[08/25/08 - 12:03 AM]
Interview: "America's Toughest Jobs" Executive Producer Thom Beers & Host Josh Temple
By Jim Halterman (TFC)

So, you show up to work and spend the day thinking about what else is out there? Where are the challenges of your job? The adventure? The danger? Look no further than NBC's "America's Toughest Jobs," which premieres tonight on NBC. The competition series takes 13 men and women out from the safety of their comfortable jobs and, as the network puts it, "are injected into some of the most challenging, dangerous and demanding jobs on Earth." Creator/Executive Producer Thom Beers ("Deadliest Catch" "Ice Road Truckers") and host Josh Temple (TLC's "Backyard Nation") shared the challenges of bringing this series to the air with The Futon Critic's Jim Halterman.

With jobs ranging from logging in Oregon to oil drilling on the Texas range, each job not only requires guts and stamina but, at the end of each episode, the new boss and co-workers are the ones who get to decide which contestants get to move to the next job or which one is sent back to their everyday life. Beers said that "America's Toughest Jobs" came to be while he was producing the popular "Ice Road Truckers" for the History Channel and, "I got so many people saying I can do that, I can do this, I can do this. And I realized why don't we open this up and just take ordinary people... and we allow them to go out and be literally rookies, be first timers on a series of jobs. And that's where it came from and, boy, we were pretty amazed."

First up in putting the show together was choosing the jobs. "I look for jobs with big risk and big reward and I think that's the key to it. You know, these jobs are not jobs [where] you don't know how much you're going to make every week. Most of us go to work and every two weeks we get a paycheck and we know exactly within about three pennies what that paycheck is going to be. But... most of these jobs are jobs that literally you don't know what the reward is. But with big risk comes big reward. Usually it's a lot more than anybody else makes." Jobs during this season include crab fishing, rodeo bullfighting, search and rescue, ice road trucking and logging.

Next in constructing "America's Toughest Jobs" was seeing how the chosen contestants would hold up against the challenging jobs ahead of them. Asked about how the women fared against the men in many of the jobs and Beers had some surprising results. In the beginning, "you've got basically eight men and five women... and you're going You know, I just hope that the balance stays. [In] the first couple episodes the women are in serious jeopardy of getting knocked out of the race here a little bit. And you're kind of going Oh man, this is going to be an all-boys club. But then all of a sudden it's like all men in the final four [of elimination]." Though the start of the series exhibited more of an "ebb and flow of quality of work and quantity of work," Beers admits, "around episodes five and six it became a battle of the sexes for a couple of episodes."

Regardless of gender, Beers was also impressed with how the competition was life changing for some of the contestants. "We cast a guy who drives and sells pharmaceutical drugs to hospitals and doctors. He was an ex-football star who basically thought that this is [his] lot in life. So we gave [people like him] an opportunity to step out of that." At first, he says, the contestants are just trying to get acclimated to their new life. But, he said with excitement "after about Episode Two, all of a sudden half these people had that weird thousand-mile stare. It's just like I don't know if I'm ever alive. I'm just a drone. I'm just working. And all of a sudden they all spark to life. I mean, they had a look in their eyes. There was passion in there and all of a sudden it was like Game on! It was really cool; as if they shed their kind of strangely corporate moral coil and all of a sudden they all became wild men and women."

Beers also said that the experience on the show pushed some of the contestants to literally change their lives once their time on the show was over. Without giving away the identity, one contestant flew back home after being eliminated, packed his/her bag, closed up his/her apartment and moved to Alaska, landing a job with the company they'd worked with on the show. Beers stresses that the show was, "amazingly hard but at the end every one of these people's lives were changed. And, many of them � most of them didn't return to their old life."

Temple also chimed in with his perception of not only the pride but the passion he witnessed with the jobs shown on the series. "These bosses are the guys that do [these jobs] for 40 years and [have great] pride in their work but if you ask any of them, none of them will say that strength is the most important thing to succeed in their job. It's heart. They all said that. And you could see it. They could train anyone and that's the point. They could train anyone... but you got to have heart. And watching it, I totally believe it now. I mean, it's just this incredible pride of building something, walking away and saying I did that or... I was part of that team that got that done."

Every competition show has to have winners, though, and Beers said it was a conscious choice to not employ a panel of judges to decide who would move forward in the competition. "What we did was we allowed these decisions to be made not by the production; we didn't make the decisions. In every show we brought on professionals that actually do this for a living. It was as if you were a first day employee. It's like every job. These are the people that do it day in and day out. They know it, they'll teach it and they'll judge by your performance." Beers also offered that these judges, "took us out of the mix � the producers � and allowed real bosses to make decisions on who was good and who was bad."

One trait that Beers and Temple said they never saw in any of the contestants was the will to quit. Temple said, "None of them quit, ever. I never saw an ounce of quit. I saw a lot of exhausted [people]. They all wanted to do right by the job."

Turning to the topic of how Americans define themselves by their jobs, Beers offered his own opinion. "How many people do you think actually work to support a lifestyle because I think it's about 50/50. I think that a lot of people in America [are] anything from car mechanics to working in an office or in a retail store but they don't really define themselves as, you know, an Office Max worker. No, they say I'm an artist and I work at Office Max to support my lifestyle... but I think there's a pretty healthy balance out there of people who actually take these jobs just to support a lifestyle."

To see the competition between these everyday workers challenged beyond belief, "America's Toughest Jobs" airs tonight on NBC at 9:00/8:00c.

  [august 2008]  


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