Now in its seventh season Discovery Channel’s Gold Rush follows the dreamers trying to get filthy rich by pulling gold out of the ground. We went north (and then north some more) to find entrepreneurship in its most extreme, raw form.
By Dan Bova
“They are just waiting for something to go wrong,” 22-year-old miner Parker Schnabel tells me with an expression that is half smile, half sneer, and all exhaustion. We’re standing on the grounds of Scribner Creek, which isn’t a creek so much as a postapocalyptic-looking wasteland of turned-over earth. And “they” are the film crew of Discovery’s Gold Rush,who have followed Schnabel’s every shovelful of dirt since he became a mine boss at the ripe old age of 16.
“Last night I was digging a ditch,” he continues. “And I knew that the only way this was going to make the show was if I did something wrong or if I got hurt or something broke. And you can tell the film crew wants one of those things to happen! But that’s the nature of the show, they—”
As if on cue, a Gold Rush producer appears. “Sorry,” he says, “I have to interrupt you. Something has gone wrong.” So off we go to see what that “something” is, which is a big something: A boulder has smashed the holy crap out of a vital piece of Schnabel’s machinery. The producers are surely happy. Schnabel is not: He’s just an entrepreneur trying to make a living out here, surrounded by problems.
I grew up on Long Island, where the most notable concentration of gold is inside Flavor Flav’s mouth, so I’m pretty excited to hunch in the muck. But what starts as a goof quickly turns serious: While loading up my pan, Schnabel plucks a small gold nugget, called a “picker,” out of the gravel. That, apparently, never happens. The gold the miners catch in the big machines are tiny flakes and particles, called alluvial deposits, which are impossible to see before their journey through the washplant. After a few more minutes, another picker appears. Then another, then another. By the time the sediment washes out, my pan is bedazzled.
I think Schnabel is going to jump up and hug me. Hell, I want to jump up and hug me. But he doesn’t. It turns out that when you do this for a living, finding gold is what’s supposed to happen.
“When we have a good weigh-in, the camera guys will ask, ‘Aren’t you excited?’” he says. “And I’ll be like, ‘No, that’s just what we found, and we spent a hell of a lot of money to get it.’” It’s the entrepreneur’s dilemma, no matter where the business is: Success may look like a miracle, but not to the people who made it happen. To them, it’s just the result of a lot of hard work—and there’s no stop to that.
Writer: Dan Bova is the editorial director of all digital content at Entrepreneur.com. He previously worked at Jimmy Kimmel Live, Maxim and Spy magazine. He currently writes a weekly humor column for The Journal News.
Edit: Jason Feifer
Creative: Austin Allsbrook, Kevin Chapman
Photography: Dan Bova, Justin Kelly courtesy of Discovery Communications, Judith Puckett-Rinella, Getty Images
Video: Dan Bova, Conrad Martin
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