Interview: The Deadliest Catch Cast on Pesky Cameramen and Putting Fishing First

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Captains Johnathan and Andy Hillstrand with Sig Hansen
The Deadliest Catch has quickly become one of television's most watched shows. Known for the drama, action and, of course, the rick of injury or death, millions of followers have gotten hooked [ahem] to Discovery Channel's hit fishing show. Prior to their stop at the Touhill Performing Arts Center on Tuesday, May 10 (which will raise funds for St. Louis disaster efforts), Gut Check caught up with Andy Hillstrand and Sig Hansen to talk about how the show has changed and what it's like having to constantly save the cameramen's lives.

Gut Check: Congratulations on having one of the biggest season premiers this year.

Hansen: You know, if I gave a shit, I'd probably be in Hollywood somewhere, so whatever.

So how did you guys get started with fishing?

Hillstrand: Well, my dad was a fisherman when I was a kid, so I've been commercially fishing since I was seven years old. I've been on boats since I was three. My dad had five boys and there are three of them on the Time Bandit now.

Hansen: I was 12 the first year I went crab fishing. The Northwestern was built in 1977, but it's been a family business for a long time. We're fourth generation fishermen. Dad came over to the states in 1958 and started experimenting with fishing.

What were your reactions when you heard the Discovery Channel wanted to make a show out of crab fishing?

Hillstrand: Well my brother told them no. But they saw me with the underwater camera I drag on the bottom of the ocean floor to spot king crab and they asked me if I wanted to be on the show, so I talked to my brother and we agreed.

Hansen:
We thought they were nuts. We were very leery, very cautious. We, along with the rest of the fleet, were very leery about it 'cause we didn't know how it would be portrayed, and we didn't want our insurance rates to go up. We knew it was unique, but they called it the Deadliest Catch, and to be honest we didn't know really how the statistics were about the injuries so we weren't fully aware.

You guys didn't know how dangerous your job was?

Hansen: No, no. We were just fishing. We didn't realize it.

Have you ever been seriously injured on the boats?


Hillstrand:
Oh yeah, I've had my neck crushed and my kneecap was almost taken off. I remember all of them.

Hansen: We've been lucky. We haven't had any mortalities on the boat, but we've had a lot of injuries. My brother had his head busted open and we sewed it shut with dental floss. My brother stuck a knife all the way through his arm one time. And I've busted my nose and my teeth, ankles and stuff like that, but nothing fatal.

There's such a high risk or injury or death with this job what keeps you coming back on the boat?

Hillstrand: We're just nuts. We just love it man. It's a cool job.

Hansen: It was all you ever did. Hell, you could draw a picture of a boat before you could write your own name.

What got you to agree to do the show?

Hansen: Well, we were supposed to meet these guys for an interview at a bar, but they were late so by the time they got to us we were half in the bag. And they liked what they saw 'cause we were bantering back and forth because we weren't afraid of the camera. I thought it would be a neat tribute for our family. That's the only reason I did it.

What's it like having cameramen on the boats?

Hillstrand: Well they pretty much get thrown in the tempest, and it's my job to protect them, too. We run them through safety drills, but it's basically up to the captain and the crew to make sure they're ok. And they're totally green. They have no clue what's going on.

Hansen: Well that's the thing. They're doing their job, but we're having to babysit them. And they're so into their job, but it's our way or the highway, so it's like "fuck you."

Have there been any major injuries with the cameramen?

Hillstrand: Oh yeah, they've hurt themselves bad. They've broken ribs, broken arms, broken legs. They fall in open holes or a wave will knock them down and roll them around. If you fall in an open hole you owe us a case of beer the first time, and then if you do it twice you owe us a bottle of whiskey, and if you do it a third time we just drop you off on the beach 'cause you're going to die -- you're an idiot.

Hansen: No injuries. We've been lucky. We did have a cameraman who almost lost his head. He had his neck on the railing; he was trying to film outside the boat. And I yelled at him, "get out of the way," and he took like three steps forward, and a 900 pound pot just came crashing down right on the rail. So it would have taken his head off. Then he comes up to the wheelhouse and is like, "dude, I think you just saved my life." He's all white as a ghost. That's why you have to know your surroundings.


They're shooting 24/7 for two to three months. Do you ever want them to turn the cameras off?

Hillstrand: Yeah, we learned how to turn it off. We know where that button is.

Hansen: Now I'm used to it, but at the time, I didn't like it. I would put my hat over the camera and go, "I just don't want to be filmed for a little while." They'd have the monitor down in the galley, and I wouldn't know when I was being filmed, and it just bugged me. I was paranoid. I don't like that shit. We couldn't come to an agreement, so I turned the boat around and headed for the shore. And then he's frantically calling on his little satellite phone, freaking out. And the producer out in L.A. said, "Just throw it over the side, and go fishing." So I threw the camera over the side and we went back fishing.

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