Gold Rush Alaska, Episode III

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It was more like a Christmas party than a gathering of TV critics, being Friday night and December 18-- and since the college kids are home and the tree is up. Sarah and the baby were there too, and we took turns holding her. Chip and the guys kept shushing us so they could hear the show. Since everyone brought their dogs, that meant six of them were trying to get a bite of our deer burgers, salads, and Kim's amazing layered jello cubes. The bitter cold helped, she said, as all it took to create them was pouring one flavor (and color) in the pan, sticking it outside, waiting a few minutes for it to set, and pouring another layer. Also, we have decided the reality of this series is that the gold is in the money-making drama, not the ground, so why get all upset about a TV show? Mainly, we looked for local people, and were pleased again with the scenery, which we never tire of. In this episode the miners half-build, half-set a shaker in place to sort the mining mud from the gold. They get more advice from show-stealing ninety-year-old neighbor John Schnabel, and use a lot of pictures of his mining equipment working. They remind us every few minutes that financial ruin is just minutes away and that they have families to feed. They hold a meeting and announce a 72 hour deadline to get the shaker in place... or else they'll be ruined and all will be lost.  In the meantime, our crowd, who are mostly Schnabels and who all have watched (or helped) their dad or grandfather John mine, across the creek from where these guys have set up camp, for about thirty years, understand that digging for gold is slow, uncertain, steady work, and there is nothing all that dramatic about it. That's why there are  many roars, and much laughter and shaking of heads over the new do-or-die-no-guts-no-glory 72 hour deadline. (We did note that the miners had been in Haines long enough to learn the local custom of holding formal meetings with written agendas, the way we do for every organization from the Women's Club to the Borough Assembly, and we hoped lead miner Todd Hoffman would institute Robert's Rules of Order. Maybe next time.) Overall, the men tend to think the show is entertaining, but the women are not as amused. There were fewer man hugs this time. Tensions were high especially between Jimmy Dorsey and Todd Hoffman. (There is a fight coming that we know about because that was in the paper this summer after they called Trooper Josh, who suspected it was staged for the show, and wouldn't let them film him talking to them.  Roger thinks the fight is real,  but that's leaping ahead to a future episode, no doubt.) So, we cheered when we saw local trucker Bob Piper  deliver some equipment, but he didn't stay long.  We hoped they'd show the town when the sick mechanic went to the clinic, or maybe even have Fireman Al and the ambulance crew drive out to the mine, but they didn't. Also, the miners' families arrived at the relatively quiet airport, not the bustling ferry terminal, so we missed seeing more Haines folks on TV. They are trying to make our town look farther away from the mine than it is. My daughter made sandwiches for the show's camera crew at Mountain Market and they drove in to pick them up for lunch most days. The miners are fairly scary when it comes to running machinery, but when someone commented, "they are going to get killed." Someone else,  maybe it was fisherman Stuart DeWitt, said, "That's why people are watching, right? It's like The Deadliest Catch." Debra was miffed about all the financial ruin talk, especially when they climbed so easily into their camp Suburban. "They have those steps," she noted, which are an expensive extra. When one of the guys used a little chain saw to cut a log, everyone laughed. "Is that a toy? I think it's electric."  In the end, of course they meet the deadline, though it remains unclear what that means, as they have no gold-laden mud to run through the shaker, since they haven't started mining, as far as we can tell. (But that's the director and script-writer's problem.)  But when they raised an American flag and thanked God, everyone groaned. Roger said, "All we need is God Bless America," and Debra howled, "Oh, get out! I don't believe this." We once again agreed that their father stole the show and anticipate seeing John's grandson, 16 year-old Parker in the next episode, January 7.  We know he'll be great. "Parker will be on Dancing with the Stars" someone said. "With Bristol!" Someone else said.  Parker's dimples deepened. His mother quickly nixed that idea. "I don't think she'd be a good influence."  Yesterday at a family breakfast, John Schnabel said that he wished the miners well with their show, and enjoyed helping them out, but from the beginning told them he didn't want any money or fame from it. "They brought me all kinds of papers to sign, and I did," He said. John is, after all, an Alaskan gold miner, not an actor.

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