The Deadliest Catch is one of the most successful reality shows ever made. The Discovery Channel stumbled upon greatness when they started capturing the real-life drama aboard crabbing boats in the Bering Strait during the Alaskan king, Opilio and Bairdi crab fishing seasons.
Crews constantly have to battle fierce and inhospitable environments in the hopes of striking it rich. Waves toss about boats as if they were toys and, with one false move, heavy machinery could sweep a crewmember out to sea at any moment. It’s a job that isn’t for the faint of heart. These struggles and the people who go through them have attracted millions of viewers over the years.
Despite the extreme conditions and high drama that appears on the show, some of the most shocking stuff actually happens off camera. The Deadliest Catch not only has an incredibly large cast but it also has an incredibly large crew behind the show. With such a large crew, plenty of drama has bubbled up over the show’s 13 seasons.
Whether it’s breaking the law, high profile civil lawsuits, or post-production trickery, there’s always more going on than meets the eye.
Here are 15 Secrets You Didn’t Know About The Making Of The Deadliest Catch.
15 Several cast members have substance issues
Over The Deadliest Catch’s thirteen seasons there have been a lot of rotating cast members and a lot of drama. One issue that has consistently popped up for the cast and crew is substance problems. Elliot Neese was removed from the show and forced to go to rehab, Jake Harris was arrested for substance possession, and Nick McGlashan had a prolonged struggle.
"My life went from Bering Sea bada** to full-blown junkie very rapidly. Hidden from me was that passion I had for life," Nick McGlashan wrote for Chosenmag.com in 2017. "Taken from me was my ability to live. I was at war with my addiction and it was winning… I was three overdoses into my addiction and a heavy alcoholic. My addict self was killing me and I was struggling to die.”
14 The show's production manager was arrested for selling illegal substances
The cast of Deadliest Catch aren’t the only ones who have butted up against substance problems. In 2010 Matthew Schneider, the show’s production manager, was charged with using and selling illegal substances after he delivered about $300 worth of them to an undercover officer as part of an elaborate sting that resulted in 18 arrests. Court documents also said Schneider used these substances in front of the undercover officers and talked about buying large amounts of it to sell. None of the captains or crew members who appear on the show were connected to the arrest.
Overall, a heavy amount of illegal subsyances were seized in the investigation along with $13,000 in cash. The street value of those substances was estimated at $80,000.
13 Sig Hansen was accused of terrible things
Sig Hansen has been a long time fan-favorite on Deadliest Catch, so it came as quite a surprise when allegations of abuse surfaced in March of 2017. Hansen’s estranged daughter, a 28-year-old attorney living in Seattle, filed a lawsuit against her father alleging that he had abused her as a child.
The lawsuit relied on her memories of the abuse, as well as medical examinations, a therapist’s evaluation and state Child Protective Services’ findings from the time that concluded Hansen likely abused his daughter in 1990 when she was just two years old.
Sig Hansen denied the allegations and claimed the medical and psychological findings were biased. In April 2017, prosecutors decided that they couldn’t bring criminal charges against the captain, but a civil lawsuit remained in the courts.
12 Sig Hansen spat on an Uber driver and kicked his car
While the abuse charges were dropped, Sig Hansen was arrested in connection with misdemeanor assault and property destruction charges in May of 2017 after an alleged incident with an Uber driver. The charges alleged that Hansen got into an argument with the driver before spitting on the driver’s head and kicking the outside of the car.
“I am terribly sorry for my behavior and am very embarrassed by it. I owe a bunch of people apologies, first and foremost to our Uber driver, who was just trying to get us home safely,” Hansen said in a statement. “ I hope I can make that apology in person. I have no excuse and accept responsibility for my actions. I made a boneheaded move last night, and I am sorry.”
11 The show doesn't cover the deadliest kind of crab fishing
The life of a fisherman used to be a lot deadlier than it is today. Increased safety measures and precautions have saved countless lives and continue to improve. There is still a lot of risks associated with crab fishing in the Bering Sea, but, according to an article from Salon.com, there are at least three deadlier catches.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, groundfish, like cod and flounder, on the east coast of the United States were the deadliest kind of fishing from 2000-2014. Atlantic scallop fishing was the second dangerous and Dungeness crab fishing off the coasts of Oregon and Washington was the third deadliest.
Overall, fishing conditions seem to improve every year. From 1990 to 2014, there was 74% drop in commercial fishing fatalities in Alaska. In addition, commercial fishing dropped to number 2, behind logging, in the list of most dangerous occupations.
10 A sad story for a producer
There have been a handful of serious accidents over the course of Deadliest Catch. Cornelia Marie captain Phil Harris passed of a pulmonary embolism in 2010, deckhand Justin Tennison of sleep apnea complications in 2011, and Captain Tony Lara of a heart attack in 2015.
The most shocking one happened to someone who never appeared on the show. Joe McMahon, one of the show’s associate producers was shot outside his home in Pasadena California in 2015. Police pronounced the 25-year-old dead as the result of it. Police quickly pinpointed a suspect, but weren’t able to make an arrest. One day after McMahon’s passing, the body of the unidentified suspect was found in his car from an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound.
9 Beaver sued the Hillstrands
Time Bandit co-owners, Andy and Johnathan Hillstrand have been longtime fan favorites on The Deadliest Catch, but, in 2015, a lawsuit emerged that would cause them a lot of problems. David “Beaver” Zielinski, a former deckhand, filed a lawsuit alleging that the Hillstrands were responsible for severe injuries to his hand.
The lawsuit came after a 2013 incident, that appeared on the show, in which a mortar-style firework blew up in Beaver’s hand on the deck of the Time Bandit. Beaver claimed that the firework, which was marketed and branded as a “Time Bandit” product by the Hillstrands, blew up early and caused the injury.
The case took two years to resolve, but, ultimately in January of 2017, the courts sided with Beaver and the Hillstrands were ordered to pay him $1.35 million.
8 The Hillstrands were also sued by Discovery
If losing a lawsuit to one of their former deckhands wasn’t bad enough, they also faced a $3 million lawsuit from Discovery in 2010.
The two brothers were in the process of creating their own spinoff series with Discovery, Hillstranded, when they failed to show up for pickup shots and their final interviews. This prompted Discovery to slap the captains with a $3 million lawsuit. In response, the Hillstrands threatened to leave Deadliest Catch all together and to take Sig Hansen with them.
Eventually, the captains and Discovery came to an agreement. “We’re happy we worked everything out with Discovery,” the captains said in a statement. “A deal’s a deal. We’re heading up to Dutch Harbor to start filming the new season of ‘Deadliest Catch’ and hopefully it will be the best one yet.”
7 The film crews work just as hard as the fishermen
While the show mainly focuses on the difficulties faced by the captains of crews of the Alaska crab fishing industry, it also creates its own hazards. In order to capture the dangers of the job, The Discovery Channel has to hire camera crews who are willing to put their own lives in danger. While the results have been impressive over the years, it hasn’t come without added risk.
“It’s hard enough on deck without a camera,” Captain Bill Wichrowski told The AV Club in 2014. “You see our guys getting bounced around on deck and they have their full peripheral vision and they’re supposed to be trained professionals. Then you put these film crew guys on there and they’re stumbling around looking through a viewfinder and it’s amazing that these guys don’t get banged up more.”
6 The show fakes drama
It’s no secret that some reality television shows employ a little bit of fakery to heighten the drama. It’s pretty normal for a show to cut out parts of conversations or mix and match scenes that will play the best on television, but, in 2008, The Deadliest Catch crew might have taken it too far.
In the season 4 debut, the Wizard is shown crashing up and down gigantic waves during a storm. Inside the ship, crews are shown frantically trying to fix a flooding issue below deck. It’s a pretty dramatic scene. Unfortunately, those two things never happened together.
The Hollywood Reporter discovered, after the episode aired, that the waves from the storm were filmed in October while the flooding had happened a month earlier in September. A production outline was discovered that suggested that the show was patching together footage from different days to heighten the action.
5 One of the show's stars was a bank robber
There have been quite a few miscellaneous crimes committed by the cast and crew of Deadliest Catch over the years, but Joshua Tel Warner, a former crew member on the Wizard, might have topped them all. In 2007, Joshua was wanted by police in connection with a series of at least three bank robberies. The robberies had taken place over a couple years and involved one bank being robbed more than once.
Police began to suspect Joshua after receiving a tip from former crew members on Deadliest Catch. According to them, Joshua bragged about the robberies to them, saying that, now that he was famous, his past may come back to haunt him.
Joshua Tel Warner was sentenced to 9 ½ years in prison in 2010.
4 Climate change is affecting the show
The environment is often the most entertaining thing about Deadliest Catch. The poor weather and massive waves of the Bering Strait create a natural drama between human and nature that is enthralling to watch, but a changing climate has forced the cast and crews to take even more risks.
“The waters off Alaska that provide the livelihood for the show's real-life stars warmed by a dramatic 4 degrees in one year,” R. Decker Watson Jr., one of the show’s executive producers, told The Daily Mail in 2017. “The cold water-loving crab is depleted in the traditional fishing areas, so some of the boats strike out for new territory that is more dangerous because of fiercer storms and is further from rescue workers if something goes wrong”.
3 Producers film more boats and captains than what they use on the show
Despite being a massive success for The Discovery Channel, each season of Deadliest Catch is a huge risk. On top of the expected risk of potential bodily harm in the Bering Strait, there’s the constant risk that nothing particularly interesting will happen or, even worse, they’ll miss it.
In order to make sure everything is captured, each boat has at least four remote cameras attached to various parts of the vessel. Next, the camera crews live on the boat for the entirety of the crab run, usually around three to five weeks, capturing everything.
To increase the odds of capturing great footage, the Deadliest Catch showrunners also work with more boats than they think they’ll need. In an interview with David Niu from BuddyTV in 2010 producers and ship captains revealed that producers do in fact film more boats than the ones that actually make it on the show.
2 Elliot Neese was fined $3,000 for catching undersized crabs
Elliot Neese, the youngest captain to appear on Deadliest Catch, has had more than his fair share of problems over the years, but in 2015 he made a rookie mistake. Neese ran into trouble with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game after being caught trying to unload undersized crabs.
Neese was trying to bring in a large load of very valuable red king crabs when officials took a sample of his cargo. The officials found 13 undersized crabs, something that is a big “no no” in the crabbing world. The report on the incident indicated that it’s not uncommon to see “rookies” make this kind of mistake, but it is still very illegal. Neese was fined $6,000 for the incident, but the fine was cut in half after he agreed to a guilty plea.
1 Jake Harris has had a lot of problems
Jake Harris has run into quite a few problems in recent years. After the unexpected passing of his father in 2010, Jake was arrested for a hit and run, driving under the influence, and driving with a suspended license after he crashed his BMW. In 2013, Harris disappeared from the promotional material for Deadliest Catch. According to his brother Josh, this was because Jake was into some illegal substances.
Unfortunately for Jake, things only got worse. In 2016, he suffered brain trauma after a fight during an apparent robbery. A few months later, TMZ reported that Jake was arrested for allegedly stealing a car. During the arrest police also allegedly found illegal substances.
Following the arrest Harris failed to appear in court and, in May of 2017, a bench warrant was put out for his arrest.
What do you think the craziest behind the scenes secret was? Let us know in the comments!