The Discovery Channel can be a fun watch, but are you actually going to learn anything from it? You’ve got a lot of people these days who insist that “Discovery” has been a misnomer for a long time, and the producers are more interested in reality TV than science. And to be fair, these Discovery Channel controversies and scandals aren’t the sort of thing you’d find in a scientific textbook.
40. River Monsters came under fire
Jeremy Wade’s River Monsters is one of the more educational Discovery shows, but experts have still raised objections to it. In 2013 a scientist named Kyle Hill wrote an open letter to the show’s producers via Scientific American magazine, complaining that the show turned “these typically harmless fish into actual monsters” and pleading with them “not to blur the line between real and fake for the sake of entertainment.” Wade actually wrote back to him saying he made “important points.”
39. The Mythbusters team accidentally destroyed a house
Every so often things go wrong on Mythbusters, and it can have disastrous consequences. Back in 2011 the team were testing the trajectory of a cannonball at a bomb range, but it got away and smashed right through the walls of house. Luckily, there was a happy ending: not only did the occupants of the house escape without injury, but the cannonball didn’t even wake them up.
38. One Deadliest Catch star stole a car
In 2017 news hit that Jake Harris of Deadliest Catch had made off with his girlfriend’s car, leading her to call the police. Unfortunately, things didn’t get any better from there. After a string of further crimes, including other car-related offenses, a judge gave Harris a jail term of 18 months in August 2019.
37. Naked and Afraid offers money to contestants
The Discovery channel keeps it very quiet, but the people who appear on Naked and Afraid actually will get paid for their trouble… if they finish the show and/or comply with whatever demands Discovery might place on them. And even then it’s not much money. It’s a mere $5k for being naked on TV.
36. People were furious about one misleading documentary
In 2013 Discovery aired a documentary called Megalodon: The Monster Shark That Lives, about an extinct giant shark. Unfortunately, Discovery cheerfully massaged the facts and made it seem very much like the Megalodon was still out there, alive and well and hungry. People were not impressed, at all. Science magazine Discover ripped into it faster than an actual shark.
35. Blake Painter wasn’t a big fan of the show he was on
Deadliest Catch fans will know that Blake Painter appeared to quit the show in season two, but allegedly there was more to it than that. He was simply leaving to take care of a family member, not quitting, and he hated the way editing made it look. He grudgingly returned for season three, but when Discovery continued to use fakery to amp up the drama, he made his departure.
34. A Naked and Afraid contestant had to lie
Former Naked and Afraid contestant Honora Bowen was so infuriated about the way she was treated on the show that she started a blog about it. One accusation of note: She claimed that the show’s producers gave her a magnifying glass and told her to say it was once her dad’s. Her dad had actually died just two months beforehand.
33. A fireworks accident caused trouble
Jonathan and Andy Hillstrand of Deadliest Catch once made their own fireworks for a display. Many people will tell you that’s not a good idea, and indeed it wasn’t. One of their crew, a man named David “Beaver” Zielinski, had a firework go off in his hand and shatter the bones. He was later awarded $1.35 million for the damage.
32. Cody Lundin was fired
Cody Lundin was on Dual Survival for over two seasons, then suddenly he was gone. Why? He explained it himself on his blog in 2014, “Unfortunately, I have been fired by Discovery Channel for differences over safety and health concerns on the show and will no longer be a part of Dual Survival.” Discovery however claimed in a statement that it just “felt it was time for change.” A long war of words ensued.
31. Discovery was accused of harassing sharks
In 2014 Discovery released a show called Zombie Sharks, about the state called “tonic immobility” that occurs when a shark is flipped on its back. Of course, this required… flipping sharks on their back. And scientists questioned whether it was really necessary to harass the dangerous animals just for the sake of television.
30. Elliot Neese got hit with a fine
Crab fishing is serious business. If you’re found to be disobeying the rules, you could be fined, and that’s exactly what happened to Deadliest Catch star Elliot Neese when he was found to be bringing in undersize crabs. The initial fine was $6,000, but after Neese pleaded guilty half of that was taken off.
29. Bear Grylls staged parts of his show
The Bear Grylls show Man vs. Wild was very popular… but a lot the dangers Grylls faced weren’t actually real. A crew member went to the Sunday Times newspaper after the first season and revealed that Grylls had been staying in hotels, riding on prebuilt rafts, and facing down farm horses rather than wild ones. Oops.
28. A snake bit a Naked and Afraid producer
Bear Grylls tweeted some pictures of a grossly snakebit leg in 2013. The leg turned out to belong to Naked and Afraid producer Steve Rankin, who told the website TMZ, “I was scouting locations in Costa Rica… As I was traversing through some deep jungle, I was bitten on the foot by a Fer-de-Lance. It’s one of the deadliest snakes in the world, and the fangs went right through my boot.” He was lucky to pull through.
27. One star lied about his qualifications
Dave Canterbury of Dual Survival was supposed to have been an army sniper, but it turned out that he was not. And as soon as Discovery learned he had been lying, it fired him. Canterbury confessed what he had done via YouTube in 2013, saying, “Did I embellish some of the things on my resume? I did. I didn’t do it to hurt anyone.”
26. One Million Moms boycotted Naked and Afraid
The group One Million Moms strongly objected to Naked and Afraid. They claimed the nudity was too much, even though a lot of it was blurred out, and that the whole show was akin to pornography. And in the end, they did get some companies to pull their ads from Discovery. But nothing makes people watch a show faster than other people boycotting it.
25. Deadliest Catch faked a storm
In 2008 it transpired that a vicious storm shown on Deadliest Catch hadn’t actually been all that bad. The producers had spliced in footage with that of a different event to make the situation seem much worse than it was. Discovery president John Ford told The Hollywood Reporter newspaper, “Everything that you see in the show happened,” but they had still very much used footage from two different days.
24. Someone filmed Mike Rowe with a drone in his own house
Dirty Jobs host Mike Rowe got a nasty shock in 2016 when he discovered a drone flying outside his bedroom window. And worse, he was naked at the time. (Naked and afraid, in fact.) He grabbed a shotgun but ended up just taking a picture of the drone as it flew off. Who was it, and what footage did they get? We may never know.
23. Discovery sued two Deadliest Catch captains
Back in 2010 the Discovery channel sued Jonathan and Andy Hillstrand for not finishing work on one of their Deadliest Catch spin-off shows. They asked for a whopping $3 million in damages, and as a result, the Hillstrands upped and left. Jonathan Hillstrand told Entertainment Weekly magazine that year, “Emotionally, it was hell.”
22. The Alaskan government dislikes Gold Rush
In 2011 some Alaska officials stated their disapproval of Discovery’s Gold Rush. The show presented the land and its animals in an unrealistic way, they said, and the last thing they wanted was untrained people running to Alaska and ruining the environment in search of gold. They also pointed out that state employees issued permits for some of the activity on the show, but Gold Rush failed to mention this.
21. Mythbusters had to retract an episode
A big topic in science circles back in 2007 was credit card hacking via RFID, and the Mythbusters wanted to do an episode on it. Show star Adam Savage claimed in 2008 that credit card companies had threatened to pull funding from the episode and had made Discovery back down – but later it turned out that that hadn’t been the case. Savage had to admit he had gotten the facts wrong there.
20. Eaten Alive was roundly condemned
Discovery Channel provoked a lot of people in 2014 when they announced a special called Eaten Alive. It would involve a snake expert called Paul Rosolie finding a 25-foot-long snake in the rainforest, getting eaten by it, and then escaping unharmed. PETA were furious, others were concerned… But in the end Rosolie didn’t get eaten. He got his arm crushed a little by an anaconda, but that was about it. That started up a whole different wave of outrage.
19. A Deadliest Catch star turned out to be a bank robber
Isn’t it awkward when someone from your show ends up robbing a bank? That’s what happened to Discovery with Joshua Tel Warner of Deadliest Catch. He wasn’t exactly the smartest criminal, since he was robbing banks and appearing on Discovery at the same time. Detectives spotted him on Deadliest Catch, and well, he was sentenced to nine-and-a-half years in prison.
18. Discovery’s documentaries are often misleading
Discovery has often been slammed for airing documentaries that are very much not factual. They’ve been accused of misrepresenting sharks, snakes and sometimes even real-world communities. One particularly bad example came with their 2014 show Shark of Darkness: Wrath of Submarine, which blamed a real South African ferry accident on a fictional monster shark. Sea Rescue South Africa released a statement saying, “We were not consulted, we did not give permission, and our boats and uniforms were not used.”
17. Elliot Neese isn’t exactly beloved
Deadliest Catch fans don’t like Elliot Neese much at all. It’s not just because of how he’s portrayed on the show, it’s because of how he behaves on social media as well. In 2013 show producer David Pritikin told Us Weekly magazine, “People either love him or love to hate him,” but there was actually a petition to kick him off the show two years later.
16. Amish Mafia misrepresented the Amish
In 2012 Discovery premiered Amish Mafia, a show about “fixers” in the Amish community. But it was instantly met with eye-rolls. A man named David George wrote for the website Salon, “I’m a native of Lancaster County and have an extended family full of Amish people. If the Amish mafia were as vital to peace in the county as Discovery suggests, someone like me… would at least have heard of these gangsters.” He dubbed it “Amishploitation.”
15. Naked and Afraid does provide medical treatment
Obviously Naked and Afraid aren’t going to leave their contestants to suffer, but they don’t want you to know about it. If a participant needs ongoing medication, they’re allowed to take it during the show. And remember how Kim Shelton’s food poisoning miraculously went away? It was because she was put on an I.V. off-camera.
14. Monster Garage was slapped with a fine
Jesse James – a.k.a. the man who cheated on Sandra Bullock – was the star of Discovery’s Monster Garage once upon a time. Unfortunately, he wasn’t as good at customizing motorbikes as he claimed. In 2007 he and his company got a $271,250 fine for violating exhaust system and clean air laws. James may be named after a famous outlaw, but crime doesn’t pay.
13. Cody Lundin filed a lawsuit
After being fired from Dual Survivor, Cody Lundin filed a lawsuit against Discovery claiming that his co-star Joe Teti had been threatening him with violence on set, but Discovery had edited the show to make it look like he himself was the problem one. However in 2018 a judge ruled in Discovery’s favor, claiming Lundin’s evidence wasn’t sufficient.
12. Sig Hansen was arrested
In 2017 Sig Hansen from Deadliest Catch was arrested after getting into a drunken fight with an Uber driver. Later he apologized on Twitter, but that didn’t stop him from pleading not guilty when the time came. But for those who had been following his reality TV career, his reputation was in tatters by then anyway.
11. The Alaskan Bush People weren’t Alaskan
As far as audiences knew, the stars of Alaskan Bush People lived in Alaska. But they didn’t, at least not all the time. And this became clear to everyone when in 2014 Billy Brown and his son Joshua made a plea deal for leaving Alaska but still receiving a subsidy from the state. They were fined and sentenced to 30 days in prison.
10. Shark Week may actually be hurting shark conversation
According to some, Discovery’s Shark Week may do a lot more harm than good. In 2017 Emmy-winning wildlife filmmaker Chris Palmer told the website Eco Watch, “With Shark Week, people get to see sharks as being dangerous and man-eating because that’s what gets ratings… The wrong perception can lead to misconceptions and in the end, I think, hurt public policy toward these animals.”
9. Some bits of Dirty Jobs had to be cut
Mike Rowe’s Dirty Jobs advertises itself as crossing all sorts of lines, but there are some that it won’t. Rowe admitted in an interview that a planned bit about crime scene cleanup had had to be declined because it had been just too horrible. And when a segment with taxidermist Stephen Paternite was cut, Paternite took the footage himself and released a DVD called “Too Gross For Discovery.”
8. Deadliest Catch had a bad effect on the Alaskan economy
In 2014 the Anchorage Daily News website posted an article headlined “Time for Deadliest Catch to go home.” The show, they said, “is creating a problem for the 65 or more other crab boats whose crews depend on the Bering Sea crab resource for financial survival but don’t appear on television.” In other words, people’s jobs were suffering because of Deadliest Catch. And Discovery tend not to talk about that sort of thing.
7. A Michael Phelps documentary disappointed people
In 2017 Discovery got a lot of fans hyped up with the documentary Phelps vs. Shark: Great Gold vs. Great White. In it, the channel heavily implied, Michael Phelps would race a shark! Except he didn’t, he just raced a simulation of a shark. Twitter was bitterly disappointed, and on top of that, Phelps didn’t even win.
6. Joe Teti may have lied about his background
Dual Survivor seems to attract people who lie about military training. Dave Canterbury did it, and then allegedly so did his replacement Joe Teti. Teti claimed to have done Special Forces Combat and Special Forces Sniper courses, but it turned out that there was no record of these anywhere. Eventually, Teti was kicked off the show.
5. Naked and Afraid failed to mention an injury
In 2013 contestant Shane Lewis revealed to the MailOnline website that he’d actually broken three toes while filming Naked and Afraid, but audiences only heard he’d “hurt his foot.” Lewis griped that he’d been made to look “pathetic” and said, “They said they wanted to show the reality and how difficult it was, but they went for the ratings. They gave it the Hollywood treatment.”
4. Jimmy Dorsey claims he was unfavorably edited
Jimmy Dorsey of Gold Rush has claimed in interviews that pretty much everything on the show was scripted, and also anything that portrayed him in a positive light was left on the cutting room floor. Interestingly, he’s also said he never actually signed a proper contract with Discovery, leaving him free to talk about episodes before they screen.
3. Bear Grylls was fired from Man Vs. Wild
Man Vs. Wild made Bear Grylls famous, but suddenly he was fired from the show. Yes, fired. And for a completely silly reason at that: there was a contract dispute about Grylls’s participation in two new shows Discovery wanted to do. Grylls seemed to do fine without them though, he’s now an author and motivational speaker with his own survival academy.
2. Mythbusters accidentally caused an explosion
The Mythbusters team loves to blow things up, but every so often it goes horribly wrong. In 2009 the team tried out an experiment based on the phase “knock your socks off” and attempted to blow the socks off a mannequin. Thank god it was just a mannequin, because they caused a huge explosion, which shocked residents of the town below. And the Mythbusters crew had to pay out for the damage caused.
1. Many scientists refuse to work with Discovery
Discovery’s reputation in the scientific community, especially among those who study sharks, leaves a lot to be desired. In 2014 the similarly named but unaffiliated Discover magazine made note of how scientists and their work were misrepresented by the channel, and asked experts if they’d ever work with Discovery. Plenty voted no, with one graduate student saying, “I’d be worried about how it would appear to my colleagues.”