Cooper’s Treasure exclusive interview: Darrell Miklos on why the hunt is more fun than the treasure

Darrell Miklos showing a recently discovered spoon on Cooper's Treasure Season 2
Darrell Miklos showing a recently discovered spoon on Cooper’s Treasure Season 2

Darrell Miklos is an unlikely television star. Or at the very least, a reluctant one not drawn by the “shiny” of celebrity trappings and fame. He’s addicted to the hunt more than the “boring treasure”, if you ask him.

And if Discovery network greenlit ten seasons of Cooper’s Treasure, it would delight him to no end.

The explorer and shallow water recovery expert has catapulted to fame just as his mentor and benefactor Gordon Cooper popped up through the Earth’s atmosphere to circle the planet in a tiny tin can (by today’s standards) of a spaceship.

Unbeknownst to the US Government monitoring Cooper’s progress, the astronaut was charting the wreck-filled shallows of the Atlantic in his bid to satiate what Miklos says was his real interest: treasure hunting; a fascination established well before he was known as Cooper the trailblazing astronaut.

The second season of Cooper’s Treasure is nothing short of action-packed and has been yielding historic artifacts right out of the gate. We spoke to Darrell about all the moving parts of the docuseries, how he views the treasure recovery business, and the importance of the backstory behind each ship eaten by the shallow waters of the Caribbean.

Monsters and Critics: Your father in this second season…tell me about how this season your relationship changes, stays the same or evolves, and this quest that you’re on.

Darrell Mikos: It’s strained at best because we just don’t talk…until the second season, we never talked. I don’t wanna give anything away, but he was just never around. After the first season, I never saw him. He never called me. He basically cut ties completely, and so did I.

Roger Miklos and Merv Griffin, circa March 1978
Darrell’s dad Roger Miklos and Merv Griffin, circa March 1978

My family just thought it was unhealthy and I don’t think he understood what it was I was trying to do. He’s not one to give accolades and I wasn’t really looking for it. As a son, you always wanna hear something from your dad, just one time, to say ‘good job’ or ‘proud of you’ or whatever…but I stopped looking for that.

I just realized I’m doing this on my own and that’s just the way it is. That was his choice. It’s his choice to stay out of contact. That’s the way he was with our entire family and including his own family. He’s just that way.

M&C: It seems like the universe rewarded you with a second father.

Darrell: I think so. I was really very lucky to have met Gordon [Cooper] when I did, and prior to his passing because there weren’t very many years left after I met him.

I feel very extremely lucky and he was very compassionate. He filled in all the gaps that my dad left behind and there sure were a lot of them.

Gordon Cooper, Darrell Miklos
Cooper took Miklos under his wing and bequeathed him precious maps

M&C: This second season is really exciting because right out of the gate you’re pulling up artifacts, unlike the first season.

Darrell: Yeah, I’m amazed at it. I love it and, actually, we found more than what they’re showing but we had to leave a lot of things in situ because it would have been tiring to keep up bringing all the iron pins and stuff that we were finding. We found so much material, it was amazing.

M&C: What do you do with the artifacts that are not treasure but are historical artifacts, what do you do with these things?

Darrell: We will bring them up, the ones that we think are key clues that will help us get closer to where we think our goal is, we’ll bring them up and try to identify them closer.

Document them, photograph them, measure them, and then we’ll just put em right back in situ. There’s really not much you can do with an iron pin or a bronze pin. Albeit they’re very neat to find, and some people might like to collect them.

Square nails from ship
Square nails and iron pins recovered earlier in Season 2

In this particular situation with the Bahamas, we’re not right now at a point where we’re going to be salvaging. We’re on the exploratory and survey phase. It’s a light excavation permit we have, so once we find what we’re looking for, anything of not real commercial value but of historical value, we have to put it back in situ or offer it to the government.

That real small rail gun or that cannon, we offered that to the government. We told them, ‘this is one of a kind, you don’t find these that intact and in that condition,’ but they said “Nope just go ahead and put it back in the water,” and we did.

I don’t know why. That was a treasure in itself and it was actually…it had some value to it. I was surprised, but we have to follow the license and the guidelines. Our goal was to find treasure, and when we do then we will give that to the government. They’ll take that and then it goes from there.

M&C: Talk about the first episode in Season 2. You had this enormous high on the Season 1 end of finding the Columbus-era anchor, and then immediately the law is on top of your from Turks and Caicos. They boarded your boat…

Darrell: I would like to make it clear to people…because there was another applicant who was trying to get a salvage permit in the Turks and Caicos.

When he saw a big boat leaving the dock near where he works, he thought, he thinks, he’s a competitor so everybody’s nervous. They think ‘oh my God somebody’s gonna stake on my claim’ and start taking stuff out of my area that I want to salvage. That’s what he thought, so he called the police.

They followed and said “No, he’s not in your area” but they followed us out there, out to our site, and when they got on the boat they asked us if we had a permit. We showed them we had a permit. Once we did the documentation, we did the same thing in the Turks as we’re doing in the Bahamas. We document everything, we photograph, and we put it back in the water.

That was going to go back in the water regardless of whether the police ever came there or not. That was just to get documentation and it was a big clue. We wanted to verify that it was a hand-forged anchor and the only way we thought we’d be able to do that was to lift it out of the water. We put it back in the water and the police went on their merry way but we were really frustrated because that shouldn’t have happened.

You can’t just have somebody call and then the police go to the area where we’re actually working and go “hey what’re you guys doing here?” What do you mean what are we doing here? We have a permit to be here. They should have known that. It was miscommunication and we got really frustrated and I thought perhaps they were trying to shut us down and take our lease away from us.

In the beginning, when you see me frustrated, it’s cause I’m not going to let them take it. They can’t take it from me. I didn’t know what was going on. I couldn’t understand why the police would come out there in that way. I guess they’re just protecting their cultural heritage.

In this business, no one trusts each other. Absolutely no one. Everybody thinks you’re stealing, even though we aren’t. Even though we had a permit to be there, it was so frustrating.

The frustration you saw me giving off there was based on ‘my God! I can’t even do it right and still feel like I’m doing it wrong’. You know what I mean? So frustrating. It is such a weird business.

M&C: Your crew, Eric and Jim and Mike are like a good fit for you. Is this the case? Or do any of these guys peel away? Or do you stay cohesive through the whole season?

Darrell: We’re like a family of brothers. I had three sisters, I feel like I got three brothers now. We have our highs and lows. Not too many lows, though, and for the most part, get along. That’s what’s wonderful about it and we have mutual respect for each other’s strengths and weaknesses and so I think we make a fabulous team.

I love my team. I wouldn’t want to do this with anybody else and we’re so comfortable with each other. We know each other’s idiosyncrasies and we know when to back off if someone is getting upset, we know when to inquire when somebody’s red hot on something and we know who to go to.

 Jim Sinclair, Mike Perna, Darrell Miklos, Eric Schmitt
Darrell and his “brothers” Jim Sinclair, Mike Perna, and Eric Schmitt on the hunt for Cooper’s Treasure

Sometimes my crew gets down and I have to help pump them up because we’re in an area that’s so isolated and we’re doing something that’s basically “my” dream and in some cases they go, “well I don’t think this is working out” and I’ll have to pump them back up and vice versa.

I look to them for expertise. Like Mike [Perna], if I need to know where something is, I rely on him to tell me where these anomalies are and what he thinks the best route is for us to go. If the anomalies are leading north, should we continue north if there’s a gap or should we take another direction.

We all rely on each other and we work so well together. We’re going be a team that’s around for a long time.

M&C: Mike [Perna] seems to stay above board, is that where he’s most comfortable?

Darrell: Nobody can do what he does. None of us are skilled enough to do what he does. Mike’s a fabulous diver. He’s an incredible diver. He does dive down, but he knows his position in this and he knows where he’s best at it and to be more efficient he’s better off being on the boat 90 per cent of the time.

He does go in the water in the show, you’ll see it, but he’s better suited to stay up top and help us find those anomalies because without that we’re going nowhere. He is the guy who helps us find each and every anomaly. There’s nobody who can read a magnetometer the way he can. No one.

M&C: You sat in the capsule that Gordon Cooper orbited the Earth, mapping and assiduously looking at the ocean and taking photos and making these maps…you sat in that capsule. Describe that. It looked absolutely mindbogglingly claustrophobic.

Darrell: It was. I think the height requirements, you couldn’t be any taller than 5ft 11in and I’m 6ft 1in. I know exactly what they mean, you really couldn’t be anything over 5ft 11in. I couldn’t sit in the seats. People back in the 60s must have just been smaller people because I’m only 6ft 1in and 189lbs and I could barely fit in the thing.

It was, Pete Conrad said, “Spam in a can”. I don’t know how they did it. I don’t know that I have the skill set or the mindset to be an astronaut because I don’t know if I could have survived this thing in one piece for three, four, eight days at a time. They were in space eight days in Gemini 5 so I have total respect for these people. They sacrifice their comfort just to explore and be pioneers.

It was incredible to sit in a seat and feel what Gordon must have felt at that time and only imagine what it must have been like. Sitting there in a studio in a capsule is a lot different than sitting in a capsule out in the middle of space knowing anything could go wrong and your life could be wiped away in a split second.

M&C: In this season, can you give us a little tease about what we’re going to be seeing? Do you find any actual gold or silver?

Darrell: I can’t give it away because I don’t think that would be fair and I think I’d rather just have you guys watch. I can tell you this, the show is more about teaching people what it’s like.

I had two choices in life; I could have been a subcontractor for somebody else who owns a large lease off the coast of Florida and worked a wreck that is very well known that’s been worked for 50 years or more and been a subcontractor and looked for gold that hadn’t been found back in the early 60s and 70s and tried to roll the dice there, or I could take it and really roll the dice and do something on my own and go into an unknown area.

I think that this show is to teach people how it is and the risks that we have to take to fulfill our dreams to actually try to go in an unknown area with maps and files that are not as accurate as, I mean they’re accurate but with information missing, and how we fill in that gap is a learning process.

We’re teaching people. They live vicariously through the story. Like, my Go,d how does he do that? Okay, step by step if you watch, I don’t know if you’ve seen Season 2, but we’re teaching people exactly how we do this in the process.

I think that in itself is pretty remarkable, because most treasure shows, if you only wanna focus on finding the treasure, even though that’s exciting, that’s not what the whole thing is about. Even though that’s our goal. Yes, we will have success. I will say that. But I won’t say any more.

I like teaching people. I think that children and people who have never done this before but always dreamed about it, if they watched the show they’re almost living the dream with us and they’ll be able to learn how this process is and how difficult it is and the challenges. When you have to rely on machines, your crew, and weather, and all the things combined, how difficult this is.

It’s almost like a show to inspire people to live their dreams and go for their goals. I think that’s the main premise of this show. If we get lucky enough to find gold and silver, and I won’t give it all away, I think there’s a lot more to it than just that.

You know what I mean? We could make a show until we wait until we find a whole hoard of treasure and then talk about the treasure. Yes, that’s exciting, but I think it’s the back story. I think it’s showing the struggles we have to go through and how we work through the details and how we fill in gaps…I think that’s what’s interesting. That’s the story that we’re trying to tell. Even more so then just finding a big hunkin’ load of treasure. You know what I mean?

I think that’s…because if you want that, I don’t know, I think it’d be kind of a boring treasure.

M&C: It seemed like that was the big dividing line for me between you and dad Roger. Not that your father wasn’t interested in history, it just seemed like your dad was more interested in the shiny part of it.

Darrell: And that’s absolutely 100 per cent true. Look, I love the shiny part but I enjoy the hunt. I really enjoy the hunt and I don’t think my dad enjoyed the hunt as much and just said, “Let’s go get the gold.”

Yes, we have to find treasure to keep it alive to make this thing a success because in order to raise more money to continue to do what we’re doing, we have to have some success or nobody’s going invest in it. Nobody’s going to get on board with us.

Darrell Miklos
The hunt is more important than the gold and silver to Miklos

But that’s all my dad cared about was…he just loved money. That’s the thing about my father. His dream was to swim in a pool full of $100 bills. That’s all he cared about and that’s not what I care about.

I have so much more into this. I enjoy the whole punch. I think that’s what I love about my crew. They love the hunt. Yes, we all want to find the treasure but each and every one of my guys, they’re not in it for the money, because each and every one of us could have been successful doing anything else we wanted to do in this life. I could have been a multi-millionaire if I wanted to get into real estate because that’s something else I really enjoy.

I stepped away from that to do this because this is what I REALLY want to do. I could have done so many other things. Each and every one of our crew members could have done the same. Whereas my father, all he wanted to do is be rich and buy things and buy cars and big houses and wear fancy jewelry and that’s the difference.

I tried to tell my dad that it works in some cases. It’s great when you’re putting on a show and doing a talk and flashing the treasure, but after a while there’s no substance behind it. You become two dimensional or, I don’t know, a materialistic. I’m just not that way. I’m just not wired that way.

M&C: It seems like the Atlantic is a more friendly ocean to do your dives and recover things than the Pacific, is that a true or a false statement and if it is false, what about the Pacific intrigues you?

Darrell: I love the Pacific. I live on the West Coast. I grew up in Laguna Beach, California, so I was a surfer and I love the West Coast. The West Coast is just deep water. I’m not a deep water diver. We’re not deep water salvage. We don’t do deep water salvage. The entire Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean have so many shallow areas, that’s the reason there are so many shipwrecks because the waters were so shallow.

The Bahamas came from the word Baha Mar, which is Spanish for shallow seas. I love the shallow water because you can explore more…deepwater you can’t, it’s just too dangerous. I love the Pacific for what it is but the Atlantic is where 99 per cent of the shipwrecks are, history has it that way. That was the route that they took from Europe to get to the New World.

I would prefer to do what I do on the Atlantic but I’ll tell you what, if there’s treasure on the West Coast and I can get to it, if there are shipwrecks there, I would love to do the West Coast. The weather is just going be better on the Atlantic side. The water is flatter.

I hope there’s a Season 10 [of Cooper’s Treasure]. This story, it would literally take 100 seasons to tell just 10 per cent of the story because there are so many files and so many shipwrecks and so many places that we could go.

I don’t have enough time in my lifetime to complete it all. This show has a life of its own, as long as people are interested in the hunt. Granted, the success of anything we may find is really exciting and I love that part too but its the hunt and that’s what this show, it is about the hunt.

M&C: Maybe your two daughters will be interning. I’d like to see some girl treasure hunters.

Darryl: They’re too camera shy. Yeah. Well, thank you, I’ll tell them that!

Cooper’s Treasure airs Friday at 9 pm ET/PT on Discovery.

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