Take a group of interesting people, add a large dollop of ambition, a cup of adventure, a sprinkling of sweeping vistas, and garnish the whole thing with a can-do attitude. That’s the winning recipe for Gold Rush – the Discovery Channel’s number one rated series. This unscripted docu-drama has dominated Friday night television for five years, and was even joined by its own lead-in show, The Dirt, after ratings continued to soar. Now Gold Rush is headed for its season five finale – which is expected to be the biggest night yet for the production.
Gold Rush follows the mixed fortunes of a handful of men, who saw an opportunity to change their lives, and seized it – heading north to hunt for gold. We’ve seen anger, frustration, excitement and elation, but throughout, Gold Rush has maintained something that is all too rare in television programming today – an uplifting story. There is something inspirational about these gold miners and their crews, up there in the cold, chasing down their dreams. As the teams are constantly called upon to work together and overcome obstacles in the pursuit of their goals, viewers in their millions continue to root for them. Such extraordinary success is something many seek, but few ever find – simply because it is so intangible as to be difficult to articulate.
That’s where Christo Doyle comes in. As Executive Producer of the record-breaking Gold Rush, Doyle is better placed than any to put such extraordinary ratings achievements into context. But Doyle is a man of many talents, and also hosts The Dirt – a show that runs for one hour before each new Gold Rush episode, providing audiences with a little additional information. The Dirt sees Doyle sit down with the miners and shoot the breeze, bringing in fan interaction through social media, to boot.
So, with a view from inside the production, what does Christo Doyle think is the key to the phenomenal success of Gold Rush?
“I think Gold Rush works for a number of reasons. It ticks all of our boxes here at Discovery. It has the adventure, it has guys going north – relatable characters – it tells an amazing story. It has grown ups doing something that I think the little boy in all of us would like to be doing. It has man versus nature, it has man versus man, and seeing gold is, I think, incredibly captivating to both men and women. I think what this show has created is an opportunity for the entire family to sit down and watch something wholesome, that you’d either like to go out and do, or you’d like to watch someone else do.”
The idea of family is a significant element of the appeal of Gold Rush. Within the teams, there is a strong emphasis on the relationship between fathers and sons, as well as a real sense of camaraderie. Such themes enhance the level to which audiences can relate to those onscreen. While the vast majority of current television programming is built around conflict, Gold Rush provides a real bonding experience.
“Yes, I mean it absolutely is a bonding experience – both in the show and, I’m hoping, with the viewers. You know, I constantly hear on Twitter or Facebook, “I’m excited to sit down with my son”, or a son saying, “I’m excited to sit down with my father”, or “grandfather” and watch the show. So there’s brotherhood in watching the show and there’s brotherhood – you know actual blood relatives up there. Then, there are also the crews – these crews become one brotherhood, you know, fighting for one goal. They’re up there in extreme conditions – I mean I can’t even describe how harsh the conditions are. [They’re] in the middle of absolutely nowhere – an hour and a half from town. They create these unconventional families. So this show just absolutely reeks of family, which I think is one of these magic things that we need to be thinking about here at Discovery.”
The end of any television season is time to reflect – time to review goals and assess whether these have been met. At the beginning of season five, fans heard how Christo Doyle hoped to freshen the show up, and reinvigorate audiences. As the season finale approaches, the executive producer is happy with the progress made – but reiterates the fact that unscripted television is far more complex than many realise.
“I would say yes, but it’s very important for everybody to know what happens first – and is actually happening right now for season 6. We have to find out what the miners’ plans are – what are they doing? What do they plan on doing? What’s going to make them happy next year? What’s their goal? What crew are they bringing in, and why? Once we get our hands on that document, then we start to really figure out our shooting plan.
“But personally, I look for a way to start the series with some shock and awe. There’s always stuff that happens – drama happening within these crews. I mean, these are big manly men, but they get angry, they get disgruntled, they leave crews. So, I look for stuff like that that can kind of throw a curve ball to the audience. Reinvigorate the audience. And then, there’s equipment – big equipment – that are [like] characters. Washplants, giant dozers – those are the things that I think a lot of our male audience respond to. New, and bigger, and more effective mechanical [items] – whether it’s a washplant, or anything – and we can show them how it works. That’s really [what] people love.
“And then lastly – and you can’t underestimate this – it’s quantity of gold. I mean, we’ve had more gold this season than we’ve ever had before. So seeing these big clean-ups in the show, you know, we just had one that was worth a ton of money – $200,000 – and that really keeps the audience excited. You catch gold fever. I mean, you catch it when watching the show.”
The emotional investment of the audience also plays a huge part in the ongoing success of Gold Rush. Inevitably, with viewers relating to the people in the show, the rollercoaster ride of goldmining makes for thrilling viewing. Each decision made by a crew or crew leader impacts far beyond the lives of the men in their employ. When crew leader Todd Hoffman chose to relocate his operation to the jungles of Guyana in an earlier season, for example, fans of the show felt every pang of devastating disappointment that played across his face as his gamble spectacularly failed, and he returned to Alaska with nothing. Viewers felt keenly aware of the stakes, as Hoffman once again worked to turn his fortunes around – precisely because he is a relatable character.
“Yeah, I mean these guys are genuinely the everyman. The audience could be these guys. These are guys that lost their jobs, or didn’t love what they were doing, or were in low-paying jobs and threw caution to the wind, and headed north to Alaska to chase their dream. I think for a lot of us – that’s a very exciting proposition, and these guys actually did it. You’re really rooting for them.”