Gold Rush, Discovery Channel’s most-popular show, premiered its 10th season last week. But early next year, it’ll bring back its companion series, The Dirt, as a true aftershow, with original host, executive producer, and former Discovery executive Christo Doyle returning as its host.
Doyle revealed that to me in a conversation about season 10, but we also talked about the show’s origins, and its success over these past nine years.
Gold Rush (Discovery, Fridays at 9) first premiered in December of 2010, and while some of its cast members have changed, the general arc of the show has not: it follows miners—the current stars are Parker Schnabel, Rick Ness, and Tony Beets—as they search for gold in the Yukon. It’s more construction project than mystery.
Doyle has been involved with the show since its early days, when he was moved from another Discovery network to be the executive in charge of the show at Discovery Channel.
“I think everybody that was a part of it early on knew that we were on to something special,” he said, describing it as “the show that Discovery is truly always after: first in its space. There had been no gold mining shows, there had been no true adventure show—or treasure show—like that.”
“I remember really clearly the pitch tape,” he said, which, in seven or eight minutes, highlighted “big larger than life characters to start with, it had a man versus nature element, it was set in Alaska—which has always been a sweet spot for us.”
But while the show “had a lot of really cool wow factor for the audience, and big bad machines,” he said, there were also “a lot of problems early on.” And that, Doyle said, “worried me and some of the executive team. How long can an audience watch these guys struggle?”
The answer, so far: 10 seasons, nine years, and more than 200 episodes.
“I think I was probably more paranoid than others about finding the gold,” Doyle said. He’s realized that “the struggle is a huge part of why the show’s worked.”
“Honestly, in season 10, we’ve got some guys who are pretty damn good at gold mining. Parker’s having some huge, huge years. It’s kind of a double-edged sword. You want to see a ton of gold but you also don’t want them to get too good. If they’re too efficient or too good at it, it might not be as compelling, either,” he added.
There’s the potential for a lot to go wrong. “It doesn’t really matter how well you did last season, you can go bust in one season gold mining. We have huge stakes every season. You can go bust really damn quick,” Doyle said, suggesting this may happen during season 10.
As to the show’s cast, Doyle said, “there’s an embarrassment of riches when it comes to gold miners: they’re inherently these big characters with big opinions and a no-b.s. attitude. It’s been harder to figure out who we wanted to focus on and narrow it down.”
“Parker, we knew the second Parker walked across the creek there in Alaska that we were on to something big. His relationship with his grandfather was truly endearing,” he said. “I don’t think I would have ever been able to predict that Parker would be as incredibly successful as a gold miner. … He’s proved to be the biggest part of the show, so far, right now.”
“Tony B., same thing, Raw [the production company] and I felt the same way. We knew right away that when we met Tony that he was a larger-than-life character,” he said.
And now, Rick Ness and his crew are “really refreshing, kind of rewinding to the old days of Todd, starting from scratch, which I think the show needed. Rick’s trying to become the next Todd or the next Parker or the next Tony B.”
There has been conflict between the cast and crew over the years, some of which has been aired on The Dirt (more on that below). “We’ve had years where certain guys are cooperating more than the others, and we aren’t rubbing each other the wrong. But there are years when we rub each other the wrong way,” Doyle said.
“There’s an inherent push-pull when it comes to making the show. They know that we’re making the show, obviously. We’re in their face driving them nuts 12 hours a day or whatever it is. But if we get in their way too much, they can’t gold mine. There’s an inherent tension there.”
A lot of that tension came from Todd Hoffman.
“Todd and I have a very long turbulent relationship in our past—we still communicate regularly. We text regularly. I would say we’re friends now. I would say we’ve emerged from this whole process as lifelong friends; we’ll be in touch for ever,” Doyle told me.
“I know he can be incredibly polarizing to the audience but I also think there’s a silent majority out there that love Todd Hoffman and love what he represents. He was—and if he goes on to another show somewhere else—he’s a phenomenal TV character,” Doyle added. “I’ve worked with some really big Discovery personalities, and Todd is up there with those guys. He makes good TV. Unfortunately he’s very stubborn, and he’s kind of a dreamer, and that gets him in trouble.”
While Gold Rush is a reality show that has to be produced, from planning to editing, Doyle told me that “there’s nothing inauthentic about these guys actually having to actually get the gold out of the ground. There’s no faking whether they actually pull gold out or not, so we can’t get in the way in that, but we also have to make a show.”
And soon, the show about making the show will be back.
Gold Rush’s The Dirt is returning in 2020
“Being put on camera is by far the strangest development of my career,” Christo Doyle told me. And he’s returning to that strangeness in 2020.
That’s when, as he told me, “The Dirt is coming back this season as a true aftershow, which is where it all started.”
But even before it was on TV, it started with behind-the-scenes conversations.
“We realized way back when, five or six years ago, that the arguments I was having with Todd off-camera, the battles Parker and I had about where he was going to mine and how he was going to mine—we realized that was a missing element,” Doyle said. “The fans, the superfans, they do eat it up, and they do want to know another layer of info that we don’t have time to delve into on the show. What do these guys do on their days off? How do they get their laundry done?”
Those conversations also included conflict about the production itself.
“The behind-the-scenes stuff was really how The Dirt was born. It continues to be something that the fans want to see; I’m shocked they wanted to see me doing it,” Doyle said, though he does appreciate the connection he has with Gold Rush’s cast members. “Because I have so many years of experience—I’ve known Parker since he was 15, so we have a rapport that you’re just not going to get if you brought in Joe Schmo host.”
Discovery did actually bring in another host—not from The Joe Schmo Show, but from American Idol. In 2015, season three finalist Matt Rogers became The Dirt’s host. That lasted one season.
A few months after Rogers took over, at the start of 2017, Doyle left Discovery.
“I was at Discovery for 18 years; I left for a variety of reasons, and one of those reasons was the hosting stuff,” he told me. “But Discovery holds a special place in my heart. I’m still, as you know, contributing and hosting. It was a strange time, and I’m back on now, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to be back on. Whether I like it or not, I don’t know if I’m ever going to shake Gold Rush.”
He’s stayed involved with Gold Rush throughout the years, including as host of pre-show The Dirt last season, when he was also serving as a “consulting producer, so I was helping the guys that were working on the show from L.A., just trying to give them some support, and really give them my historical knowledge of the show and how I thought things could work,” he said.
But now, Doyle added, “I’m going to be focused on hosting The Dirt,” on which he’s also an executive producer. “My focus is really getting this new format of the Dirt really whipped into shape, and to be there to get people as fired up in the past for Gold Rush.”
Because The Dirt will be airing after new episodes of Gold Rush on Friday nights (a premiere date for The Dirt has not yet been set), “we can really react to what people just saw in the 9 o’clock hour. We can delve deep,” Doyle told me. “It was always kind of challenging to air before because you didn’t want to give anything away. Now we can analyze what happened and where things are going.”
While that’ll make The Dirt more organic and natural, there’s one part that won’t be.
“I’m still not used to being on camera,” Doyle told me. “It’s still strange, it’s still shocking, I’m still really confused when I’m in the Knoxville, Tennessee, airport and someone wants to take a picture with me.”
A hit show that ‘always lived and died by problems’
Success came quickly to Gold Rush, and with that, so did the challenges of producing it.
“Gold Rush quickly turned into a beast. It rated really well out of the gate. Seasons 2 and 3, it broke lots of ratings records,” Doyle told me. “Gold Rush is and was a year-round job. There’s almost more work to be done in the off season, when the guys aren’t mining, and we’re trying to map everything out. It turns into a very large show: at least 26 episodes a season with a bunch of specials peppered in.”
In those early days, as a Discovery executive supervising the show, Doyle was “managing the guys and managing a lot of what was going on” which he said “was and still is a very intensive job—juggling the production budget with these guys’ mining plans is not easy.”
The logistics are one thing, but the content presents its own problems.
“The problem with Gold Rush, honestly, is that gold mining is not sexy. It’s digging in the dirt with repetitive motions. These guys are doing the same thing all day: excavator takes a bucket of dirt, dumps it in a loader, the loader takes it to the wash plant. The more they do that, the more gold they get, but that doesn’t make great TV,” Doyle said.
“So you’ve got to figure out how to make it sexy. That’s tough, and it was really tough early on, and we were really fumbling our way through it early on and really trying to figure out how to do it. Now I think Raw’s got it pretty nailed.”
Still, it’s not easy, and as the show ages, there’s “more pressure” to keep it feeling new and fresh.
“You can’t make the same show season to season, but they’re basically doing the same thing season to season,” Dolye told me. “Luckily for us—and you’re going to see that this season—there’s no shortage of problems, and huge problems always present themselves. And what we see this season, across all three claims, is: Could this be the last season we mine in the Klondike?”
“I think most fans probably think that it’s the Wild West up there and these guys can do whatever they want, but that’s very far from the truth. There’s strict environmental regulations, and the government up there is very involved. A lot of that stuff we navigate behind the scenes, but this season, the audience will see that became impossible,” Doyle added.
There’s “the biggest threat to mining that we’ve ever had in 10 seasons on the show,” he said.
Will Gold Rush survive if mining in the Klondike doesn’t? “Gold Rush has always lived and died by problems,” Doyle said. “If everyone was really good at this and just cranked along with no problems, we wouldn’t have the same show.”
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