Blue-collar workers are everywhere on television these days. It may be that exotic locations and bearded men are the main draw for the Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch and American Chopper, or the History Channel’s Ice Road Truckers. But the appeal might also be thematic. These shows offer adventure and determination, men (and occasional women) who push themselves physically and emotionally. That so many of them are also trying to achieve versions of the American Dream also helps to grease the promotional wheels.
In these globalized times, the American Dream isn’t always fulfilled in America. Ice Cold Gold, premiering 21 April, takes eight workers — miners, dredgers, drillers, and a few other experts (only three of whom knew each other prior to the series) — to Storø, Greenland, where they mean to find gold and precious gems. If the premise sounds like a modern day Gold Rush, that’s not by accident. Here again, Americans are expanding their claim on territories and resources, this time nearly 4,000 miles away from California.
As the first episode begins, we meet the men, brought together from all over the United States. All are hell-bent on finding something of value on the island, whether their motivation is to strike personal wealth or provide for their families. Unfortunately they only have two months before the land they wish to excavate ices over for winter, swallowing the potential wealth for another long and treacherous season.
Immediately, they confront not only a harsh environment, but also frictions within the group. Team members argue over gear (“Don’t touch my stuff!”), dominance (“Who put John in charge?” “John put John in charge!”), and finances. Most of the guys are extremely tight with their money. Before they leave for Storø, a few go shopping for supplies, resulting in incredulous exchanges between members as they work out what they need to bring with them. Hard rock miner Jesse Feldman asks to purchase a tarp equivalent to $225, both he and his brother Josh buy propane for heaters and showers, and geologist Eric Drummond purchases enough lawn chairs for everyone. When singled out for interviews, they all reiterate the same idea: they think their own purchase is more necessary than the others.
At first it’s confusing as to why they’re so cautious about spending money on equipment they need for the job ahead, until you realize that each gave up his job and two months of income to make this trip. A failure would be catastrophic, especially for those with families. If they don’t succeed in their quest for gold, the expense will be a major blow to their finances and their pride — the exact opposite of the American Dream.
Despite (or because of) this potentially grim proposition, the show initially focuses on upbeat, in particular, driller Americo Disantis. A rookie in comparison to the rest, he’s never mined or camped before. His inexperience and good humor lead to entertainment moments for his rivals and us: when he says he feels “like a little girl on prom night,” he makes clear he’s the comedian of the group. Just so, he helps everyone to smile even when conditions are rough or members are at each other’s throats, as when, after a day full of tensions while the crew builds their base camp, he rips off the meat from his reindeer rib in an animal-like fashion and exclaims, “I’d like it even better if there still weren’t deer hair on it!” Americo presents a welcome break from the strictly business attitudes of the other seven team members.
Americo and the others are surely fortunate to be in this truly beautiful location. From giant icebergs to beautiful rock formations, Ice Cold Gold offers absolutely amazing scenery, available to us without the freezing temperatures. These visuals inspire the men who serve as our surrogates, as they sail from Nuuk, the capital city, to Storøs. All of their mouths are opened wide in awe, and the moment is perfectly captured by Josh: “It’s like I’m a kid again. Everything I see, everything I’m looking at, is brand new. Like I just opened my eyes for the very first time.”
But then, he’s looking at the stunning vistas, not Ice Cold Gold, which is mostly a show we’ve seen before. Like other workers chasing their dreams on TV, the men on Animal Planet’s series perform personas and vie for prizes. For all the talk about the romance of gold, they’re not the same as the 19th century’s prospectors, they’re not forging their way across new land or conjuring new identities. They’ve got a camera crew following them.