He was supposed to be mining for gold, but by the end of the summer, Jimmy Dorsey wasn't up to his knees in riches, but rather sleeping in his truck and listening to the new Arcade Fire record. He was spending his days working for a commercial fishing outfit while also reflecting on the odd series of events that took him from a career as a prominent realtor outside of Portland to an Alaskan gold mine, where he'd somewhat reluctantly become a star of one of cable television's most popular reality programs.
Gold Rush: Alaska - a show about unemployed and underemployed Oregonians who head north looking for a new lease on life at the bottom of a gold pan - has surprisingly become the darling of Discovery Channel's winter season. And after five episodes, the show has been all at once tragic, inadvertently hilarious, troubling and, of course, thoroughly entertaining. But at the core of the multiple revolving stories surrounding the miners' desire to pull gold out of the Alaskan dirt has been Jimmy Dorsey. Although, like the other men, he's a devout Christian and, like them, wants to find a new life by way of gold, it's nearly impossible to take in the first four episodes of Gold Rush without feeling for Dorsey. He seems to be the most driven of the bunch yet he's constantly bullied by some of the other miners, including the boss, Todd Hoffman. And "bullied," as odd as it may seem to be applied to grizzled miners, is precisely the word to describe the bizarre and mostly juvenile treatment this massively bearded father received on the show, and apparently, in reality. As seen on the show, Dorsey is repeatedly threatened by Hoffman (once because Dorsey merely told Hoffman's son not to leave food out in the camp) and constantly made out to be a safety liability - which is odd because even casual viewers can gather that he's one of the hardest-working crew members.
"There's a lot to be learned about bullying. I dealt with it as a kid and it's weird to be dealing with that when you're 34," says Dorsey. "If it works for [the bullies] then they'll continue bullying later in life."
The resulting stress and frustration from the bullying was instrumental in Dorsey's decision to walk away from the mine during the middle of the season. He left without a cent in gold profits, despite the fact that he says he busted his ass to pull plenty of it out of the ground.
"I didn't sign any contract. It was a true cowboy deal. It was just a deal that I'd get a cut of the gold," says Dorsey.
That handshake "cowboy deal" he's referring to also meant he had no formal agreement with the Discovery Channel, thus he's free to divulge details from the series before the episodes air. Dorsey says that an upcoming episode of Gold Rush will show him leaving the camp, ending what - oddly enough - is just one of the wild adventures in his life.
Dorsey grew up in Clackamas County, Oregon and after enrolling in Mt. Hood Community College to learn how to play the stand-up bass, he soon dropped out, taking that instrument on the road for years to come, playing in touring rockabilly bands. Unlike his fellow miners, many of whom were in the building industry - or in Hoffman and his father's case, operators of a small air strip - Dorsey has held plenty of jobs, including one as a snowboard instructor at Mt. Hood Meadows and another as a truck driver, but during the real estate boom of the mid-2000s, he settled down with his wife, Joy, (a talented Americana singer who, along with their two children, joined Dorsey in Alaska) in Sandy, Oregon, and began selling real estate. Soon, he had his own company with nearly 20 people working with him.
But then came the housing crash and the widespread economic disaster that followed.
"It was no big deal for me and I said 'that's fine, I was getting bored with this anyway,'" says Dorsey with a laugh over the phone from his real estate office where he's still working a few days a week, in between things like "dynamiting classes" - which delayed our interview for a few days - and prospecting for gold in the hills of eastern Oregon.
"I'm terminally bored and it's going to kill me someday," says Dorsey, again with a laugh.
It may have been that boredom that convinced him to team up with Todd Hoffman, whom he knew through a hunting group, and several other men from the areas outside of Portland to take a stab at mining. He spent months preparing equipment, transporting that equipment up to Alaska and then working at the mine - all for no wages, only the promise of proceeds from the gold profits. At the time, Dorsey says he thought heading up to Alaska to mine for gold was less of a risk than staying home and trying to make it in real estate. But, as we now know, he never saw any of that money.
While mining was the objective, the crew was also dealing with a production crew who were shooting the program.
"It's hard to separate the mining from the reality show," says Dorsey, adding that he felt the producers had a penchant for stirring up the drama.
But the show, at least in the first five episodes, didn't necessarily need more drama, as the crew provided plenty, much of which spawned from their wildly inefficient, self-destructive and apparently lazy antics. As Dorsey says, the crew brought tons and tons of heavy machinery up to Alaska, but neglected to tote along a single shovel, something that would seem an elementary tool for gold mining. Of course, this was the sort of crap that makes for great watching.
While the summer in Alaska hardly turned out the way Dorsey thought it would, he seems to be without regret, almost to a fault. He's back in Oregon, selling real estate while prepping for his next mining adventure, which might be in eastern Oregon or it could lead him up to Alaska again. He says whatever he does, it will most likely be filmed for another television series.
"It was a crazy adventure and it's getting crazier," says Dorsey of the time in Alaska and the sudden rush of fame the television show brought his way.
"These are hard times and I'm glad that we went out there and did it."