Launching in 1985, The Discovery Channel has been many TV viewers’ go-to channel for all things history, science, and technology. Known for producing shows like Mythbusters, Daily Planet, and, of course, Shark Week, The Discovery Channel has kept viewers up to date with much of the world around them. Although the network initially aired documentaries and talk shows, they have since made the switch, for better or for worse, to reality TV shows.
Despite initial praise for the network, the reception as of lately has been rather cold. Many in the scientific community have criticized The Discovery Channel for being scientifically inaccurate in much of its programming. Some of the recent programming has been called out for relying on speculative science or for only choosing to cover the more ostentatious, over the top theories.
Unfortunately for The Discovery Channel, much of their recent programming is doing little to sway this criticism. Shows like Amish Mafia and Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives have presented obviously fabricated situations, bending the term “reality” to its farthest reaches. With that said, these shows seem to draw viewers week after week, so don’t expect them to disappear any time soon.
Here are 20 secrets Discovery Channel reality stars don’t want you to know.
Putting two survivalists to the test, Naked and Afraid sees two contestants try to survive a 21-day spell in the jungle with no food, water, or, you guessed it, clothing. Taking place in a series of remote jungles, one of the most terrifying elements of the reality show is the contestants’ severance from civilization.
As it turns out, the contestants are not as removed as the they are made out to be.
One of the most notable examples of this came with an episode shot in central Florida. Not only were the contestants “deserted” near a small, but nonetheless occupied, community, but they were a day’s walk from Disney World. So much for remote.
American Chopper followed the day to day lives of the family-run team at Orange County Customs. Known for custom motorcycles, O.C.C. impressed clients and viewers alike with their fabrication and creativity.
Paul Sr. and Paul Jr., the father and son duo behind the shop, always sought out good artists to compliment their unique motorcycles with equally unique paint jobs. For much of the reality show’s earlier episodes, O.C.C. commissioned artist Justin Barnes. Their working relationship hit a serious rough patch in 2009, when Barnes sued the Paul’s for selling merchandise bearing his designs. Not cool guys.
Amish Mafia has got to be one of the weirder reality shows to have come out on the Discovery Channel. Centred around a gang of less-than reputable members of the Amish community, the show follows “Lebanon” Levi and company as they try to preserve their way of living by any means necessary.
There are a lot of elements of the show that seem to bend the truth, but it turns out we can’t even trust whether or not the main cast is even Amish.
Lebanon Levi and Merlin Miller have stated in interviews that they have not been baptized, a staple in the Amish faith. Even just appearing on camera goes against a principle Amish belief. I guess we’ll just call it “creative licensing.”
Deadliest Catch follows the dangerous day to day lives of Alaskan crab fisherman. Up against the elements, those on board are constantly at risk of injury and even of death. While this is well documented on the show, the danger that the production team faces, however, is not nearly as well known.
Short of actually collecting the crab themselves, the camera crew is subject to nearly every danger that the cast is. While this may be obvious to some, the fact that they are behind the camera and not in front of it is enough to keep some viewers from realizing the danger that goes into making The Deadliest Catch.
The Discovery Channel seems to have a thing for shooting in isolated locations. Alaskan Bush People followed the Brown family as they navigated the harsh elements found in remote Alaska. The reality show’s legitimacy has been called into question numerous times, typically for exaggerating the Brown’s surroundings. One of the stranger falsities on Alaskan Bush People was the relationship between Noah Brown, the family’s youngest son, and his season 5 love interest, Karryna Kaufmann.
Though not a household name, Karryna’s IMDB page indicates that she has appeared in several films.
Kaufmann sure doesn’t add much legitimacy to the show.
We’re back in Alaska, this time for the Discovery Channel’s Alaska: The Last Frontier. Similar to Alaskan Bush People, the show follows the day to day lives of the Kilcher family. Although the family is presented as living off of their remote homestead, the cast has a lot of resources as their disposal.
Just 10 miles from the Kilcher farm is the town of Homer, Alaska. If the family ever gets a hankering for a bag of chips, they could be at a grocery store within 20 minutes. While Homer is no metropolis, the small town certainly takes away from the idea of the Kilcher’s living in isolation.
An amped up version of Naked and Afraid, Naked and Afraid XL saw previous contestants grouped together and try to last 40 days in the jungle.
First competing on Naked and Afraid in Madagascar, Jeff Zausch faced a different set of challenges outside of the reality show circuit.
In 2015, Zausch was convicted of insurance fraud following a car accident from the previous year. Zausch lied about the time of the accident in order to bulk up his insurance coverage before filing the claim. The reality star was forced to pay several fines and has had to spend three years on probation. Overall, it's not a great look for Naked and Afraid XL or Zausch himself.
Gold Rush is another of the Discovery Channel’s workplace reality shows, this time focussing on gold prospectors in the Canadian Yukon. The cast is depicted as relying almost entirely on the gold they find for their income, leading to many on screen confrontations. As it turns out, the cast isn’t as hard up for cash as they are made to appear.
The cast is, understandably, compensated for their time on the show, with some rumoured to make a six-figure income from Gold Rush. That salary on top of the money they make from the gold they find means star Todd Hoffman and company can probably stand to be a little less competitive.
We already know that Lebanon Levi’s Amish heritage is questionable at best. As it turns out, his criminal reputation might not be legitimate either. The leader of the titular gang, Levi boasts a vast criminal record, with his arrests being processed by the nearby Lancaster County Police.
Unfortunately for his reputation, the agency that processed Levi’s arrests doesn’t exist.
Actually, it's more likely that his sidekick, John Schmucker, has been in more legal trouble than him. He's been involved in a few legal situations, including a hit and run charge, since 2008. For Levi, it looks like this was just one of many attempts by the production team to add a sense of danger to this ridiculous reality show.
At its core, Naked and Afraid is about the power of human persistence and innovation. Left with only their wits, the feats accomplished by some of the show’s contestants are remarkable. Other contestants, however, haven’t gotten too far into their stay in the jungle before finding outside help.
In the search for food, some contestants have forgone the typical hunting and foraging in favour of stealing from the production team. Other contestants have asked for, and been given, medical assistance from producers. It’s good to know that the production team have a sense of humanity, but it sure takes away from the reality show’s premise. With all that in mind, who knows how much they've helped contestants in other ways as well.
This next one is really more of a misconception than anything. Mythbusters is presented as a team of scientists and special effects experts who get to hang out, do research together, and blow stuff up. Sounds perfect, right?
Despite their on-screen chemistry, the show’s main hosts, Adam and Jamie, were forced into working together by the show’s creators.
In a Reddit AMA, Adam Savage was asked about his working relationship with co-host Jamie Hyneman. He stated that: “Jamie and I have long made it clear that we’re not friends; so we don’t actually get along on a day-to-day level.” While this never affected the show’s quality, some of the magic is gone knowing that Adam and Jamie aren’t kicking it after shooting.
Street Outlaws was the Discovery Channel’s answer to The Fast and the Furious series; an in depth look at the world of underground American street racing. Given that street racing is a highly competitive and illegal activity, it’s no surprise that some of the stars of Street Outlaws weren’t the most reputable of people.
One of the more serious examples of this was Rhett Peters, a regular on the reality show. In 2016, Peters was arrested for trafficking large quantities of illegal substances. He admitted to his crimes and will be facing a maximum of 20 years in prison, along with with a few years of probably and a fine of $1 million. Probably a topic for a different show, Rhett.
Though not a main cast member, singer-songwriter Jewel has appeared several times on Alaska: The Last Frontier. The second Kilcher child, Jewel grew up on the family farm and did her fair share of work before finding success in the music industry.
While she has since mended things with her father, Atz Kilcher, Jewel’s upbringing created a serious tension between the two.
Despite performing music with her father at an early age, things inside the Kilcher house weren’t as harmonious. Having served in Vietnam and suffered an abusive upbringing himself, Atz made Jewel’s upbringing a fair toxic environment. It's great to know that they've since improved their relationship, but it's sad to think about how it might've hurt Jewel's childhood.
The Discovery Channel is no stranger to risqué topics; just look at some of the previous entries on this list. Moonshiners follows illegal whiskey makers across the American Midwest. Given the nature of moonshining, producers had a number of hoops to try and jump through in presenting both the distillers and the authorities chasing them.
When it came to Special Agent Jesse Tate, a Virginia lawman and season one regular, the production team figured it was easier to beg forgiveness than to ask permission. They told Tate Moonshiners would deal with the history of moonshining rather than depicting the production and sale of the whiskey. We’re starting to understand why we didn’t see the agent on any subsequent seasons of the show.
The Mythbusters sure love blowing stuff up. Whether it be explosives, guns, or anything in between, you can always count on the show for a nice loud BOOM. While they are sticklers for safety, taking every precaution they can to ensure the safety of those around them, Adam and Jamie haven’t always managed a perfect detonation.
This was certainly the case in 2011 when an “unforeseen bounce” caused a cannonball to break through the front door of a San Francisco home.
While nobody was hurt in the incident, the Mythbusters team isn’t too eager to bring it up. Can you imagine sitting in your home and, unexpectedly, a massive cannonball comes crashing through your window? It must've been terrifying.
Paul Sr. sure knows how to tick a person off. Throughout America Chopper, Paul and his son, Paul Jr., were in countless screaming matches complete with chair-throwing, broken windows, and everything in between. Not surprisingly, there are some outside the show that aren’t too fond of the shop owner either.
One of these people is Thomas Derbyshire, Paul Sr.’s former business partner who claims to be partly responsible for the American Chopper concept. Before the show hit the Discovery Channel airwaves, Derbyshire claims to have brought a similar reality show idea to A&E called Orange County Choppers: American Made. After a contractual disagreement, the two split, with Paul Sr. supposedly taking the idea for himself.
It’s clear at this point that Amish Mafia has a pretty loose grip on the term “reality show.” Not only were the cast’s back stories fabricated, but the situations presented on screen were almost always staged. This came to light when members Lancaster County, the setting of Amish Mafia grew concerned with the perceived criminal organization.
The Lancaster police received so many complaints that they eventually developed a standard issue response stating that the show, and the group it portrayed, were all made up.
The police statement was enough to calm the nerves of most Lancaster residents, though maybe Lebanon Levi just paid the cops off…
Probably one of the best known survival shows to hit television screens, Man vs. Wild starred Edward “Bear” Grylls as he put himself in any number of dangerous situations. Grylls’ was dropped in the middle of different deserted terrains throughout the series and left to make due, showing audiences how to survive the wilderness.
Although the show ran for seven seasons, it was criticized for misleading its audiences about the nature of Bear Grylls’ surroundings. The Discovery Channel owned up to these accusations, stating that many of the scenes depicted on screen were exaggerated to add excitement to the program.
Don’t worry though, Grylls drinking his own urine was real.
Since it first aired in 2011, many have questioned the legitimacy of Moonshiners. If the show is real, then its producers are accomplices in criminal activity. While the show’s producers had reason to fear law enforcement, it’s not for the reason you might think. Although season one was the last in which Special Agent Jesse Tate appeared on Moonshiners, Virginia Police ultimately got back at the show with a press release stating it was fake.
Similar to the situation with Amish Mafia, police were receiving a number of complaints from residents of the shooting locations regarding the “illegal activities” happening right in their backyard.
The show’s cast and producers maintain that the activity on Moonshiners is the real thing, stating that the Virginia Police Department are simply bitter about not being able to catch them in the act.
Few crimes are as sensitive as that of assault involving a child. In early 2017, Deadliest Catch’s Captain Sig Hansen found himself accused of such crime by his estranged daughter, Melissa Eckstrom. She claimed to have been hurt by Hansen when she was a toddler.
These accusations were dismissed by Captain Hansen as an attempt to get money out of the reality star.
Although they have not made a point to bring things up on the show, representatives of the Discovery Channel stood behind Hansen, further referring to Eckstrom’s claim as baseless and untrue. Let’s hope, for everyone’s sake, that that is the case. If they aren't, then let's hope that justice is properly served.
Did we miss anything? What are some of your favourite Discovery Channel reality shows?