Recently, someone suggested that, as a writer, I should go and work on a fishing boat in Alaska to gain inspiration. I knew this was a stupid idea, because I watch this show.
The thinking behind it is simple: Alaskan crab fishing has the highest death rate of any job in America, so film some a couple seasons of it and maybe someone will die. Fatalities=ratings. Unfortunately for the Discovery Channel, the old spoilsports a Fish and Game decided that “deadliest job in America’ was not a distinction they wanted one of the industries they control to have, so they instituted some changes.
Under the old system (as seen on Season 1), a quota was put in place for how much crab could be caught in a given season, but there was no limit on the number of boats that could go after it. So the opening of the season would be declared and everyone goes hell-bent-for-leather for the next three days, trying to get as much as they could before the quota was met. Triumph of the free market system? Sure. Recipe for disaster? Damn straight. Under the new system, a few of the top-producing boats get a pre-determined share of the catch, and several weeks to meet it. It means that (presumably) fewer people will die, but a lot of those people who aren’t dying are out of work. So there’s some tension, as evidenced by a profanity-laced rant by an old-timer, but less drama.
So, in the fine tradition of ‘nonscripted’ TV, drama must be generated from the footage on hand. Grousing by some crew members on a boat where a younger guy is about to take over as captain is recast as incipient mutiny, the decision whether to wait out a storm or keep fishing warrants an end-of-episode cliffhanger and said rant is teased over three commercial breaks.
Which is not to say there is no danger involved here. There’s rain and snow, seas rough enough to make a seagull puke, giant metal cages swinging around on a crane and the constant threat of being swept overboard by one of the giant waves of testosterone rolling across the deck. But mostly what’s interesting about it is the glimpse it provides into a completely unfamiliar world, the thinking, the economics and a little bit of the culture of it. I know it’s far from a complete or completely accurate picture- the Heisenberg uncertainty principle goes for double if there’s a television camera involved- but, believe me, this is as close as I am ever going to get.
Best thing: The vicarious thrill of watching a hugely full crab pot come up over the side.
Worst thing: The vague sense of guilt felt when eating overcooked crab legs in a buffet.
Tivo status: Season Pass