Breckenridge family debuts in fishing reality show
Ryan Summerlin December 27, 2011
While some participants on reality shows accuse producers of cutting and slicing minute pieces in such a cutthroat way as to make the final cut overly dramatic, the Andersons say TLC didn’t have to do that: Their life is that dramatic.Thursday, TLC premieres the Breckenridge family’s real-life commercial fishing business in Alaska, and the family admits TLC didn’t have to manipulate its “characters” to deliver a compelling seven-week series that depicts the extreme highs and lows of commercial fishing in Alaska – and some of the tense family dynamics accompanying the Anderson’s family business.”The character dynamics are so unique and different, they don’t need to do more to make it interesting,” said 26-year-old Sierra, one of the two sisters in TLC’s “Hook, Line & Sister.” “It’s totally raw and real. I think viewers will walk away with raw and realness with the characters.”Though her sister, 21-year-old Memry admits it’s a bit frustrating to watch an entire three months of her life compressed into less than four hours of television time (a one-hour premiere on Thursday, followed by six 30-minute weekly Thursday shows that run through Feb. 2), the family still says the production company, Screaming Flea Productions based in Seattle, did a great job presenting the nerve-wracking life of commercial fishing. Memry yearned to tell her story, especially in 2010 when she experienced her most intense summer on the family’s 58-foot purse seiner because, “I was pushed way past my limit, being stuck on the boat,” she said. “If you quit, then you’d get your pay cut. … You end up feeling numb. I just wanted to jump off the boat. I locked myself in the bathroom. My dad was pushing me so hard. There was no balance, in terms of us eating together. I watched the same (TV series), ‘That ’70s show …'””Anything to bring you back to civilization,” Sierra quickly interjected, during the conversation Friday afternoon in their Breckenridge home, adding she jumped overboard at one point when she felt like she couldn’t stand the pressure. “You want to feel alive. You don’t even care if you’re making $1,000 a day.””It’s scary you can go that insane,” Memry said.
While the girls are used to taking a couple weeks to adjust to civilization, even one as laid back as Summit County, after three months on the Alaskan ocean, in fall of 2010, Memry got “really depressed” for a few months. “No one knows what I went through,” she said. “I try to explain, but no one gets it, and it’s such a huge part of my life. … What got me back (this year): I want my story told.” Which is why she returned for another season and allowed Screaming Flea’s crew – some of the same cameramen who filmed “The Deadliest Catch,” “Survivor” and “The Amazing Race” – to spend approximately 500 hours with her, her sister, her mother (Susan) and her father, Dean on their boat this summer, capturing every emotion as they faced intense sun, brutal storms, isolation (including no Internet, no television, no cell phones), and an average of four hours of sleep every 24 hours on the boat for three months in a row. (They tried to catch up on sleep during the few periods when the Alaska Department of Fish and Game closed down fishing, and the family went ashore.)And yet, the pain also has proved the family’s strengths and has helped them bond – especially the women. Sierra and Memry are particularly close, and they appreciate their mom’s support – as well as her cooking, as opposed to the Top Ramen most fishermen eat on the male-dominated boats. They’ve also learned perseverance. For example, Sierra is prone to sea sickness, but “because everyone relies on everyone (else), you just deal with it,” she said. “You have no choice. You just suck it up (and throw up) and work. It’s a machine. It’s poetry in motion.””- Besides poetry in motion,” Susan cuts in, “sometimes it’s a comedy of errors.”The family banter continues as Memry says Susan has control over her and Sierra, and Susan replies, “Excuse me?” and Memry replies, “You save money by having family work,” referring to insurance, and Susan replies, “I love having my family around. It means a lot to me because it is a bonding experience. You get away from your environment and have time to talk, to get to know each other, but it’s hard because I’m their employer, their friend.”Sierra cuts in: “It makes us close,” but Memry says: “It doesn’t have to be crazy,” which is when Sierra agrees that “you can’t get away to get air – you have to lock yourself in the “head” (the bathroom) or jump off the boat.”And the conversation turns to staying sane in the insane world of commercial fishing, where people have three months to make a year’s salary, which literally means working day and night, with maybe two or three hours of sleep – some caught in 20-minute naps. “You definitely turn into a zombie,” Memry said. “You totally lose a part of yourself.”In desperate attempt to hold onto parts of themselves, the sisters turn to ragbags they’d never otherwise pick up:”Normally, I don’t like gossip magazines, but you lose touch with your feminine side,” Sierra said. “It’s almost comforting to look at magazines. I almost remember what it’s like being a girl, wearing makeup and looking cute.”Memry feels the same, paging through the mags to remind herself “of who I am normally in the world.”
In addition to the regular stresses of commercial salmon fishing, the family has its own challenging dynamics, particularly with a father who, born into the industry, is extremely intense.”He’s quick to anger,” his wife of 29 years, Susan, said. “He can go from 1 to 10 in a couple of seconds … He’s a very aggressive fisherman. He gets so focused and in a frenzy.Susan met her husband Dean, the captain of the boat, in Alaska in 1978, and the couple married in 1982, raising three of their four young kids in Alaska until they moved to Seattle in 1989, then Summit County in 1996. Dean spent winters crab and cod fishing and summers salmon fishing. Susan often took the kids on up to three-month trips to Africa, Asia and Australia while Dean fished in the winters, then brought them on the boat during summers.For the last two years, the family has been one of only 49 boats in Sitka, Alaska, chosen to fish for herring, prized for their eggs in Japan. Thursday’s premiere features an intense crash the Anderson’s survived during what people term “combat fishing,” because only the most competitive participate in herring fishing, which literally only remains open for 10 minutes to two hours and after paying a $600,000 license fee can result in zero to half a million dollars or more, Susan Anderson said.”Herring fishing is like being in a war, literally,” she said.The remainder of the television series focuses on the family’s salmon fishing experiences, which is their “bread and butter,” she said.Sierra began documenting her family’s fishing experiences after college as a way of communicating her experiences because she felt like she lived a dual life; she and her sister grew up figure skating and ski racing, yet they both live at least a quarter of their lives in a male-dominated world where “sexual harassment is a huge problem and men don’t see women as equal so (women) have to work twice as hard for the same amount of respect,” she said.While most television pitches take at least a year or two to come to fruition, the Andersons hooked Discovery Communications’ attention almost immediately. In fact, the production company told Sierra they “never had a deal this big happen so fast,” she said. She put together a video, signed with a production company who pitched it to Discovery, and within a month, they had a green light. The show is the first to showcase salmon fishing.