Thursday, July 15, 2010

Feeling Like We Know Them

I struggled this month to come up with a topic about which I had something to say. I tried two or three and ended up erasing them all. I sat back and let my mind wander. What had I been thinking about lately? And then it hit me.

For the past few years, I've been a big fan of the Discovery Channel's reality show Deadliest Catch. Unlike many low-brow garbage reality shows, Deadliest Catch actually has a ring of reality to it. Each week, we're taken on a journey into the deadliest job in the world, crab fishing on the volatile Bering Sea. I'm amazed at what these guys face just to keep the world in crab legs. They fish in hurricane force winds, huge seas that will tip a boat without thinking twice, and crippling ice that can sink a boat in no time flat. They haul up crab pots while it's way below zero and they're soaking wet. It looks like my idea of hell, quite frankly.

But it's not the crab that interest me so much but rather the people who go out in search of them, their very human stories. We see so many sides of these guys -- the utter fatigue after working for 20 hours straight, the frustration when the crab pots come up empty and they're basically working for free, the jubilation when a crab pot comes up full, the thought and effort that goes into some of the best practical jokes on the planet, the grief when they lose one of their own (at a staggering rate of one person per week during crab season). We are witnesses to fights among the crews, injuries, near-death experiences, the stress captains constantly live with, family dynamics since many of the boats have multiple family members on board, and the sort of wild cowboy mentality many of these guys have. It's obvious from the start of the theme song -- Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive" ("I'm a cowboy, on a steal horse I ride") -- to the shots of the chain smoking and bleeped words.



To be honest, I probably don't have a lot in common with these hardy fishermen, and I think that's part of what makes Tuesday nights fun. I get to watch a slice of life I'll never experience, get glimpses into the lives of people who aren't just characters, who haven't gone soft with the ease of modern society. They're real, and over time you grow to feel like you know them even though you've never met. Sig Hansen of the Northwestern's hard-driving fishing style, Johnathon and Andy Hillstrand's hilarious senses of humor aboard the Time Bandit, the Harley-driving/rock-and-roll listening/tell it like it is lifestyle of Phil Harris on the Cornelia Marie and his insistence that he could smell crab farts (which met with much teasing). I can't tell you how many times I've laughed out loud at Johnathon's crazy jigs in the wheelhouse when the fishing is good or been on the edge of my seat as the Coast Guard races into horrendous weather to rescue a crew in trouble.

I'm the kind of person who gets attached to fictional characters even though I know they're not real. When Buffy killed Angel in season 3, I bawled like a baby! So when it's real people, it's even harder to watch -- and yet you can't stop watching. There have been deaths on Deadliest Catch through the years, but they were never among the featured crews. The boats going down emphasized that this is, indeed, the deadliest job in the world. You saw how it affected the crews we did see each week. And you prayed that this never happened to them. So far, it hasn't, thank goodness. But this season suffered a major loss anyway. In January, while in port at St. Paul Island, Alaska, Captail Phil Harris of the Cornelia Marie suffered a major stroke and had to be flown to Anchorage. He pulled through the initial surgery to relieve pressure on his brain and looked to be on the mend before he suffered a second event and passed away in early February, leaving his sons Josh and Jake, deckhands aboard the Cornelia Marie, to keep his legacy alive. For a guy who wasn't hot on a cameraman in his wheelhouse in the early years, it was amazing that he asked to see the cameraman who'd become his friend while he still couldn't talk. He wrote on a piece of paper to keep filming, that "you have to get the end of the story." And thus, we witnessed the final days of Phil Harris and all the raw emotions felt by family, friends, his crew and fellow captains. Just thinking about that makes me want to cry.

And I'm not the only one who felt this way. Millions of people love this show, these crews, Phil. They've converged on memorial services and shed tears, filled online message boards to bursting, and watched Phil's final few episodes to the tune of 5 million viewers -- astounding numbers for a cable show. Phil provided endless hours of entertainment, but perhaps one of the most important things he left with viewers was the knowledge that we should cherish every day because we never know when it might be our last.

Rest in peace, Captain Phil.


32 comments:

Gillian Layne said...

So very hard to watch, wasn't it? I also agree it's very, very real. Those are normal, rough around the edges, hardworking people doing the best they can in a pretty impossible job. I cried, too.

Donna MacMeans said...

Way to rooster snatch, Gillian!

I've not seen this show, but - as Maryland born and bred - I do love my crab! Not the Alaskan king crab that I imagine they catch. I like the Chesapeake Bay variety - steamed in the shell covered with Old Bay seasoning, then dumped on a table covered in newspaper. Yum!

Loved the crab slicing the turkey for Thanksgiving.

L'Aussie said...

I love this show. Yes, I agree, a great deal above the usual reality show garbage..:)

PinkPeony said...

Every time I watch that show I think of the movie "The Perfect Storm". I order Dungeness crab every December for my clients who don't live in CA from The Alioto Fish Co. on Fisherman's Wharf. One year, the weather was bad and I had to wait a few days before they had fresh crabs available. I asked if they watched the show and they said yes, but they never went out in bad weather, that they were wimps compared to those guys on the show. Congrats in the GR, Gillian!

Helen said...

Well done Gillian have fun with him

Trish I have seen this show a few times and really cringed the way those boats go up and down those huge waves, I don't think I could ever get on one of them.

Have Fun
Helen

Dianna Love said...

I grew up fishing all the time, much of it off shore. I love being on a boat but would NOT consider doing what they did. It's amazing what so many different people have to do to make a living. I'm not much for the reality shows but I do enjoy things like this one. I'm with Pink - it does remind me of the Perfect Storm movie.

Anna Sugden said...

Interesting post, Trish.

I have a similar attachment to a show called Trick my Truck. I'm not into trucks or cars (though I can appreciate the beauty of a Lamborghini *g*) or fix-it shows like Pimp My Ride. I'm no fan of reality TV (apart from the food shows and things like Top Chef, Project Runway and Step it up and Dance - even then the b*tchiness gets to me).

I don't know what it is about this group of guys that hooked me, but I love them! I love their camaraderie and their skill and the sheer joy they take in their work. The end reveal is always a tear-jerker. The Chrome Shop Mafia totally rock!!

I even downloaded the show to my iPod so i wouldn't miss an episode! I got so attached to each of the 'characters' in the show - my fave being Ryno the spray-painter - who is awesomely talented.

I was gutted when they changed the participants and made the show more commerical with things like ice-cream vans and stuff like that.

barb said...

Congratulations on having GR Gillian

I have seen a similar show to this but it is in the seas north of Scotland out of scotish ports .... I think they deserve all they earn as I get seasick even in calm waters LOL

Deb said...

Hi, Trish. My husband has this show set up to record every week. I watch it with him, but can't say that it's one of my fave shows. It is unbelievable the hardships the crew (I guess cameramen, too, in some ways) goes through.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Gillian, I think this show is probably more real than any of the other "reality" shows on TV. It seems like some of the others are at least partially scripted. You can't script a big ol' wave crashing into a boat.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Donna, I thought that Thanksgiving commercial was pretty funny. I hadn't seen it before cruising YouTube yesterday morning for video of Phil.

The types of crab they fish for in Alaska are red king, opilio, bairdi and sometimes blue.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

L'Aussie, thanks for stopping by. It's wild how people all around the world have latched onto this show. I think the guys on it are a bit stunned by it. They even have fan conventions now called CatchCon.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

PinkPeony, I think most of us are wimps compared to those guys. :) They are total into the rush, the adrenaline, the man-against-nature thing. It runs in so many of their families, and they say over and over that it gets in your blood.

I loved The Perfect Storm. I want to read some of the books written by Linda Greenlaw, the female boat captain portrayed in that movie.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Helen, I'd be sick before those boats ever left the dock! The seasickness is even deadly for some people. I saw one show -- was about the fishermen out of Gloucester, Massachusetts -- where a cameraman had to be flown out by the Coast Guard because he was so ill from seasickness. His body had seized up, he couldn't move, and his organs were shutting down. By the time the Coast Guard chopper landed back on the mainland, he was much better. He'd been given fluids and gotten off the heaving boat.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Dianna, I think very few people can do this kind of thing. Every year, especially since the show started airing, people head to Alaska hoping to be deckhands on a crab boat. Most of them fail, and some fail spectacularly.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Anna, I haven't seen that show. Isn't it interesting how we get sucked into a show we never expected. I can't remember how I happened upon my first episode of Deadliest Catch, but I would have never expected to love a show about crab fishing, especially since I don't fish myself.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Barb, the Scottish show sounds interesting. And I agree about them earning everything they get. Just the lack of sleep would be too much for me. I heard Phil say that one time they went five days with no sleep. Dude, that's not safe. I don't know how they were functioning.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Deb, I know it's not for everyone. But you're right, the camera crews have to go through a lot too. The lack of sleep, the rolling seas, the horrendous weather. Plus, with their eyes pressed to the cameras, they often can't see the big waves coming and get knocked down and washed across the deck. Plus, they have to deal with the crews when they get really cranky.

TerriOsburn said...

I've watched the show on and off through the last few years, and caught the last few episodes of this season. Mostly because I wanted to see Phil's story. That was hard to watch Tuesday night. Seeing him apologize for not being a better father, and then his sons turning on each other in the stress and pain.

Man, so hard to watch. A friend of mine says those guys are all heroes and I have to agree. They are tough and weathered, stubborn and contentious, but at the same time loyal to a fault with hearts of gold.

I'm glad so many people got to know Phil Harris through this show. He was an interesting guy. And this was a nice tribute to all of them, Trish.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Thanks, Terri. I think that's what I find fascinating about this show -- it's shown the world regular, everyday heroes, people who without the shown wouldn't have been known by a fraction of the people who now know their incredible stories, warts and all.

Pissenlit said...

I'm usually not a fan of reality tv but Deadliest Catch is one of my favourite shows. These past few episodes have had me sobbing into a wad of tissues.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

I'm right there with you, Pissenlit. I really hope the boys raise the money to buy out the boat.

Nancy said...

Gillian, congrats on the bird!

Trish, an interesting post. I haven't seen the show, but I noticed the outpouring after Phil's death. Obviously it touches a lot of people.

I don't watch a lot of reality shows (just Top Chef, Project Runway, Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, and now Top Shot--hey, there are lots more out there I don't watch!) I do prefer competitions and makeovers to slice of life shows with people who are, well, the sort I'm glad don't live in my neighborhood. Slice of life with people doing something and trying to achieve something, I can understand, though I generally don't watch them.

catslady said...

I hate to admit this but I just couldn't watch this season knowing that Phil didn't make it. He was one of my favorites and I've watched it since the beginning. Maybe in time I will catch the repeats. I get so darn emotional sometimes (sigh).

2nd Chance said...

I'm a big fan of the show and over the years, watching Phil with those two kids has been intensely heartwarming. He really loved those boys and this season has been a testiment to that.

Yes, Phil was a real hero. He wasn't perfect, he wasn't stunningly handsome...though those blue eyes were killer! But he was real.

I wrote a blog in tribute to him a few months ago, on the Revenge.

Rum all around! A toast, to Captain Phil! Long may he crab!

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Nancy, I love makeover shows too. I'm a fan of The Biggest Loser.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

catslady, I totally understand. When I heard he'd died, I wondered how they would represent it on the show and how much they'd show. I think they showed some nice restraint while also showing honest emotions.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

2nd Chance, I agree that those father-son dynamics were interesting to watch. Watching his last days with the boys was heartbreaking.

Susan Sey said...

Hey, Trish!

I'm not a huge reality TV girl but I will always respect a show that either a) takes people with a true talent & puts them under time and/or material constraints (ie Top Chef, Project Runway), or b) shows actual real people doing real work.

I never saw the Deadliest Catch but I am always in awe of people who do work like that. I read about Captain Phil's passing & nearly cried. Can't imagine what you fans went through.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Susan, I've never seen Top Chef, but there seem to be lots of fans here. But I have seen and enjoyed Project Runway. I've never seen Ace of Cakes, but I bet I'd like that too.

Suzanne Ferrell said...

I heard about Captain Phil's passing from a patient and her spouse who were watching it. I've never seen a whole episode, but have caught glimpses as I pass through rooms on Tuesday nights. Gotta say, those are some tough guys out there!

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Suzanne, it must be interesting seeing what all your patients decide to watch.