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posted: 8/28/2013 6:00 AM

Discovery Channel reality show a hit with male viewers

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  • Miners pan for gold in Chile in Discovery's "Gold Rush: South America."

    Miners pan for gold in Chile in Discovery's "Gold Rush: South America."
    Courtesy of Discovery Channel

  • Todd Hoffman and Dave Turin visit Kaieteur Falls in their quest for gold in "Gold Rush: South America."

    Todd Hoffman and Dave Turin visit Kaieteur Falls in their quest for gold in "Gold Rush: South America."
    Courtesy of Discovery Channel

By Kate O'Hare

The quest for Southern Hemisphere riches ends -- at least for now -- on Friday, Aug. 30, with the finale of the summer series "Gold Rush: South America."

The spinoff of Discovery Channel's hit reality series "Gold Rush" premiered on Aug. 2 and continued its predecessor's habit of finding viewers, becoming the day's No. 1 cable show among adults ages 25-54 and men ages 25-54 and No. 2 in all of television among men 24-54 and men 18-49. The regular "Gold Rush" series has its fourth season premiere in October.

In a TV universe where it's often difficult to get men to give up their video games and sports to actually sit down and watch reality or scripted television, "Gold Rush" has succeeded by following a motley bunch of gold miners seeking to make a fortune by finding the precious metal. It also helps that the men do it by driving around huge earth-moving equipment.

"It's man heaven," says executive producer Christo Doyle, who has become known to fans through his online and now televised behind-the-scenes chats with the "Gold Rush" miners and camera crews. His one-hour on-air show is now called "The Dirt" -- on finale night, it airs right before "Gold Rush: South America" -- and it features Doyle doing candid, sometimes contentious and sometimes confusing, interviews with the show's featured miners: Oregon native Todd Hoffman, his dad, Jack Hoffman, Freddy Dodge and their hard-luck crew; teen Parker Schnabel, his beloved, ninety-something "Grandpa," John Schnabel, and his outspoken mother, Nancy Schnabel; and the father-son "Dakota Boys," dad "Dakota Fred" Hurt and son Dustin.

Over the course of "Gold Rush: South America," Todd Hoffman, tired of wresting gold from Alaska's frozen ground (he did get more than $1 million last year), decides to try his luck in the jungle instead. As Twitter and TV fans know, Hoffman and Doyle don't have the warmest of relationships, with each resenting the other's perceived intrusions into his territory. Explains Doyle, "Recently, he said on Twitter, 'Christo Doyle, no matter what you do, we'll never actually be friends,' which I'm actually fine with. We have a good professional relationship; we really do. I respect him for what he does, and he respects me.

"We both know that 'Gold Rush' wouldn't be where it is today without each other. At least I know that; maybe he doesn't know that."

And then there's Hoffman's unmistakable personality, a mix of evangelical preacher, P.T. Barnum-type showman, dreamer, leader and deal maker. "Todd told me he wanted to move his operation," says Doyle. "I told him he was completely insane. But the beauty of Todd is that he's insane, is that he's a dreamer. At a trade show in Las Vegas, he got wind of there being some great ground in South America. So he begged and pleaded with us that he wanted to go to South America on his quest.

"The more we looked at it, the more we thought it would make for a great little offseason run, and off we were."

But, similar to his string of misfortune and mishaps in Alaska and Canada's Yukon, Hoffman's time in the jungle has been fraught with misunderstandings, conflicts with the locals, lost opportunities and wild chances fueled by blue-sky optimism. When it's noted that Hoffman's perpetual problems puzzle viewers, Doyle says, "Me, too. Join the club. I don't know."

And yet, Hoffman always turns up another lead. "He is ADD, self-admittedly so," says Doyle. "So, he's not just picking up leads; he's actively looking for leads at all times. The net result from that is that he drives me nuts, and he's driving the guys in his crew nuts.

"But he is incredibly charismatic, and he is very convincing. He's a smart guy; he just hasn't quite hit it the way he wants to hit it yet, and there's always something better out there."

Some fans have speculated that either Discovery or the production company is secretly funding the mining, especially Hoffman's adventures.

"Obviously," says Doyle, "I can't discuss the deals we have with talent. But what I can say is, without these guys having tremendous skin in the game, we would have no show. You'll see, this (upcoming) season, Todd goes way out on a limb. The way that is playing out now on 'Gold Rush,' there's nothing more real."

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