If there's anything I've learned from watching thousands of hours of lowbrow TV, it's what makes something continuously watchable. Though by way of context, I'm a 30-year-old who's pretty basic. I still watch "The Real World" even though every person on it is the worst. I almost cried when "The People vs. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story" ended, because it made my Tuesdays. And I think 30-minute sitcoms ("You're the Worst," "Master of None," "Veep," "Catastrophe," "Togetherness," etc.) are the best thing happening in the television world. Sorry, "Game of Thrones."
There is a Discovery Channel program that I believe deserves more mainstream love than it's getting: "Bering Sea Gold." For whatever reason, I missed the boat (pun!) on "Deadliest Catch," which, based on its staying power, is a legitimately good show. Even in its early seasons, when I caught several episodes, it never was able to reel me in (pun again!).
"Bering Sea Gold" is a silly show narrated by Mike Rowe (just like "Deadliest Catch") about underwater gold miners looking to strike it rich off the coast of Nome. They build ridiculous-looking floating dredges and seem to always be on the verge of sinking, literally and figuratively. But what keeps "Bering Sea Gold" watchable is the rotating cast anchored by a few staples.
First, the star of the show is clearly Emily Riedel, who is so obviously not a gold miner. She's a trained opera singer who every season strips down and jumps in the freezing Bering Sea in her underwear/swimsuit for no apparent reason other than the cameras. She's talks in sassy sound bites and is willing to hype up the drama with the rest of the cast. And while some might see this as undesirable, I see it as awesome.
There's a lot that could be said about the fact that she's a woman in the male-dominated world of gold mining, but I think it's actually more interesting that she's a female lead on a Discovery Channel show who isn't someone's wife. (For context, Discovery Channel is cable's No. 1 non-sports network for men -- specifically, men ages 25-54.)
What makes both Riedel and "Bering Sea Gold" refreshing is that they've embraced their genre. Where a show like "The Last Alaskans" runs away from reality TV tropes, "Bering Sea Gold" cast a family of degenerates who moved from Hawaii to Nome after seeing the show. Add dramatic cast members who aren't miners, and it makes for TV gold. It's like when a new housewife is added to the "Real Housewives" franchise and the existing cast basically hazes the newbie through white wine/vodka soda-fueled catty comments.
While the show is still targeted at a 35-year-old man somewhere in the Midwest dreaming about Alaska adventures, its subplots (including Riedel's tumultuous relationship with Zeke Tenhoff) make it watchable for the rest of us.
It's the same reason I'm an "Alaskan Bush People" apologist. While it might be the biggest dumpster fire that has ever been inflicted upon Southeast Alaska, its producers are playing to their strengths. They've hidden their cast from interviews, which leaves them surrounded with controversy and mystery. There is no doubt that the Brown family members have broken the law multiple times, and have not actually been "raised in the wild" away from other humans. But the show is still hella entertaining.
It's been confirmed. "Alaskan Bush People" will return for a fourth season on May 6, while in real life, its stars will be serving time for PFD fraud with ankle monitors in Juneau. "Bering Sea Gold" airs Wednesdays on Discovery Channel.
Emily Fehrenbacher lives in Anchorage, where she reviews Alaska reality TV. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ETFBacher.