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Originally published Sunday, January 22, 2012 at 5:32 AM

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Discover series 'Bering Sea Gold' aims for pay dirt

Discovery Channel turns out its latest tough-guys-against-the-elements series with "Bering Sea Gold," which uses the same elements of success as "Deadliest Catch" and "Gold Rush."

Special to The Seattle Times


'Bering Sea Gold'

10 p.m. Friday, Discovery Channel.

Tonight in Prime Time

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Discovery Channel is turning out its latest tough-guys-in-foul-climates series with "Bering Sea Gold," which uses elements from established hits "Deadliest Catch" and "Gold Rush."

Like those series, "Bering Sea Gold" is set on the water off the coast of Alaska and features characters on multiple vessels on the hunt for a commodity that takes a herculean effort to extract.

"Obviously we're in Alaska on a lot of different shows," acknowledged "Bering Sea Gold" and "Deadliest Catch" executive producer Thom Beers. "To me, it's the last great wilderness and I'm always looking for what is that next opportunity to show high-risk, high-reward jobs in an exotic location like Alaska."

These series tend to feature a bounty of characters from the Pacific Northwest, whether it's the Portland-area gold seekers in "Gold Rush" or characters on "Deadliest Catch." "Bering Sea Gold" (10 p.m. Friday) follows the pattern with three cast members from Washington, including Ian Foster, of Gig Harbor.

He's captain of The Sluicey, a modified skiff that Foster uses to dredge for gold. He doesn't get far in the small vessel, which takes on water in Friday's premiere. He fares better in episode two when his friend Scott Foster (no relation) shows up to help in the gold-dredging process, which basically involves one Foster scuba diving and vacuuming the ocean floor while the other Foster monitors the boat's machinery.

Ian, 33, credits Scott with his decision to pursue gold dredging. A 2005 Brigham Young University graduate with a degree in psychology, Ian worked in an underground mine in Utah and did part-time work as a videographer. He met Scott, who showed him video of Bering Sea gold mining, and both thought there might be a TV show in this dirty job.

Ian, a 1997 Peninsula High School grad, first went to work in Nome, Alaska, as a Bering Sea gold dredger in 2009 but he said it didn't work out, so he landed a job as a social worker. Two years later he was ready to quit his child-protective- services job and give gold dredging another shot.

In between, he worked on the footage he shot in 2009 — look up "Gold diving Alaska" by akgolddiver on YouTube and you'll find his reel — and sent it to Discovery Channel and other reality show production companies.

"We were trying to say, we have this great story," Ian Foster said. "From what I understand, there was already a deal in the works [for a TV series] when my pitch got to Discovery."

So Foster got rolled into Beers' series.

"The pace was amazing," Foster said. "I sent it and a week later I got a call and a week after that I was in front of a camera and three weeks later I was in casting and two months afterward I'm getting filmed with Scott."

Filming on the first season of "Bering Sea Gold" took place last year from July through September, the heart of the Alaska gold-dredging season. Foster said participants are paid "a little bit" for being on the show but not enough to survive on if they don't have success in gold dredging.

"We make our money on the water," he said in a phone interview from Gig Harbor. "The plan is, I can make enough in five or six months to take six months off if I'm frugal, and work on other projects. I can choose to do social work-type things."

Foster previously did humanitarian work in Africa and worked in Mexico with troubled youth.

Other Washingtonians featured on "Bering Sea Gold" include Robbi Wade, of Duvall, and Cody Moen, of Liberty Lake, both deckhands on the Christine Rose, the largest gold dredge featured on the show. A Discovery Channel publicist said they were not available for interviews.

Executive producer Beers credits the participation of so many Northwesterners in Alaska-set series to proximity and a pioneering spirit.

"To me Alaska is Seattle's backyard," he said. "It's your ultimate playground. It's easier to get there and I think hardy souls are drawn to Seattle so you've already got the DNA. It's almost like you've done the priming by living in Seattle. It's a natural stepping off point to the great wilderness."

Rob Owen: or on Facebook and Twitter as RobOwenTV.

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