What Really Happens When the Cameras Stop Rolling on Deadliest Catch?

Since 2005, Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch has been a fan favorite. The show has chronicled the harrowing moments, the humor, and the unexpected tragedies of the Bering Sea’s most fearless crab fishermen. But just how well do you know the series and cast? The cameras have to stop rolling at some point, and, for the captains and crew, most of the drama happens off the boat.

The Saga crew posing with their king crabs
Source: Discover Channel

From what actually happened to Elliott Neese, to remembering Captain Phil Harris and drama between other fishing boats not sponsored by Discovery Channel, we’ve got you covered. So what are you waiting for? Let’s take a peek at what really happens when the cameras aren’t filming Deadliest Catch!

Crab Fishing Is More Dangerous Than You Think

Anyone who watches the show knows that crab fishing can be dangerous. But just how dangerous is it? In 2006, the Bureau of Labor Statistics ranked crab fishing as the deadliest job in America by a long shot. It is almost 75 percent more deadly in the next two jobs on their list: pilots and loggers.

The Cornelia crab fishing boat with the crew removing a large cage from the choppy waters
Photo by Discovery Network / Kobal / Shutterstock

It is also believed that one fisherman dies per week during a crab fishing season, which is usually from October to January. The fishermen use heavy machinery to catch crabs while trying to stay afloat on the choppy (and don’t forget freezing) waters of the Bering Sea. If the heavy machinery doesn’t kill you, then hyperthermia or drowning will.

You Either Love or Hate the Camera Crew

Can you imagine someone sticking their camera in your face every day while you tried to work? I can’t, and I work at a desk with a computer. Imagine being out at sea and narrowly escaping death daily, but with a whole camera crew. It doesn’t sound very fun, does it?

The camera crew in the water with a camera propped up with two floating devices
Source: Discovery Channel

The crab fishing season is a few weeks long and if the fishermen don’t leave the boats, neither do the cameramen. Captain “Wild Bill,” Wichrowski said that the fishermen are forced to know the camera crew since they spend so much time together in close quarters. “You either grow to really like these guys or not. It’s one way or the other,” he says.

Blake Painter Didn’t Quit

Captain Blake Painter’s sudden absence from the show has puzzled fans over the years. The show’s producers made it seem like he just up and left when office politics and the workload became too much. But after doing some digging, we found that simply was not the case.

Blake Painter posing in front of a crabbing boat
Source: Discovery Channel

While the show made it seem like Painter quit the Maverick suddenly, he actually stayed in charge of the ship until the end of the fishing season. After the fishing season, he went to take care of his father, who had been diagnosed with cancer and was undergoing treatment. When the captain was asked to return for Season three, he told them no. After some convincing, however, he agreed but felt like the show was too fake for his liking.

Overcoming Trials and Tribulations

The current captain of Saga, Jake Anderson, may seem like he has his life in order now, but it wasn’t always like that. He has been through a lot in his life. Anderson’s addiction to alcohol and drugs left him homeless for two years. To make matters worse, his family has a tragic past. In the fifth season episode, Bitter Tears, Anderson was notified off camera that his sister, Chelsea, had unexpectedly died.

Jake Anderson holding a large crab with his fist up as if signaling a victory
Source: Discovery Channel

But it didn’t end there. During the show’s next season, Anderson was notified that his father, Keith, was presumed dead after his truck was found abandoned. Then, in 2012, a hiker stumbled across his father’s skeletal remains, just a mile away from where his car was found. While Anderson believes his father was murdered, nothing has been confirmed.

Keep ‘Em Rolling!

Phil Harris, the late captain of the Cornelia Marie, didn’t want the cameras to stop, ever. He had been a constant fixture on the show since it started filming in 2004. But in the Season 6 episode, Blown off Course, Harris suffered a massive stroke while offloading crabs. According to Thom Beers, the show’s creator and producer, Harris knew the cameras were on him. And he was okay with that.

The crew of Deadliest Catch posing on their boat with Phil Harris in the center
Photo by Discovery Network / Kobal / Shutterstock

“We’ve got to have an end to the story,” Harris told Beers. “You want to film this film this.” The producer honored the captain’s wishes and continued to film as he was airlifted to Anchorage, Alaska. As soon as Harris arrived at the hospital, doctors performed emergency brain surgery.

One Heck of a Man

When Harris first awoke from brain surgery, he was doing great given the circumstances. He could squeeze hands and talk, which stunned doctors. They said that the improvements the captain was making in just mere days were something that usually took stroke victims months. But, sadly, the excitement was short-lived.

Phil Harris holding a king crab on their boat
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The brain surgery extended Harris’ life for a few days, but it wasn’t enough to save him. After spending 11 days in the intensive care unit, Harris passed away. His stroke was the most traumatic moment in Deadliest Catch history, leaving fans in absolute shock. Just a few hours after his death, fans had written over 75 pages of condolences on the show’s website. He truly was one heck of a man!

Captains Have a Hard Time Watching

Many Hollywood actors can’t watch themselves in their own films. Sometimes it’s self-consciousness, but many times it’s perfectionism. Well, the captains have their own reasons for not liking the show, and, for these guys, living through a crab season once is enough.

Josh and Jake Harris posing together
Josh and Jake Harris. Source: Pinterest

The job is so stressful and dangerous that the captains would rather not live through it a second time. Captain Sig Hansen has to watch it alone because he becomes so invested in the episodes. Josh Harris has his own reasons. The captain hasn’t tuned in to Deadliest Catch since his father, Captain Phil Harris, passed away in 2012. The show reminds him of his dad’s tragic and unexpected passing.

The Camera Crew Have a Hard Time

A crab fisherman puts his life on the line every time he goes out to sea. Since Deadliest Catch is a reality show, crew members are everywhere the crabbers are, even if that means in the face of danger. Working on the show is a risk, and brushes with death are a daily occurrence. And during the show’s earlier seasons, the camera crew had little to no experience on crab fishing boats.

The camera crew with bags over the camera recording some action on the boat
Source: Pinterest

The captain of the Northwestern, Sig Hansen, told Jimmy Kimmel that he actually saved a cameraman’s life while filming the first season. A 900-pound crab pot began swinging from a crane, and the oblivious cameraman was standing directly in its path. Had Hansen not screamed at the cameraman to move, he would have been killed.

There’s a Bank Robber Among Us!

Joshua Tel Warner, a greenhorn on the Wizard, had appeared in the first nine episodes of the show’s first season. Fans may remember him as the guy who was always fighting with the other crewmen. But for Oregon law enforcement, Warner is just another fugitive. For those who don’t know, Warner was involved in a string of bank robberies from 2007 to 2009.

Joshua Warner’s mugshot / Joshua Warner on CCTV footage at a bank tellers’ desk
Source: Pinterest / YouTube

Apparently, a Deadliest Catch fan in Oregon recognized the fisherman’s face after the local news aired surveillance footage of the robberies. “I don’t think you can end up on national TV, make a spectacle of yourself, and not end up getting caught for three bank robberies,” Detective Jeff Donaca said during a press conference.

Sig Has His Own Set of Legal Problems

The heavy hand of the law has long haunted a number of fishermen from Deadliest Catch. In 2017, it caught up with Captain Sig Hansen. No, it wasn’t related to drugs, but alcohol did play a part. It all started when Hansen accidentally canceled his ride on the Uber app, while still in the car.

Sig Hansen with his wife, June, on the red carpet at the Emmy Awards in 2019
June and Sig Hansen. Photo by AFF-USA / Shutterstock

This meant that the Uber driver wouldn’t get paid if he continued the trip. So, he asked Hansen, who was heavily intoxicated, if he could re-request the ride on the app. Hansen refused and offered the driver cash instead, which Uber doesn’t accept. It all went downhill from there. The captain began screaming at the driver, spitting on him and kicking his car. Hansen was arrested and put on probation for a year.

Crab Fishing Pays the Big Bucks

At first glance, crabbing captains and their crews look like regular, blue-collar Americans. There’s nothing glamorous about these guys and their job, right? Well, that’s not exactly true. Deadliest Catch members make some serious cash doing what they do. Crewmen can earn $15,000 a month, with captains double that amount, according to the Alaska Fishing Employment Center.

Fishermen inspecting the batch of crabs they just caught on the Deadliest Catch
Photo by Discovery Network / Kobal / Shutterstock

Captain “Wild Bill” Wichrowski, for example, has been working as a crab fisher since 1979. He has worked as a boat electrician, a naval engineer, and a crab fisherman. Now, “Wild Bill” is the captain of the Summer Bay. Today, his net worth is around $3 million, and that’s all from his commercial fishing business. Not too bad, not too bad at all.

Drama Means Good Ratings

What’s a good story without a villain? Whether it’s a book, movie, or show, a bad guy always makes things much more interesting. They give the storylines more conflict and tension, which translates into better ratings. Because, let’s be honest, who would watch a completely drama-free show? Like with all reality TV shows, producers try to paint certain cast members in an unflattering light.

Captain Keith Colburn posing on the red carpet / Elliott Neese posing on a crate on a fishing boat
Photo by Mediapunch, Shutterstock / Rick Gerson, Discovery Channel

But lucky for them, some stars on Deadliest Catch do the work for them. The first bad guy on the show was Captain Keith Colburn, and next came “Wild Bill.” And while these two went on to become fan favorites, audiences had a hard time accepting villain Elliott Neese. The tattooed captain went AWOL after relapsing and abruptly leaving the show.

Not Everyone Is a Fan

With 51 Emmy Awards nominations and 16 wins (as of Season 15), Deadliest Catch is one of the Discovery Channel’s biggest hits. The show has loyal fans worldwide, all waiting to tune in to see what kind of danger the crab fishermen are going to get themselves into next. But there is one place in particular where it’s hard to find someone who likes the show. That place is Alaska.

A man catching crab in Alaska
Photo by Thomas Sbampato / imageBROKER / Shutterstock

Many local commercial fishermen have struggled to make a living since the show has premiered. They have complained that the 70 other boats can’t compete for a good catch. Since the Discovery Channel funds the show’s fishing exhibitions, crews that don’t participate end up making minimum wage. There’s only so many crabs to go around!

The Tattooed Captain

Elliott Neese is a guy fans love to hate. Fans even created a change.org petition to have him removed from the show. It was that bad. The fans got their wish because the tattooed captain of the Saga abandoned his ship in Season 11 and hasn’t appeared on the show since.

Elliot Neese sitting inside of the boat on the Deadliest Catch
Photo by Rick Gerson / Discovery Channel

The former captain doesn’t post that often on social media, except for the occasional fishing trip picture in Fiji or showing off his workout gains. But whether he will ever return to Deadliest Catch is still up in the air. The show’s executive producer Decker Watson tweeted back in 2017 that he tried getting Neese back on the show for Season 13, but not everyone was quite ready to have him back.

Gone Too Soon

Fans around the world mourned the loss of former captain, Blake Painter, back in 2018. The former Capitan was found in his home in Oregon by a friend who went to check on Painter. While the toxicology report was never shared with the public, there were reports of several types of drugs found at the scene when paramedics arrived.

Blake Painter
Blake Painter. Source: MSN.com

Although Painter’s friends say the former captain was “sober and happy” in the months leading up to his death, he had been caught using drugs before. Although many people wonder what drove the 38-year-old to use drugs, we do know that the fisherman was in pain because of his physically demanding job. He suffered from a condition called “the claw,” carpal tunnel, and a bad back and shoulders.

How Much Is Scripted?

Reality TV is often seen as anything but real, and Deadliest Catch is no exception. Former Captain Elliot Neese accused the show of turning him into a villain for ratings, and some of the show’s captains claim that much of the drama was written into scripts.

A crew member bringing in a crate of crab wearing a yellow rain jacket on Deadliest Catch
Photo by Discovery Network / Kobal / Shutterstock

The show also makes it seem like boats are alone at sea, but, in reality, there are hundreds of boats. There have also been rumors that many of the wildest scenes on the show are, in fact, reshoots. Apparently, crab fishermen actually have a lot of downtime, which is mostly spent reshooting certain scenes so that the cameramen can get the right shot. Hmm, it doesn’t seem so real to me!

Not a Real Strom

Deadliest Catch’s first and biggest blunder took place during its fourth season when it was revealed that a major storm wasn’t as intense as it appeared to be on the show. It all started when one of the show’s boats began to flood. But that’s not exciting! Where’s the drama? Where’s the footage of fishermen fighting for their lives?

A man fishing during a large storm on the Deadliest Catch
Photo by Discovery Network / Kobal / Shutterstock

So the production crew waited until there was a thunderous storm, filmed it, and added it to the boat’s flooding footage. After watching the show, die-hard fans knew that the two events happened a month apart because, hey, anyone can look up the weather report and see that there wasn’t a storm when the show said there was. While all of the footage was real, producers took artistic license and stretched the definition of reality.

Three Different Narrators?

Narrators can really take a show or movie to new heights. Try to imagine The Shawshank Redemption without Morgan Freeman and his narration. The film wouldn’t be the same, would it? Americans love Mike Row’s voice that guides us through each episode of Deadliest Catch. But did you know that international viewers don’t get to hear Discovery Channel’s most beloved narrator?

Mike Rowe sitting behind a microphone with a cup of coffee
Source: Twitter

In the UK, for example, Bill Petrie reads a slightly different script that appeals more to a British audience. On the other side of the globe, voice artist Nasir Bilal Khan narrates for Malaysian audiences. But why? Discovery Channel has reasoned that audiences prefer the show when it’s in their own dialect.

Way Too Small!

If you’re working as a crab fisherman, you better make sure that you’re doing your job right. In addition to his other legal issues, Captain Elliott Neese was slapped with a $6,000 fine for undersized crabs. Back in November 2014, Alaskan officials investigated Neese’s boat and found 13 small “bugs.”

Joe Gomez counting crabs after a good catch
Source: Discovery Channel

Everyone knows this is a rookie mistake and a major no-no, especially if you’re fishing professionally for the entire world to see. The captain pleaded guilty, and his fine was slashed to $3,000. That’s still a hefty fine for someone who should have known better. Neese complained that his negative portrayal on the show is what made Alaskan officials bring the heat.

Never-Ending Troubles

While everyone on the show has their troubles, there is one cast member in particular who has had it harder than the rest: Jake Harris. The younger son of Captain Phil Harris first had to cope with the loss of his father while being filmed. But his struggles didn’t end there. In the decade following his father’s untimely death, Harris survived a gruesome mugging and then was arrested for stealing his girlfriend’s car a few months later.

Jake Harris’s mugshot
Source: Maricopa County Sheriff

Then in 2019, Harris was involved in a police chase. The cops eventually caught him and found illegal substances in his pockets. In August 2019, the former fisherman was sentenced to 18 months in jail. Jake’s brother Josh remains hopeful that he will turn his life around after being released.

Discovery Channel Will Sue You

Captains Johnathan and Andy Hillstrand of Time Bandit filmed a TV special back in 2010 titled Hillstranded. The idea behind the one-time special was to give fans a glimpse into the fishermen’s lives when they’re off the boat. But when the Hillstrand brothers failed to show up for their scheduled interviews and voice-overs, things went south pretty quickly.

Johnathan and Andy Hillstrand posing on a marina
Source: Pinterest

Discovery sued the brothers for a whopping $3 million! The network claimed that it would lose a substantial amount of money if the project wasn’t completed, but the Hillstrands’ lawyer claimed that wasn’t true. He called the network arrogant and greedy and accused it of bullying the brothers. Filming interviews would have interfered with their fishing schedule.

The Show Takes Filming Seriously

Being a five-time Emmy Award winner is no small feat. This must mean that the cameramen are doing something right. So how exactly do they get such good visuals for the show? First of all, it’s not easy. The production team uses several different cameras, including drones and cameras, specifically engineered for underwater. Sometimes they even use helicopters and cameramen on chase boats.

Maria Dosal throwing a buoy out over the ship's deck
Source: Discovery Channel

The show also destroys more than a dozen cameras each season because of the conditions out at sea. By the end of shooting, editors are presented with over 30,000 hours of film, 20 of which actually make it on to the show. So, you’ll never see most of what they film.

Deadliest Catch isn’t the only reality show that has dominated the headlines in recent years. History Channel’s Pawn Stars has been making the rounds, especially after fans found out Old Man Harrison’s final wishes…