In last Tuesday’s (May 22) episode of Discovery’s “Deadliest Catch,” viewers watched as a Coast Guard helicopter airlifted a 28-year-old novice deckhand — greenhorn Chris Scambler — from the deck of the F/V Wizard, after he collapsed with mysterious and frightening symptoms.
Tonight’s (Tuesday, May 29) episode has the rest of the story.
Wizard Capt. Keith Colburn led the effort by the boat’s crab-fishing crew to stabilize Scambler and made the call to bring in the Coast Guard — and he was also in the audience watching the episode as it aired.
“I’ll tell you this,” Colburn tells Zap2it from Indianapolis, a couple of days before attending the Indy 500. “I don’t like watching that. I watch the show because, at the end of the day, I like to fish. We start in September, we end in April, we come home, and we’re happy we’re home. We remember the high points, low points and where we caught crab. We learn from our mistakes, learn from our successes — that was it.”
“The thing is, with Chris, that happened so quickly that it was literally within two hours that the whole event happened, and the whole crew was in shock,” he continues. “I watch it because I need to answer questions. I see people on the street, and they say,’ What do you think about this and that?’ Because I don’t remember half the stuff, or 80 percent of what happened, right?”
While Colburn isn’t always thrilled with how the show is edited — a common complaint among reality-show subjects — he does give kudos for how this incident was portrayed.
“They did a phenomenal job of capturing what occurred,” he says. “If they let the captains edit the show, we would all be the best fishermen on the planet; we would never make a mistake; we’d always be hauling full pots; we’d never look bad; we’d never yell at our crew. That’s what the show would be, and then it wouldn’t be a show.”
“This segment, I looked at it, and I watched it twice. I normally don’t watch the show twice. I watch it once, and I’m good,” he says. “That’s all I can stomach. The [part] that was the most telling was the segment after Chris was airlifted — looking at my crew, looking at myself on TV, and looking at all of us having doubts about ourselves. Did we push too hard? Questioning ourselves; questioning who I am as a captain.”
“If I was editing the show, I wouldn’t want to play me having doubts about myself,” says Colburn. “‘Did I push the kid too hard? Did the crew push the kid too hard?’ All those elements they showed, right, I wouldn’t want to play that.”
“But I watched and I said, ‘You know, it’s pretty telling about the men who work together on the Bering Sea.’ They work as a team. This kid had only been on the boat for a week, but everybody works like a dog, from the captain to the greenhorn. It was compelling to see the camaraderie come out, the doubt and concern and everything that went into that. I thought it was one of the best segments I’ve ever seen on ‘Deadliest Catch.’
“I thought it was beautiful TV, beautiful cinematography, beautiful everything,” he says. “Did I look like a rock star? Probably not.”
While Colburn says that airlifting a man off the deck isn’t among the many disasters his crew trains for, he and the Wizard deckhands knew to take off their caps when they went out on deck to help get Scambler up to the helicopter.
“You’re worried about the hat going up into rotors of the helicopter. Without the helo team telling you, ‘Don’t wear your hats.’ That just happens instinctively. Do you want to see my bald head on TV? I don’t like to see it, right? There’s little things like that, that you don’t realize, when you see it.”
The crew suspected — as was also reported as a possibility at the time — that Scambler was suffering from dehydration and shock. But Colburn has another explanation.
“It was ultimately a combination of stress,” he says, “and a family history that was unbeknownst to him — or to us at the time — of seizures, not epileptic, but seizures. That’s what it was. The body was shutting down.
“Seizures can do all kinds of things, from neurological damage to physical damage. They’re very, very traumatic. There are all kinds of things that can go sideways when your body and your organs start shutting down. No matter how they show it on TV, it was very real and very nasty.”
Speaking of real, viewers also saw Colburn assisting Scambler with urinating before he was taken up into the chopper.
“We didn’t know he was going to pee,” says Colburn. “I pulled the guy’s shorts down for him, and he peed. After it was all set and done, I looked at Todd Stanley, the camera guy, and I said, ‘Are they going to show me letting a guy pee on TV?’ He said, ‘There isn’t a man on the planet, a person on the planet, that hasn’t had to pee at some point in their life.'”
“This guy could have flown all the way to Cold Bay drenched in an acidic, nasty thing in his shorts and been that much more uncomfortable. Todd says, ‘You did the right thing.’ I said, ‘Right on.'”