The historic California Gold Rush of 1849 drew 300,000 people to the wilderness of the country's Wild West. The lure of gold, freedom, and a new lease on life made San Francisco – until then an outpost of just a few hundred settlers – an overnight boomtown, and the legend of the Gold Rush helped create the powerful myth of the "American Dream."
With California now the most heavily populated state in a nation of armchair travelers, the Discovery Channel's highly rated 'Gold Rush' series has captured the imagination of viewers who dream of reinvention, get-rich-quick schemes, and "manventures," as Todd Hoffman, the show's voluminously bearded lead prospector, puts it. In 'Gold Rush: The Dirt,' the one-hour run-up to the new 'Gold Rush' spin-off, 'Gold Rush: South America,' executive producer Christo Doyle strategizes by webcam with Hoffman, who is practically in the middle of nowhere, making plans to mine for gold deep in Peru. 'The Dirt' premieres Friday, August 2, at 8 pm EST, followed by the first episode of "Gold Rush: South America." Watch an exclusive clip from the show above.
"A lot of people would kill to be doing what he's doing," Doyle tells 'Men's Journal.' "There are shows people watch where they'd drop everything and do it, and there are shows where people would like to think they'd do that. 'The Deadliest Catch' is a good example – probably 98 percent of the population would never actually want to do that. 'Gold Rush,' on the other hand, a much larger segment of the population thinks it could actually do."
The hit-and-miss success rate of the gold miners – Hoffman's crew earned $1.2 million (803 ounces of gold) in the Yukon during season three, but only $13,00 in Alaska before that – has been a source of frustration for Doyle. "I need gold in the show," he says, both literally and figuratively speaking.
But perhaps his biggest concern is that the teams will become expert at prospecting, which would make the show "boring.... The moment they become good, I'm gonna have to find rookies. Luckily, Todd's made mistakes. Gold mining is really difficult, and I need them to be doing exciting things."
At its core, the show, he says, is about a lot more than the search for gold: "Can a guy make it in America anymore? That's the crux of the show. They're three very relatable groups of people who have thrown caution to the wind, and they're fighting the elements to try and make it. It's not even really about gold – it's about the American dream."
More information: 'Gold Rush: The Dirt' premieres Friday, August 2, at 8 pm EST, on Discovery Channel, followed by the first episode of "Gold Rush: South America." Watch an exclusive clip from the show above.