There's a Lot More Waiting Around Than 'Wicked Tuna' Would Have You Believe
Watching reality TV leaves some people with an odd feeling, kind of like the one you felt when you were getting old enough to realize that maybe the Undertaker isn't actually from Parts Unknown, and that Macho Man Randy Savage probably had an inkling he was going to get a snake as a wedding gift during his reception.
Everyone always wants to know how "real" reality programs are, and that includes the long-running fishing program Wicked Tuna.
Is 'Wicked Tuna' real?
I've said this several times (and I should know, I work in reality TV), but different reality shows have differing degrees of realness. There are plenty of tales of MTV veritas dramas about pretty teens who come from money doing half-hearted acting jobs for the camera, hoodwinking folks at home into thinking that the drama they're experiencing in their inner circle is genuine. More often than not, these segments are almost entirely scripted.
From the different talking points that the show's "cast" engages in, to the storylines that develop, these shows gave the illusion that they were real — but they were not.
Some say that the same happens with reality shows that have "less glamorous" premises, like following folks who work unconventional jobs. Just ask the boys in Swamp People.
Here's what we do know is real about Wicked Tuna.
The program's cast members are indeed fishermen who work these vessels for a living. They go after bluefin tuna and they're pretty darn good at their jobs.
The hauls that they bring in aren't exaggerated (for the most part). Sure, camera magic can make a mass of fish look more impressive than it is based on placement and angles, but the same could be said of anyone sending 2 a.m. Snapchat selfies.
Cast members of the show have gone on record to state that while every aspect of the job isn't perfectly represented in the span of 42 minutes, but the general vibe is accurate. Captain TJ Ott believes that the show's right around the bullseye at presenting what it's like to work the boats: "They've done a good job showing the hardships. What people maybe don't see is the hours. You see some seasons are great, some are a struggle. It's not an easy racket."
What isn't captured, however, is a lot of the down time that the fishermen experience in between hauls or the more mundane prep work. It isn't as exciting as it's shown in the series, but I've personally worked with two cameramen on Ghost Hunters who filmed for Tuna, and when you're working in a tight corner catching tuna, and there are hooks flying past your face, things can get pretty gnarly.
It's easy to lose a chunk of ear or a piece of eyeball because there's only so much room to pull back and cast your line, and when you add a camera person to the mix, that just makes things all the more hectic.
So, what is possibly not real about 'Wicked Tuna'? Are there any segments that are scripted?
There are several "dramatic" moments on the boat that viewers of the show may think are trumped up, but considering that the cast members are far away from shore, are extremely sleep-deprived, and have to use specific fishing methods to help protect the bluefin tuna population, it's not too far-fetched to think that they will inevitably get on each other's nerves and their tempers will flare over.
So while there probably aren't "scripted" moments on the show, there is a fair amount of editing that takes place in the program to make the action seem more back-to-back than it really is. Each episode plays more like a "highlight reel" of the most exciting moments that have occurred while filming rather than an actual cinéma vérité representation of what goes on.
That being said, Wicked Tuna does seem pretty real. You can catch new episodes of the program on National Geographic Sunday nights at 9 p.m. EST.