Deadliest Catch is, without question, the most intense reality show on TV. There are many “reality” shows that try to create artificial drama, but Deadliest Catch is always packed with life and death situations that are 100% real. The pulse-pounding excitement of every episode is one of the reasons it’s one of my favorite shows on TV, and time and time again it offers up some of the most heartbreaking moments in television history. Here are the three episodes I find especially tough to watch.
“Stay Focused or Die” (Season 5, Episode 3)
Original Airdate: April 28, 2009
What Happens: The handful of survivors from the fishing vessel Katmai, a cod fishing ship introduced in the previous episode, explain how their ship went down and how they managed to survive in the freezing temperatures of the Bering Sea.
Why it’s Heartbreaking: Not only do we see how Captains Sig and Phil react to the news of the Katmai incident, but Cornelia Marie deckhand Corey also shares a haunting tale about how he faced a similar fate to the Katmai over 20 years ago.
Most gut-wrenching of all, of course, is the testimony given by the Katmai’s captain Joe Blake. One of the hardest parts about watching Deadliest Catch is being forced to watch grown men cry, something that always makes me bawl like a child. Watching Captain Blake relive the sinking of his vessel, and seeing him try to come to grips with the fact that he survived when so many of his friends were claimed by the sea, is one of the most honest and tragic moments from any reality TV show, ever.
“Bitter Tears” (Season 5, Episode 14)
Original Airdate: July 14, 2009
What Happens: Season five of Deadliest Catch was a high tension, emotion-filled season, but this episode stands out from the pack. “Bitter Tears” goes beyond the dangers of the Bering Sea and reminds viewers that all of the crab fisherman have families waiting for them back home. In this devastating episode, we find out that Northwestern deckhand Jake Anderson’s young sister Chelsea has died. Jake’s raw emotion and tear-stained face will stay with you long after the TV is turned off.
Why it’s Heartbreaking: Edgar and Sig bring Jake immediately to St. Paul so he can return home and be with his family, and they promise that they won’t hire someone to take Jake’s job. The tenderness and care with which Sig treats Jake in this episode is a departure from his usual attitude, and it makes the episode all the more devastating.
“Cain and Abel” (Season 6, Episode 13)
Original Airdate: July 6, 2010
What Happens: As Captain Phil lays dying in a hospital, his two sons are at each other’s throats. Jake is drowning his sorrows in drugs and booze, and Josh is begging him to stay clean and think about the business because it’s what their father would want them to do.
Why it’s Heartbreaking: You might think that the following episode where Phil dies is the most painful episode of the season, but I’d argue that this one is even more intense. Watching two very different brothers try to take care of their father’s needs is tough, but observing Jonathan’s reaction when he overhears the boys fighting in their hotel room is even harder to watch. We all know at this point that Phil’s death is coming; what we don’t know is whether the boys will be able to pull together and keep the boating running without their father watching over them.
What do you think? What episodes of Deadliest Catch are guaranteed to make you cry? And what do you think will happen in season seven?