It makes sense that a show about the dangerous-as-hell business of deep-sea crab fishing would provide for some of the most fraught moments reality TV has ever had to offer.
These guys put their lives at risk every time they head out to mine the depths of the ocean for Alaskan king crab and other crustacean delicacies that consumers get to enjoy thanks to their blood, sweat and—more often than you might guess—tears.
In turn, Deadliest Catch has won 16 Emmys, including two for Best Unstructured Reality Program (a rare assignation if there ever was one), spawned books and video games, and remains a must-watch for millions after 15 years on Discovery Channel.
But perhaps because of the very nature of the job at hand, the drama over 16 seasons hasn't been confined to the adventures unfolding at sea.
The crew of the Summer Bay now has to say goodbye to deck boss Nick McGlashan, who died Dec. 27 at the age of 33. The seventh-generation fisherman had struggled with drug and alcohol addiction, and his sea-based brotherhood had seen him through some scary times, including multiple overdoses and a seemingly successful trip to rehab in 2016 after he was briefly suspended from filming Deadliest Catch.
"Why did I get this sudden urge to become clean? Why do I continue to stay sober?" McGlashan reflected in a May 2017 article for Chosen Magazine. "I feel as if a higher power reached down and saved my life, plucking me from a certain death during a raging storm."
He remained on the show right up through the season 16 finale, which aired Sept. 22, and was seemingly going to be back for more. But while his cause of death is pending, there may have been signs that not all was right behind the scenes.
He had tweeted Dec. 9, "Trauma be making me fall asleep randomly. It also wakes me up randomly. Navigate carefully."
His death comes barely four months after Mahlon Reyes, a 38-year-old deckhand on the Seabrooke and married father of four, died suddenly of a heart attack. McGlashan mourned Reyes on social media, writing, "Love you Mahlonn m v you're missed."
As far as tragedy goes, Deadliest Catch already seemed to hit bottom just five years in when Phil Harris, the tough, gruff and entertaining captain of the Cornelia Marie—one of several crabbing boats at the center of the action—suffered a stroke.
He was hospitalized and visits from his devoted crew, flock of buddies, and sons Jake and Josh—much of it captured for the show, as Harris wanted—had audiences weeping, as well as drew the interest of people who had never watched Deadliest Catch before but were hearing about this heartbreaking upheaval taking place in the world of these rugged fishermen.
Harris, who was only 53, died on Feb. 10, 2010, and the season that chronicled the sad turn of events premiered that April.
"Death is not uncommon in our industry," Josh Harris told the Los Angeles Times in 2010. "He always taught us to deal with that possibility."
"We're not characters, we're real people," added Time Bandit co-captain Johnathan Hillstrand. "Phil was an easy guy to love—he was always the coolest guy in the building—honest, hardworking, old-school handshake kind of guy. I really loved him."
Producers and the network considered it their duty to honor Harris in a fitting way, and they felt they achieved that with how season six unfolded.
"We obviously weren't going to show anything that was distasteful," executive producer Thom Beers told Entertainment Weekly after the showing of the episode in which Harris died. "We were treading on really thin ice. Of course I had the shots of someone yelling 'clear' and getting the paddles out, but why would I show that? The whole point of it was to show that point-of-view of a family member at home who would get the call. That's the way we all live. That's how we find out how our fathers have died or passed away."
Beers continued, "The whole idea was to make it totally accessible to everyone who experienced a family member's passing. It was the rawest, barest form of filmmaking we have ever done. I pulled away, there was no music, no sound effects. I stayed with shots longer. When you are in those moments, everything slows down. I wanted to give it that same sense. Those pure simple moments of a man on his death bed telling his son he was sorry he wasn't a great dad and his son telling him he was the greatest dad in the world."
And then it was "back to fishing," Beers said. "We had a traumatic loss this season with Capt. Phil, but I think the lesson in the last episode is that we all go on. We carry that loss with us, but we still have to go back to work."
At the same time, Jake Anderson, a crew member on Sig Hansen's Northwestern, was dealing with the disappearance of his father, Keith Anderson—a man who they said never spent a night away from his wife in 43 years of marriage—in January 2010. His phone was discovered in a mud puddle near their house.
Two weeks after his family reported him missing, Keith's truck was found parked in a remote area in Skagit County, Wash.
The trail ran cold, leaving Jake Anderson (who had also been at sea in 2009 when he found out his 37-year-old sister Chelsea had died due to complications of pneumonia) with no closure, as well as a bit of jealousy that Jake and Josh Harris at least were able to say goodbye to their father. He also wondered if something more sinister had happened to his dad, saying that the keys found in Keith's truck had blood on them.
"I just want to know what happened to my dad," Anderson said in 2010, per Perez Hilton. "I want to bring my father home. He wouldn't give up on us, and I'm not going to give up on him. I just don't know what to do. We need help, and I hope that someone out there will help give us some sort of closure."
Anderson also said, "My relationship with my dad has always been good. He is the one who taught me how to work hard and earn everything. He has always taken good care of my mom and all the kids. He was a real family man. I miss him and want to know what happened."
In June 2012, a hiker found human bones that turned out to be Keith's.
As the mystery of his dad's disappearance unfolded, Jake Anderson had been sober since 2009 after battling substance abuse issues that started when he began taking pills after a skateboarding injury and ultimately devolved into meth use and heavy drinking.
In his 2014 memoir Relapse, he opened up about the low points in his life and credited being clean—along with faith, family and his intense, demanding job—with his ability to get through the loss of his sister and father.
"I don't have every emotion in my body running off negativity," Anderson explained to the Skagit Valley Herald at the time. "Since I was sober I had the power of choice."
Jake Harris, on the other hand, continued to struggle in the wake of father Phil's death.
He was arrested on DUI and hit-and-run charges in Shoreline, Wash., less than two weeks after Phil died and various issues led to him leaving Deadliest Catch in 2013.
"He's lost in drugs still," Josh, the elder Harris brother, said in the season nine premiere, which was noticeably missing Jake. "Jake's gotta take care of his own stuff right now. Deal with his demons."
Meanwhile, Derrick Ray, who took over as relief captain of the Cornelia Marie when Phil died, left the show in 2011 and had nothing nice to say about either Harris brother.
Talking about a point where he accused Jake of using drugs on the boat, Ray told the Oregonian in March 2011, "He was smoking dope in Dutch Harbor when we were shooting scenes prior to his father's funeral. There was a scene at night shot through the wheelhouse window and I was looking at charts and he was stoned to bejesus. I sat and had dinner with him and watched him drool on himself. He was filmed smoking dope on the boat."
That purported footage didn't air on the show, but, Ray explained, "The Coast Guard has a zero-tolerance policy. Having drugs on the boat is against the law. I have a captain's license. I could lose my captain's license. There's footage of it and I knew he was smoking dope, and I was trying to get him to stop."
Ray further concluded that neither Harris brother really wanted to carry on the family business, and they only owned a portion of the boat anyway.
"They didn't want to be there," he said. "They're not fishermen, neither one of them...They want to make TV. Josh is not a fisherman and never will be. I think he grew up with Velcro on his shoes, because he couldn't tie a fishing knot if you held a gun to his head."
On After the Catch a few months later, the brothers confronted Ray face to face.
"You know what, we did work hard, and we did work for you as a captain," Josh told him.
"Did y'all ever own a crab boat before your dad did?" Ray replied.
"I'm learning!" Josh said. "And you told me to ask, [saying] no question was a stupid question. I ask you one f--king question the whole season, you shut me down, you make me feel like s--t, then you proceed to start fights with ever f--king crew member on that boat. It was not your boat to begin with, and you knew that."
Josh has been captain of the Cornelia Marie since 2015 and remains on Deadliest Catch.
Also in 2015, Ramblin' Rose captain Elliot Neese left the show, later tweeting, "To everyone yea I had issues but went to passages Malibu for 60 days and have a new outlook on things now! Hate all you want but I'm above it."
Two years prior he had been missing from the season nine promo reel, prompting fans to wonder if he was coming back.
Sig Hansen remarked, "I am kind of not surprised that Elliot isn't here this year," while the narrator intoned, "Last season, Elliot faced huge setbacks, both at sea and at home."
Jake Harris, unfortunately, has had a lamentable journey since leaving the show. In 2016 he was robbed and beaten after leaving the Quil Ceda Creek Casino in Marysville, Wash., with a couple he met there; he later told police he woke up on the side of the road, missing $2,400 that had been in his wallet.
Josh Harris shared on social media that his brother was in intensive care with a cracked skull.
"My brother was jumped last night and some individuals decided to beat him pretty good, which is a terrible, terrible thing," he said. "They literally beat my brother, left him for dead, threw him out of a moving vehicle onto the side of the freeway.
Two suspects were promptly arrested.
"He's pretty messed up," Josh added. "Hopefully one day we'll get him back fishing again."
Jake Harris was arrested again, on suspicion of drug possession and car theft after taking an impromptu trip to Phoenix from Washington with a woman and then leaving their hotel with her car, in April 2017.
Then, in January 2019, he was stopped by park rangers in Skagit County on suspicion of DUI and ended up leading them in a chase from the wheel of his RV that ended with his arrest for driving under the influence as well as drug possession and possession of a stolen firearm.
The gun charge was dismissed but Jake Harris ended up pleading guilty to DUI and possession with intent to manufacture or distribute heroin, and was sentenced that August to 18 months in prison.
While only more time will tell if a return to the profession he once devoted his life to, and which meant so much to their dad, is in the cards, his family holds out hope that Jake will be back onboard again one day. Talking to TV Shows Ace in June, Josh said his brother was "actually doing really well."
"He had to go away for some of the crimes he committed there for a little bit and, going on five months now...He had one hiccup in five months and it was a very small hiccup, so no… he's doing really good," Josh continued.
"He's got a good attitude and he's definitely doing things that I thought I would never see in a lifetime. I talked to him about every other day. I've got high hopes for him. If he continues this upward track and with the treatment and stuff, he might have himself a spot on the Cornelia Marie again. So, we've got our fingers crossed and he's doing really well and excelling in all of his classes and stuff. So it's a huge deal for me, and then for him too, obviously. But I foresee him most likely coming back to the boat in the near future."
Josh credited Sig Hansen for giving Jake a place aboard the Northwestern after their dad died, and for "trying to get him to pull his head out of his keister, which is a tough job sometimes," while Josh Anderson—his neighbor at sea and down the road from him on land—"is like family to me, he's a really good guy."
Johnathan Hillstrand, who along with brother and co-captain Andy Hillstrand loves taking the piss out of their pals, "is like my brother/second dysfunctional father," Josh added. "He's Jonathan Hillstrand. What more do you need to say? If you haven't been 'Harris-ed,' you've probably been 'Hill-stranded.'"
Sadly, Phil Harris' death in 2010 turned out to be one of a stream of untimely losses for the Deadliest Catch family.
In February 2011, Time Bandit deckhand Justin Tennison died suddenly at the age of 33 in a hotel room in Alaska. The official cause of death was given as complications of sleep apnea. The crew scattered his ashes at sea.
"We've talked about...how living in a high-risk job you never know. His last wishes were to be cremated and taken out to the water for one long trip," deckhand Eddie Uwekoolani told ABC News.
The tight-knit crew of the Cornelia Marie suffered another blow when Tony Lara, a close friend of Phil's who came in to captain the ship in 2011, died of a heart attack in August 2015. He was 50.
"Still in shock over losing Capt #TonyLara @alaskatuff #RIP my friend You had a heart of gold #CorneliaMarie #DeadliestCatch @DeadliestCatch," tweeted his successor as Cornelia Marie captain, Casey McManus.
Sadly enough, Lara's death came two weeks after Joe McMahon, an associate producer on Deadliest Catch's ninth season, was shot to death in East Pasadena, Calif., not far from his home. He was 25.
The 24-year-old suspect in McMahon's killing was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound hours later.
"We are heartsick about this tragedy," Discovery stated at the time. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and to all that knew and worked with him."
Another past member of the family, Blake Painter, the deck boss on the Maverick in 2006 who returned as captain in 2007, was found dead at the age of 38 in May 2018.
Friends told police that he had been happy and sober in the days prior to his death, but TMZ reported that July that numerous pills, including the painkiller Tramadol, and paraphernalia containing traces of drug residue were found in his home.
In October 2019, Jerod Sechrist, featured briefly on the show as a deckhand in 2016, was charged in Florida with heroin possession and violating probation on a past traffic offense, the first of what would be three arrests in six months. That November he was busted for allegedly stealing more than $1,000 worth of merchandise from an IKEA in Ybor City, Fla.; he was arrested on three counts of theft this past April in Tampa.
Unfortunately, issues with addiction and its consequences aren't an infrequent occurrence when it comes to this line of work.
"It's harder to find excellent guys," Summer Bay Captain Bill "Wild Bill" Wichrowski explained to PopCulture.com in April 2019. "They used to be lined up 12 deep when we were making the crazy rock star money, but now it's almost easier to mold the ones you have and obviously, there's, throughout the fleet, there's addiction problems."
He had given Nick McGlashan a second chance after the deck boss went to rehab in 2016.
"It's in my best interest to do the most for these guys that I can," Wichrowski said. "If you have a crew of five and you lose one, you lost 20 percent of your crew, so we can't really run these guys into the ground and make them want to quit and go home."
Nick "had helped me get where I am today, and I put a lot into him and I tend to get a lot out of him, and I hope that he keeps his head straight."
In response to McGlashan's death, Discovery said in a statement, "Our deepest sympathies go out to Nick's loved ones during this difficult time. Nick came from a long line of crabbers and was known for his great depth of knowledge. He also had a sharp sense of humor even in the most difficult conditions. He will be deeply missed by all those who knew him."
Even Sig Hansen, who's been on the show since the beginning, has had his issues. He pleaded guilty in 2018 to misdemeanor assault for kicking and spitting on an Uber driver in 2017. He was given a deferred sentence of a year's probation and ordered to stay away from alcohol and marijuana and seek alcohol treatment.
The sentencing judge noticed a previous drunk-and-disorderly case in Hansen's past from 2008.
"I hope that you will take this opportunity to make some positive changes in your life," Seattle Municipal Court Judge Ed McKenna said, per the Seattle Times.
Less than two weeks later, Sig's younger brother Edgar Hansen, deck boss and relief caption on the Northwestern, pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl in September 2017.
Edgar received a 364-day suspended jail sentence, was ordered to pay court fines and fees of $1,653, and was ordered to undergo a sexual-deviancy evaluation and treatment, as well as give a DNA sample to authorities, the Seattle Times reported in July 2018.
In pleading to fourth-degree assault with sexual motivation, officially classified as a "gross misdemeanor," Edgar admitted to forcibly kissing and touching the girl.
"I committed this assault for the purpose of my own sexual gratification," Edgar said in a written statement obtained by the Seattle Times. "I am very sorry for that conduct and I have commenced treatment to ensure that nothing like this assault ever happens again."
He did not return to Deadliest Catch.
(Originally published Oct. 24, 2019, at 2:24 p.m. PT)