Some documentary-style reality television shows give us a glimpse into the lives of professionals whose experience and talent expand our sense of what is possible for a human being to achieve. Others might not display professional prowess, but they can still inspire a sense of awe, it seems, by showing us just how reckless, determined, or just messed up in the head some folks are.
Check out Troy Landry hunting an alligator on Swamp People or watch Sig Hansen pilot a boat right over the front edge of a moving herd of crab in Deadliest Catch, and you’ll wonder what you could’ve gotten good at if you’d had their talent and drive and focus.
Watch Gold Rush, with its desperate, recession-slammed amateurs making every mistake in the book, and you’ll learn a lot more about toughness than mining; still, there’s something pretty special about that Hoffman crew.
But, what is the lesson of the Discovery Channel’s new show, Bering Sea Gold? Well, whatever it is, Scott Meisterheim is right in the middle of it, and it seems to have something to do with anger (or idiot) management.
No one on Bering Sea Gold embodies amateur desperation like its most prominently featured undersea miner, Scott Meisterheim, Captain of the Wild Ranger. If you’ve seen the posters for Bering Sea Gold, you’ve seen Scott. He’s the blond with the rugged good looks and determined squint. (In fact, he looks a bit like Deadliest Catch‘s Sig Hansen.)
What the still images can’t convey, though, is Scott’s temperament. And by “temperament,” I mean “temper.” This is one high strung dude. By his own account, he isn’t easy to get along with, is desperate for money, and has no experience mining off-shore for gold. Now, that’s a recipe for some reality tv drama, and that’s exactly what Scott is cooking.
It is tough to tell how short Scott’s fuse really is, since he is surrounded by people who could make the Queen of England lose her lady-like ways. Steve Riedel, who also doesn’t have any experience diving for gold, but who somehow made it onto Scott’s crew, is one annoying joker. He seems good-natured enough; but, he can’t stop talking (or singing), he doesn’t seem to have any sense of time or personal space, and he has this habit of trying to make all of the misfortunes of mining into causes for a very vocal celebration of life. I’m trying to think of another character on any of documentary reality TV show who tries (and fails miserably) to lighten the mood the way Steve does, and I can’t think of one. Oh, and no matter how many times Scott fires Steve, he just keeps coming back.
So, when confronted with the possibility that he has an anger management problem (because he, for example, threatened to throw Steve off the boat or, for another example, ended up punching a generator out of rage), Scott denies it explicitly. He doesn’t have any anger management problem, he says, just an idiot problem.
Steve isn’t the only marginal character Scott has to deal with, though. There’s Jason Walker, another newbie to gold dredging, who impressed Scott with how long he was able to stay underwater on his first gold dive. Sadly, he also impressed Scott on that first outing by dislocating his shoulder as he fell off the boat into the frigid Bering Sea.
After Scott got Jason back on the boat, and to a hospital onshore, it was just him and Steve again. That did not take Scott to his happy place. (Does Scott have a happy place?) Jason seems much better at keeping his mouth shut than Steve is, so he catches a lot less of Scott’s temper; but, that might just be because Steve catches so much of it. If Steve really walks away from the Wild Ranger, and Scott hates Jason as much as he tells the camera that he does, then Jason’s not going to have a lot of fun out on that dredge alone with Scott. Nope. No fun at all.
As if it weren’t challenging enough for Scott, who is a rookie captain, to make a productive crew out of one silly inexperienced miner and another injured inexperienced miner, it turns out that they’re all working for a rookie dredge owner, too. Vern Adkison has experience running ships on the Mississippi river, but he was drawn to the stability of gold because of the craziness of the world economy. Who knows what a dollar or a euro will be worth 10 years from now? Vern is banking on gold being a bit more durable, so he put a dredge together. He doesn’t know what he’s doing, though, any more than the rest of them. Nice.
So, just to review. Scott Meisterheim is ill-tempered, he says, because he is surrounded by idiots. He’s working for someone who has never bankrolled a dredge before and his crew consists of two men who have never dredged for gold. So, he is certainly surrounded by people who don’t know what they’re doing; but calling them idiots might be a bit too strong. And, hey, wait a minute. How would Scott know gold dredging idiocy when he saw it? He doesn’t have any more experience than the rest of them! Vern and Steve and Jason might not know what their doing; but, Scott doesn’t know anything either. He isn’t a gold dredging veteran. Why is he in Alaska at all? Why did he choose to put himself into this infuriating situation?
Well, as he tells the story, he is behind on the child support payments for his daughters. Way behind. So far behind that he’ll be thrown in jail if he doesn’t come up with some money very, very soon. So far behind that he was willing to leave his wife (who is not the mother of his daughters) and borrow money to go to Nome for the summer to mine gold. According to an interview that Meisterheim gave to a newspaper in his home state, Michigan, he doesn’t owe quite as much as the show says he does, though. Discovery says he’s in the hole for $100k, when the total is more like 20k according to Scott. Still.
In the same interview, he said that he knew he was going to be portrayed as a villain, and he said he didn’t mind. He can be nice or not, depending on the people he’s with. And these people definitely don’t bring out the nice in him.
When you put all of this together, Scott doesn’t come out looking very good. Let’s grant that Steve would be a difficult man to be stuck at sea with and that Jason isn’t much better. Let’s even grant that Vern isn’t giving Scott the support he needs, although there’s not much evidence of that. The bottom line is that Scott is the captain of the Wild Ranger, and it is his job to make it profitable. No one promised him a perfect crew or a perfect boss. They gave him a dredge and a chance. It is his job to make something of it. And, at least halfway through season one, he just isn’t coming through.
The Christine Rose, with its huge excavator, is in a class of its own; but, both the Clark and the Sluicey are out-mining the Wild Ranger, too. Scott is simply not doing his job. Can we blame this on Steve or Jason or Vern? Well, I suppose we could; but, no self-respecting Captain would. Can we blame it on Scott’s anger or perhaps just his inexperience? Maybe. What do you think?
Photos: Discovery Channel