Man overboard, supermoon seas, and the painful new season of 'Deadliest Catch'

Mandi Bierly
Deputy Editor, Yahoo Entertainment

Fourteen seasons in to Discovery’s Emmy-winning reality series Deadliest Catch, and the captains are as spoiler-phobic as ever. But sitting down with us for a Build Series NYC interview ahead of Tuesday’s return (which is also the series’ 200th episode), they did open up about the battle we’ll see with the always brutal Bering Sea winter.

During the opilio crab (aka opi or snow crab) season, they dealt with the kind of supermoon event you only see once every 150 years. As Capt. Keith Colburn explained, what ensued was “chaos all over the planet with the currents and the tides.” It was the worst the fleet has ever seen. Opi season was “big waves and everything breakin’ ’cause of the waves,” Capt. Jake Anderson said. “It was torture for us, I know that.” (A wave hit another boat in the fleet so hard, it smashed all the windows out of the wheelhouse, they said.)

Discovery has also revealed in the Season 14 trailer that at some point, a deckhand on Capt. Wild Bill Wichrowski’s Summer Bay is pulled overboard, which sets off a feverish search (the network hasn’t disclosed the outcome). It’s the first time that’s happened in Bill’s 40-year career, and it understandably hit him hard — which the other captains attested to after spending time promoting the show with him.

“I’ve never seen him get so choked up in my life, so this is like the most serious topic you could ever touch on. And sincerely, he really took it to heart,” Capt. Sig Hansen said. “It’s about as real as you’re gonna get, I think, what he has to go through and the people that went through it.”

“You prepare for this every day as a captain, every day as a deckhand, and I’ll just give you this one little bit,” Bill said. “The incident had happened, I went, ‘No way. That didn’t happen. I just didn’t see that, did I?’ And I did.”

Even when a crew member goes into the frigid water on purpose — say, to jump on a walrus carcass or switch boats — it’s a surreal sight, Colburn and Anderson insisted. So just imagine Bill’s situation, Sig said: “This guy has a crew member that goes in the water. He knew him as a child, and now he’s responsible for him, and then Bill’s watching this guy literally dying, and you’ve only got a few minutes. It’s in the Bering Sea, what do you got? Ten minutes before hypothermia sets in, and then you’re done.”

“Two [minutes], typically,” Anderson said. Because the stakes are that real, and that high, you’ll never catch him watching the show. “I can only relive that once. I can’t relive it twice. It’s hard just even talking about a lot of stuff,” he said. “And to see Bill these last couple of weeks talk about it. … I’ve always grown up, and he was the toughest guy we knew. And to see it break him down, it became pretty real to me, and hopefully I never go through that experience.”

Capt. Josh Harris, who returns to the wheelhouse of the Cornelia Marie this season alongside his co-captain, Casey McManus, admitted he hasn’t watched the show since his father, the late great Capt. Phil Harris, passed away. (Although maybe that will change this season, he said, since, while he’s always paying tribute to his father’s legacy, they are also making the boat more their own.) Sig remembered in Season 1 his family speeding home to watch the show together. Now, because he gets too animated watching the drama unfold, his wife has banished him to his office to watch solo.

One experience the men share is having their phones tell them how well they’re doing in any given episode. Bill noted that he tends to catch more hell from the West Coast than the East, and that he and Keith have traded off years as “the bad guy.” They wonder if it might finally be Sig’s turn in the hot seat after the trailer showed him literally tossing Anderson out of the Northwestern wheelhouse when Jake came to his mentor looking for information to help guarantee crab in his tank after a $750,000 makeover on the Saga. “Twenty years of fishin’, I’ve never been kicked out of a wheelhouse,” Jake said, able to laugh about it now.

Looking back on the confrontation that took place before king crab season in October, Hansen said it’s like, “Dude, I love you. I don’t want to hurt you. But it was like time to leave the nest. I just feel like that’s how my old man would have treated me, and that’s just kinda the first reaction.”

Sig is clearly feeling good, having recovered from his 2016 heart attack. As fans saw during Discovery’s recent recap special, his brother Edgar jokingly asked him to sign a contract that said he won’t again stay in the wheelhouse during a 24- or 48-hour grind when the Northwestern lands on good numbers. So will we see him push himself too far this season? That’s one spoiler he reluctantly gave up: “I learned how to tap out,” he said.

Watch the full interview below for more from the captains, including a discussion about how they pick greenhorns (and handle them when they can’t cut it on deck); the moments they’re happiest have been captured on camera (for Josh, whose whole adult life has basically been on TV, one is his final conversation with his father, since he was too emotional to remember what he said); and why they believe the show is still such a hit after more than a decade on the air.

Deadliest Catch Season 14 premieres Tuesday, April 10 at 9 p.m., following “The Bait” pre-show at 8 p.m., on Discovery. The all-new Discovery Go series Deadliest Catch: Greenhorn is streaming now.

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