as well as bonding and friendship both on the boats and between the boats. You get to really like some captains and hate others because of their style of leadership, bad judgment, arrogance or quick tempers.
It’s fascinating to watch these men live in close quarters for weeks at a time under stressful work conditions in the middle of nowhere. This definitely creates an unusual dynamic. I used to think that the personal relationships and the personalities of the captains were the main elements that kept us watching week after week, year after year.
But I realized that I would not watch this show, with the same people, if they were on fire trucks instead of crab boats. It’s not just the characters or their dangerous jobs that keep us watching. The sea and its unpredictability is a major character in the drama. That’s what makes the show riveting. There are frequent, treacherous storms throughout the season. Winds can get to more than 60 miles an hour and the seas and waves can grow to be more than 30 feet high. Yet the men fish through all but the worst storms!
It’s mind boggling to watch these boats take on giant waves, smashing through them or being catapulted from side to side like children’s toys.
The sea is also isolating. Each boat fishes over 100 miles from their home port. They are often far, far away from any land. The boats are often far away from each other as well. So when something breaks on a boat, which happens frequently, the crew is totally on their own. They have to figure out how to fix it without a trip to the store or any outside advice. They at least have to be able to patch things up enough to be able to limp back to shore for repairs.
There is something mesmerizing about these men, alone in a giant and tempestuous sea, trying to find crabs and stay afloat and alive. This is one of the few shows we actually watch on the night it airs. We can’t wait to see the next episode.
We’re not alone. The show airs in over 200 countries and has lasted for 13 seasons!
Who’d have thought anyone would be at the edge of their seats, waiting to see if a crab pot coming over the edge of a boat is full of crabs or empty? Who’d have thought the same story every week would keep us coming back for more than a decade?
And there’s no sex and almost no violence. Go figure!