'Deadliest Catch' Capt. Keith Colburn talks about fan attention, feeling fear, and losing men at sea -- EXCLUSIVE
Season seven of Deadliest Catch is almost here! In preparation for tomorrow’s season 7 debut on Discovery, EW boarded the Wizard in Dutch Harbor, Alaska to chat with Capt. Keith Colburn about his boat, his crew, and his reaction to Phil Harris’ death..
EW How has the show affected the way people look at your line of work?
Keith Colburn There have been more benefits to the show than negatives. People in the U.S. now have a good understanding of what fishermen do for a living. I think that helps when people go to the store to make their purchases.
EW Does the show glamorize what you do?
Colburn Oh I think so. All the time people are like, `Oh yeah, I really want to do that, I know I could do that. I really want to try to do that.’ The reality is, 99 out of 100 people who try this job don’t succeed. I mean they come out here, and they don’t understand. The show can’t chronicle the discomfort, the pain, the miserable working and living conditions, because you can’t show pain on TV. These guys work so hard, they all get carpal tunnel syndrome. They’re moving 40 pound objects all day long. You know, 25 pounds here and 25 pounds there. They’re clenching all day long, tying knots. And so pretty soon during the course of the season, your fingers start to go numb, pretty soon it goes into your hands, into your wrists, some guys all the way to the elbows, to the point where they wake up in the morning and their hands are just claws. Some guys will run them under hot water, do anything they can to get them moving and the blood circulating again. You really can’t show that kind of stuff. People say, `Oh yeah, I stayed up for 20 hours once.’ Yeah, but you didn’t stay up for 20 hours, and then sleep for three, and then stay up for 20 and then sleep for two, and then stay up for 20. After about three or four days, your level of fatigue is just something different that most people have ever and will ever experience.
EW Did Phil’s death last year change the show?
Colburn Well yeah, obviously. But you know, at the end of the day, this isn’t about TV. This is about going to work in the Bering Sea. And Phil is not the first friend I’ve lost out here. I’ve lost a bunch. Friends, acquaintances, you know. Guys I’ve known for years who haven’t come back. This isn’t the first time I’ve had to go through this. It’s the first time America’s gone through this, ‘cause it’s on TV.
EW Will you make any life changes because of Phil’s death? There’s a lot of smoking out there.
Colburn Oh yeah. What do you have to look forward to on a boat? Your bunk, a meal, and a smoke. That’s it. That, and what’s ever in the next pot. You celebrate when you’re getting big pots. You want to fill the boat as quickly as possible but, you know, you’re focused on just getting the job done. And about the only crutch the guy’s leaning on out there is tobacco. Asking someone to change their habits when they are out here in a super stressful environment is incredibly difficult. I’ve quit chewing eight times. I started chewing again eight times. I’ve tried all kinds of stress-relievers — gum, patches. Two years ago I had a biopsy on my lip. And, the results came back, the guy said `You know what, you got a free pass this time. But you’ve got to quit.’ And, I quit for eight months. And I started again. My daughter’s been incredibly helpful trying to get me to make that step again, to just stop chewing.
EW Does the job still scare you at all?
Colburn I don’t feel fear when I’m out there. The actual terrified sensation of fear, I don’t get that. Even at it’s worst. In fact, when it gets really bad, everything slows down, everything becomes very clear, and you are just focused on the task. How do we get over this? How do we get this water off the deck? How do I get through this ice?
EW How did you feel about Captains Sig Hansen and Johnathan and Andy Hillstrand temporarily leaving the show last year?
Colburn I’m going to take the Fifth on that one. There’s enough animosity between the fishermen at times on this show. I don’t need to generate anymore.
EW What animosity are you talking about?
Colburn In some ways there’s appreciation. In other ways there’s animosity. And some of the animosity stems from how they’d like to be on TV too. The other animosity is that there’s actually money involved now. You know, for the first few years there was nothing. They just barely paid us nuisance money to do this. So, the guys who went out there early on didn’t get paid anything, really. Now the guys are trying to market themselves. They’re trying to take advantage of the opportunity because it’s crazy. You can’t go anywhere without meeting somebody who knows the show. It can be a cool experience, but it can also be, you know, a bit much for not only yourself, but your family, your kids. It really made me uncomfortable recently because there was a gal who showed up at an event I was at who proceeded to be mad at me because I didn’t respond personally to her. I didn’t respond to her through my Facebook or through my Twitter or through whatever to say, `Oh yeah, absolutely. You know, I’ll go out there and walk with you’ or whatever. I didn’t even know who she was.
EW You’re going to market yourself, right?
Colburn I owe over $2 million on my business. I’m going to do anything and everything I can to pay off my boat, my gear, my quota, and everything. I’m going to try to do what I can. But rest assured, you will not see me endorsing 5,000 little, tiny widgets and gadgets and have, you know, a NASCAR poster board of stuff on my shirt. I’m not going to go do a rock ‘n roll speaking tour. That’s not me. I mean, would I speak in front of an abnormal psychology class at Penn State? Absolutely, because we’re a case study for abnormal psychology.