Deadliest Catch is one of the most successful reality television series of all time. Since its premiere in 2005, it has only grown in popularity. It has spawned spin-offs and video games, inspired legions of other shows, and even helped to completely rebranded Discovery as a network.
Once the series took off, the network realized that this kind of unscripted content was what people wanted to see. Without Deadliest Catch there would be no Ice Road Truckers or Ax Men or so many other series of the type. However, as is the case with all reality TV programming, not everything you see is exactly what you might think you’re seeing.
When it comes to Deadliest Catch, there have been a wealth of controversial things that have almost boiled over in the twelve years that the show has been on the air. Sometimes former stars of the series have had their share of behind-the-scenes drama, sometimes the conditions have not been as rough as they’ve appeared to be, and other times they’ve even been worse. In this list, we’ll be examining all of this and even more.
Stay tuned for the 15 Dark Secrets From Deadliest Catch You Never Knew About.
15 Beaver Sued the Hillstrands After a Fireworks Mishap
Captains Jonathan and Andy Hillstrand were sued by one of their own crew for injuries sustained on the boat during a celebration of a 2013 Seahawks victory.
They set of fireworks on the boat, David “Beaver” Zielinski was ordered to light off a mortar and did as directed. It exploded in his hand and wound up shattering the bones in both his hand and forearm. The firework was homemade, constructed by the Hillstrands themselves, which helped Zielinski in his case.
He filed suit in 2015 and was awarded $1.35 million dollars when the case resolved earlier this year. It was a dangerous, stupid situation, but one that has clearly been resolved.
If anything, it’s also proven that the dangers dealt with on the program are not only related to the rough seas and harsh conditions. Sometimes it’s human error that can get the better of people, and that’s a big problem when someone is stuck out at sea with minimal resources.
14 One of the Show’s Producers Was Killed
Deadliest Catch, true to form, is never a show that shies away from death. However, when it deals with the subject, it’s usually on screen, as evidenced by the death of Captain Phil Harris. That’s what makes this incident stand out.
This was a tragic circumstance that happened entirely behind the scenes, to the show’s associate producer Joseph McMahon. According to CBS LA, he heard a noise, went to check it out, and that’s when he was gunned down in front of his own home.
It gets stranger, too. The suspect was found only a short time later that day, dead in his car from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. There was no connection between the two men, at least not one that’s been brought to the attention of the public, but the murder/suicide was clearly premeditated. It’s a bizarre and gruesome situation that remains unsolved even now.
13 Joshua Tel Warner Committed A Series of Bank Robberies
One of the more extreme behind-the-scenes stories is also one of the most bizarre. In a shocking turn of events, Joshua Tel Warner went all the way to become a full-blown criminal. The issue here is that this started before he appeared on television and it was, in fact, his appearance on the popular show that eventually did him in.
He committed a series of bank robberies in Oregon from 2007 to 2009. By the end of that spree, he was a wanted criminal. In 2010, Oregon law officials couldn’t help but notice his face in an episode of Deadliest Catch. They obviously issued a warrant for his arrest.
Warner could not really hide at that point, so he pled guilty in order to reduce his sentence from thirty years to nine and a half. It’s impossible to say how exactly he thought he would get away with the crimes after appearing on television. He clearly realized how popular the show was.
Either way, Warner is, of course, no longer involved with the show and is currently serving his time.
12 Captain Sig Hansen Was Accused of Sexual Abuse
In one of the more recent controversies, Captain Sig Hansen has been accused of sexual abuse by his estranged daughter Melissa Eckstrom. She claims that he molested her when she was a toddler in the early 1990s.
The Discovery Channel stands by Hansen in calling the accusations baseless and false, insisting that they do not impact the show. Since the allegations came to light in March, the series has not made mention of them. Although, it’s not surprising that this wouldn’t be dealt with on camera.
Hansen also suffered a heart attack in 2016, which kept him away from the water for a while. When he returned, it was around the same time that Eckstrom’s allegations came to the surface. Hansen refers to these allegations as nothing more than “a shakedown for money.”
*It’s unclear at this point how the matter will be resolved, but don’t expect to see mention of it on the show any time soon.
11 It Nearly Killed the Alaskan Crab Fishing Business
One thing you definitely don’t hear about Deadliest Catch is how miserable it makes things for everyone else in the same line of work. According to Alaska Dispatch News, the show takes a huge toll on the economy, as it makes it virtually impossible for the other roughly 70 boats that aren’t on camera to compete with the stars of the show.
In 2005, the same year that the show premiered, Alaska passed a crab rationalization bill that tightened restrictions on crab fishing, affecting not only the show but all of the other crab fisherman who depend on the Bering Sea crab population for their own livelihood.
Alaska’s rocky relationship with the show has been documented well enough, but it’s still nothing that the producers or Discovery would ever really advertise. Clearly, things aren’t bad enough between the state and the network to force a relocation or cancellation, as these issues have gone on for years and the series remains on the air.
However, it's important to note that many people who depend on this as a source of income for their families are being negatively affected.
10 Clever Editing Made A Storm Appear Much Bigger Than It Was
In 2008, during the show’s fourth season, the series stirred up one of its first controversies as it was revealed that an intense storm might not have been quite as intense as it appeared to be on the show.
While the event was depicted as a violent storm in real time, it was much milder in reality. The series edited the most intense bits of footage from the storm in October with a flood from the month before to create much more striking imagery than they would have otherwise had.
The Discovery Channel president and general manager John Ford told THR that “everything you see in the show happened,” which is technically correct. None of the footage was faked, it simply didn’t all come from the same place at the same time. While this certainly bends the definition of reality television, it’s not remotely uncommon for shows like this to exaggerate the details for dramatic effect.
9 Blake Painter Didn’t Actually Quit
Blake Painter’s sudden absence from the show has always been somewhat confusing for fans. It’s made to look like he simply up and quits when the workload and politics get to be too much to handle.
However, all evidence suggests that that’s simply not the case. Painter’s actions appear to have been dramatized for effect. While it was edited to appear as though Blake quit the Maverick, it seems as though he actually stayed through and completed the season. His further absence was due to taking care of his father, who had been diagnosed with cancer and was undergoing surgery during the height of Dungeness season.
When Painter was asked to return for the third season of the series, his answer was an emphatic “no” after the way he had been treated during season two. After some convincing, he agreed, but again felt that too much was fabricated for his liking, especially a supposed secret conversation that never actually happened.
8 Jake Harris Was Arrested For Stealing a Car And Drug Possession
Former Deadliest Catch star Jake Harris, best known as son of captain Phil Harris, has had a few run-ins with the law in his time. In 2010, he faced a DUI, but the much bigger and more newsworthy arrest has to be his girlfriend calling the police to report that he stole her car.
The two had taken a vacation together even though she was, in fact, married. Harris was found with the car at a Circle K the next day. In his possession, police also found crystal meth which Harris admitted was for personal use.
Harris was charged with one count of felony theft and two counts of felony drug possession. In May, a warrant for Harris’ arrest was issued when he failed to show up for a court date. Harris and his family’s boat, the Cornelia Marie, stopped appearing on Deadliest Catch shortly after the loss of his father. However, even after leaving the show, he’s made numerous headlines since.
7 Elliott Neese Was Fined $3,000 For Catching Undersized Crabs
Captain Elliott Neese, one of the major stars of Deadliest Catch, came under scrutiny for hauling in a large load of crabs that did not meet minimum requirements. This might not sound that bad on paper, but it’s actually a huge deal, and is even illegal.
Alaskan officials wound up investigating his boat and found 13 undersized crabs. These mistakes are only forgiven for rookies just starting out, but for someone who is supposed to be a seasoned professional, it really does not paint him in a good light.
Neese was initially fined $6,000, but once he pled guilty, the amount was reduced to $3,000. He has defended himself from critics, essentially claiming that it’s his negative press that put him in the spotlight to begin with, as Neese is generally portrayed as a villainous presence on the show.
He has no problem pointing out that “reality TV isn’t real” but has butted heads with the network several times, though they clearly do whatever they can to keep him around as that antagonistic heel.
6 Climate Change Has Seriously Hindered the Show’s Production
Of all the behind-the-scenes problems that could hinder a show like Deadliest Catch, global warming is probably not one that people tend to think of, even if it is kind of obvious on paper.
In an article from earlier this year, IndieWire points out that temperatures are rising in the Bering Sea about four degrees, which is 50 times the national average. As is typical of most sea creatures, when the waters begin to warm, the crabs move elsewhere. In the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s annual quota, it lists half the amount of crabs as had been caught the year before.
Even executive producer R. Decker Watson Jr. notes how serious a problem this is for the show, saying, “we didn’t know if we were even going to be on the water long enough to film 20 hours of Deadliest Catch this season.” In a smart move, they made the struggle a part of the show’s narrative last season, but it’s a continued problem and has been for the past few years.
5 Elliott Neese Has a History of Being Terrible to Fans
Although Elliott Neese constantly refutes his reputation for being a villain on the show, he does not have an overall stellar relationship with the show’s fan base. He constantly harasses fans on Twitter, and even those who come to his defense. This only fuels his portrayal as an antagonistic person both on and off camera. In 2015, there was even a fan petition to remove Neese from the show.
While Neese has claimed time and time again that he is wrongly portrayed and that his behavior is always exaggerated, it’s that same behavior that led him to be removed from the series last year when he was forced to go into rehab. There has been longstanding speculation as to whether or not he will make a return to Deadliest Catch after cleaning up his act.
4 Sig Hansen Was Arrested After Fighting an Uber Driver
Earlier this year, Captain Sig Hansen was arrested in Seattle over a drunken dispute with an Uber driver. Initially, he denied the allegations which claimed that he had spit on the driver and kicked the vehicle.
He did eventually admit to these, however, and even took to Twitter to apologize. “I owe a bunch of people apologies, first and foremost to our Uber driver, who was just trying to get us home safely,” he wrote.
Given that this arrest came after the allegations of sexual abuse against Hansen by his own estranged daughter, it did not help to have any kind of additional spotlight. Hansen did at least own up to his behavior here, though he denied it at the time while still drunk.
There’s no word just yet on how that situation will be resolved, but the Uber altercation is a little more cut-and-dry. Although Hansen has noted his embarrassment over the situation, he still pled not guilty, regardless.
3 Discovery Sued Two Captains for Refusing to Finish An Episode
In 2010, Discovery sued two captains for $3 million in damages for refusing to finish work on a television episode. The captains in question are Jonathan and Andy Hillstrand, who were at the time filming a one-time TV special called Hillstranded.
Their lawyer referred to Discovery’s actions as “arrogance and greed run amok.” The special was meant to give viewers a glimpse into the lives of the two men when they aren’t on the boat, but the two did not show up to record crucial voiceover and interview sessions when scheduled to do so.
The Hillstrands’ lawyer spun the situation as a corporate slight against the working man, noting “while C.E.O. David Zaslav reaps a $33.9 million bonanza in a single day in January 2010, his company attempts to bankrupt hardworking fishermen. Three million dollars is exponentially greater than any compensation ever paid to the Deadliest Catch captains, and yet this is the figure Discovery is trying to extort from these men.”
2 Jake Harris Was Beaten and Left for Dead in a Brutal Mugging
Although Jake Harris has had his run-ins with the law and his problems with substance abuse, in this situation he was— without a doubt— the victim. In November of last year, Harris was mugged and beaten nearly to death. After leaving a Casino, Harris was attacked in his car and thrown from the vehicle, left to die on the side of the road. He suffered several severe injuries, including a cracked skull.
True to stubborn form, Harris refused to go to the hospital when found. However, when he arrived home, his brother Josh forced him to go and Harris was immediately placed in intensive care.
Josh, meanwhile, planned to take matters into his own hands, finding their names and posting their photos online, leading to their arrests within a week of the incident. Although recovery has been slow, Josh said “hopefully, one day, we’ll get him back fishing again.”
1 The Video Crews Work Just as Hard as the Fishermen
It’s not something people tend to think about, but on one hand, it’s kind of obvious that the crew of a show like this would have to work pretty hard. They’re on the boat with everyone else, subjected to the same conditions.
The video crews don’t get to leave the boat. They’re on deck for the entire crab season, which lasts anywhere from three to five weeks. One of the captains, “Wild” Bill Wichrowski, told A.V. Club that it only makes sense to get to know them really well and see them as a part of the crew, pointing out that they spend “more time with the cameramen on the boat than we do our own families.”
Because of this, he notes that the fishermen end up becoming very close with the cameramen or end up completely hating them, with very little gray area in between. “You either grow to really like these guys or not,” Wichrowski said. “It’s one way or the other.”
Can you think of any other shocking behind-the-scenes secrets about the Deadliest Catch? Let us know in the comments.
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