Next to "Deadliest Catch," the gold mining-focused "Gold Rush" might be Discovery's best known reality series. And one of the reasons for that show's success has been young Parker Schnabel, who was a teenage neophyte miner helping out his grandfather when the series began in 2010. Schnabel is now 22 and the close relationship he had with his grandfather was an emotional cornerstone of the series.
His grandfather recently passed away and Schnabel decided to honor his memory by retracing the steps of the iconic Klondike Trail - the same path that tens of thousands of budding goldminers trekked more than a century ago to reach the gold fields near Dawson City, Yukon, Canada. It's a brutal, nearly 600-mile trek which includes every imaginable obstacle from icy lakes to a 45-degree hike up a mountain pass.
Joining Schnabel on his experience is his longtime foreman Rick Ness, cameramen James Levelle and wilderness guide Karla Ann, who once worked with Parker as a rock truck driver. The four of them vow to complete the trip without the help of anything mechanically-powered and they also were given cameras to record their trip. The trip is challenging under the best conditions, but the team is tackling it just as winter is closing in. A decision which makes everything much more dangerous.
Based on the first episode (which is all I've seen so far), there are a lot of things to like about the show. If you've seen any episodes of "Gold Rush," you know what to expect from Schnabel. He's young, driven, hard-headed and not afraid to throw his weight around.
Teaming him up with the casually erratic Rick Ness is a good decision for the show, since Ness underestimates everything about the trip. He spends the night before the trip begins drinking beer and watching him try and scale a 45-degree mountain with a backpack is not unlike watching Fred Flintstone try and do parkour. Wilderness guide Karla Ann brings a very needed badass female POV to the expedition and James Levelle doesn't get in the way while he seems to focus on the technical aspects of the filming.
But for all of the great things about "Gold Rush: Parker's Trail," the show suffers from some of the same production problems that drive me crazy when I watch "Gold Rush." All reality shows are "guided" by the producers and I recognize that's a necessary evil in the genre. The problem comes when you can see some of the strings being pulled or you see scenes that just don't feel authentic to the show.
In the case of "Gold Rush: Parker's Trail," there are a couple of major problems. Early in the episode, the narration makes a big point of discussing the fact that the group is documenting their trip by shooting their own footage and there are plenty of spots that show them doing just that. While it's never stated that a camera crew isn't traveling with them, that's certainly the assumption the viewers might have early on. But as the show progresses, there appear to be a number of shots that were likely shot by an outside crew. There are some overhead shots that seem to have been taken with a drone and a number of shots at a lake that show the four members of the group in the water - taken from different angles. While it's possible the shots were somehow taken by the group with remote cameras, the confusion really disrupts the flow of the action.
My other issue with the premiere episode is that there is one moment that just seems too convenient to be "real." After being stuck at a lakeside site for five days due to high winds, they have a discussion about whether to break their "no mechanical help" rule. Schanbel refuses to reconsider and the group seems stuck indefinitely. That is until a railway push cart is discovered nearby that will allow the group to easily push their boats and gear down the tracks without using mechanical means of propulsion.
Maybe they did just find the cart and it wasn't there due to a little "help" from the production staff. But the scenes are edited in a way that make the coincidence seem even more unlikely to be real. Regardless of the truth, when it appears, you will likely have the same reaction as I did and yell "Oh, C'mon ON!" at your television. And given that it comes at the end of the episode, it ends up leaving a bit of a bad taste in viewer's mouth's leading into week two.
I like "Gold Rush: Parker's Trail" a lot, and I'm sure I'll continue watching. But I am hopeful that the upcoming weeks will be slightly less manipulative and unclear. This is a story that has its own built-in tension. Sometime the best production is the production that just stays out of the way.
"Gold Rush: Parker's Trail" airs on Fridays on Discovery at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT on Discovery.