In every reality TV series, especially one as cast-heavy as Gold Rush on Discovery, comes a wildcard fan favorite who stands out.
For the Schnabel crew, this badge of honor is bestowed on Rick Ness, a sleeve-averse gearhead who loves his mama and is there for his boss Parker Schnabel come hell or high water.
Actually, a lot of high water — as the affable miner is among Parker’s inner circle and part of the wildly popular spinoff Gold Rush: Parker’s Trail.
Ness joins Schnabel, wilderness expert Karla Ann and new sidekick Sam Brown as they venture to Guyana, South America, to chase a 21st-century gold rush at the site of the legendary “El Dorado”.
The new season of Parker’s Trail comes Friday, March 30 at 9pm ET/PT on Discovery, and comes after the show hit records last season as 2017’s #1 new unscripted cable series among the prized demographic of men aged 25-54.
Guyana is not new to Gold Rush miners. Todd Hoffman made a claim there but gave it up when the left-pocket right-pocket tally of expenses proved it wasn’t worth it.
But Schnabel sees it differently and will mine a wholly new “old school” way.
Guyana produced over $750million worth of gold in the last few years. Those numbers add up right for Schnabel, and Ness is on board to help bring as much of it out of the ground as possible — but like old-timers during the Klondike gold rush of 1898, before machinery took the place of manual labor.
Ness will help Parker mine, survival expert and wilderness guide Karla Ann will help keep them all alive, and cameraman Sam Brown will be responsible for filming the entire expedition.
We spoke to Ness about all of it, from the core show to the spinoff…
Monsters and Critics: I saw that you had posted a picture of your mom for her 55th birthday and I know that was part of the storyline in Gold Rush, but it was real life. I was wondering if you could talk about her health and how she’s doing?
Rick Ness: She’s doing well right now. Ultimately, she’s gone through all the treatment that she can and the cancer’s still there. The prognosis isn’t good, but as of right now she’s doing good.
She’s having some short-term memory problems and some balance issues. I’ve been spending most of my time actually up in Northern Wisconsin staying with her. For right now, she’s happy. She’s doing good, but as far as for how long it’s pretty tough to say.
Happy Birthday Ma! 55 years old today. Oops, I mean 39… again. pic.twitter.com/xuAIPd6Sqa
— Rick Ness (@GoldrushRick) January 24, 2018
M&C: How does she like the show? How does she like watching you in action?
Rick Ness: Oh, she loves it. She likes to tell me I’m looking soft down there because I haven’t been hitting the gym as much as I used to, but she loves watching it. When I’m up there visiting her, she makes me take her out and she likes to show me off. She loves it.
M&C: That’s wonderful that you’re there for her. Alright, I want you to elaborate on how you and Parker met. I know you guys met at a fair. You were in a band and he saw you, you guys got to talking…
Rick Ness: I guess with music I always looked at it as a networking opportunity and I guess that’s what I saw there with Parker. I knew I was in Haines, Alaska. I’d never been there before. I saw the first season of Gold Rush, but I didn’t even know when I got there that that was where the Hoffmans were the first year.
That’s where I had watched the show so I was just instantly intrigued as soon as I found that out. One of the promoters of the fair knew the Schnabels and knew that Parker was there and kind of introduced us.
I just picked his brain about it because I found out he was right across the creek from them and I think I talked to him for about an hour, an hour and a half. He was only like 16 years old at the time.
I had been drinking because we were getting ready to play the show, but we talked and exchanged numbers. I didn’t really expect I’d ever get anything out of it, but it was about five months later he called me.
M&C: Did you ever meet his grandfather? Did you meet John?
Rick Ness: Oh, yeah. I spent quite a bit of time with John actually. The first year that I worked with Parker I was actually one of the only guys that stayed right there on the mine. I lived in one of the cabins there.
John would come up every Wednesday, well he was there more often than that, but every Wednesday night he cooked dinner. He had dinner ready for us right after work.
It was the same dinner every Wednesday. The exact same dinner, but it was good to sit down and have dinner with John and he’d tell stories. I got to know him pretty well actually.
M&C: It seemed like Parker took his death hard and that he was very much a consigliere to Parker in his business, in the business of gold mining. I’m wondering if you observed that or if you could talk about that?
Rick Ness: It’s a tough thing to speculate on because Parker…really all the Schnabels are pretty tight closed-book in that department. There’s a lot of emotions, but as far as emotions that could be seen as weakness they don’t show a lot.
Obviously, I saw Parker break down a bit at the funeral and stuff. It’s quite obvious that it had an effect on him, but you know when he called me to tell me about it right after it happened it didn’t seem like it was a big deal, but that’s just one of those things where something like that is going to be a big deal no matter how the person reacts. Everybody reacts to that in a different way.
M&C: Could you ever work for someone like Todd Hoffman?
Rick Ness: I wouldn’t think so. I like Todd. I don’t have anything against him. I just don’t think his work ethic would match mine and it would be tough for me to work for somebody that doesn’t have that same mindset.
M&C: Yet, you both have music in common. He’s quite the singer and you are a musician.
Rick Ness: Yeah. There’s no saying we couldn’t make music together, but that’s not really working for him.
M&C: Tony Beets. What’s your opinion on Tony Beets and how he runs his whole operation?
Rick Ness: I know Tony pretty well and he’s pretty much what you see. I have respect for him because obviously he’s successful up there.
As far as the way he runs his business and his employees and all of that I don’t really know a whole lot about that. I haven’t worked for him. I’ve had kind of issues with his kids in the past, but nothing major and we’ve all gotten over it.
M&C: Really? Monica or Kevin?
Rick Ness: Kevin.
M&C: Interesting. You have a very distinct look on the show. You don’t like wearing sleeves and you have some really interesting tattoos. Can you talk about your tattoos and what they are and what they mean? A lot of our readers love tattoos.
Rick Ness: They’re mostly tales of a misspent youth. I don’t know. A lot of them I didn’t put a whole lot of thought into if I’m being honest.
I mean I’ve got a few that mean a lot to me. I’ve got something from my grandpa in my hand. It’s an anchor with a rope on it that turns into a banner that says “perseverance”. That was the name of my grandpa’s boat.
I’ve got “get busy living or get busy dying” tattooed across my chest because I’ve always felt that way. The one on my neck is the one that people always ask about and nobody knows what the hell it is. It’s actually the Virgin Mary with a piston for a head and I call it the holy mother of horsepower.
M&C: You like cars for sure.
Rick Ness: Yeah.
M&C: Do you still have that car, that 1970 Z28?
— Rick Ness (@GoldrushRick) February 9, 2017
Rick Ness: Yes, I do.
M&C: Is that your main rig or do you have another car?
Rick Ness: Well, I’ve got a couple of pick-up trucks, but I used to really be into cars. I had a lot of old cars and then I kind of got into bikes because they were easier to store and less expensive and now I’m back into cars again.
M&C: Let’s talk Parker’s Trail. This started last year with the Yukon Trail, it was short, it was three episodes I believe, but it really tested your mettle. Now, you guys are down in South America. Tell me everything!
Rick Ness: Yeah, that was a whole different ball of wax there. I really did not want to do it right from the start, right from when it was brought up. Never in my life have I wanted to go to a jungle.
There’s just nothing about it that appeals to me. The heat, the spiders — I’m deathly afraid of spiders, severe arachnophobia. That right there was enough to make me never want to go. Again, it was one of those things where it’s if you can survive this it’s more affirmation that you’re tougher than you think you are.
M&C: Did you see any spiders while you were there?
Rick Ness: Oh, every day. It was horrible. It was awful. One morning I woke up and there was a huntsman spider and a tarantula sitting right next to where my hammock was tied up. I reached up to untie my hammock and there were just two spiders bigger than my hand just sitting there.
M&C: What other challenges other than the spiders did you have to deal with and cope with?
Rick Ness: Oh, I mean there’s any number of things down there. The insects, the snakes. The jungle predators, the jaguars and stuff like that. The heat was a constant. You pretty much have to drink 10, 12, 15 liters of water a day to stay hydrated and the water is not good-looking water.
It’s pretty terrible. There are all kinds of sicknesses. There’s like three different types of malaria there. All kinds of fevers and all kinds of stuff and just the jungle itself. I’ve never been in a jungle and there’s really nothing like it. Trying to pound your way through something so dense, I mean it’s a job.
M&C: Guyana. Isn’t that where Todd went?
Rick Ness: That is where Todd went, yes.
M&C: What is this “Gold Trail”?
Rick Ness: Well, we actually didn’t focus on just one area. We went all over. There is a lot of gold in that country. There’s just no infrastructure. There are ways to get around, but it’s tough. It’s a lot of boats on rivers, ATVs, four-wheel trucks. I mean there’s not only jungle there, but there’s also savannah so it’s like every changing terrain and really every part of the country is different.
It’s very beautiful and like I said there’s lots of gold there and it’s beautiful gold. It’s much purer than what we’re used to mining, but it’s just so hard to get any of it because there’s nothing there. There’s no infrastructure. They fly fuel around in barrels in the back of the airplanes and just drop them out at the airports. It’s very primitive.
M&C: How long was the production? How long were you down there?
Rick Ness: We were there about six weeks, actually. Yeah, a little longer on this one than the last one, a few more episodes on this one. There was a lot to cover, and a lot of action, a lot of adventure, a lot of me screaming at bugs [laughs]. It was an intense journey, I’ll tell you that.
M&C: It’s hard to be a manly man when there’s an eight-inch spider at your feet. It really is.
Rick Ness: It very much is, yes.
M&C: Who is on the show with you?
Rick Ness: It’s Parker and myself, Karla Ann, who did the last trip with us, and we opted for a new pal and a new cameraman this time. His name is Sam Brown.
M&C: Okay, and so you were there for six weeks. Did you get anything? Did you get any gold?
Rick Ness: Oh, yeah. Of course. I mean, that’s what we’re known for, right?
M&C: Right. Do you have to get clearance from the government? Do they want a piece? Do they expect payment? How does it work when you’re in Guyana and you’re gold miners? Do you have to give them a percentage?
Rick Ness: You know, that was kind of out of my responsibility area there. I kind of didn’t set any of that up, so I didn’t even really bother to ask, to be honest about it.
M&C: So you get the gold, and then it just goes somewhere. Where does it go? I guess that’s what people want to know. You get all this gold, what happens to the gold once you guys pull it out of the ground…
Rick Ness: Well, I mean I know what happens to it as far as up in the Yukon. It goes in my pocket [laughs]. In the jungle, yeah. It’s tough to say. In Guyana, I really don’t know how that actually works, if I’m being honest. That’s a terrible answer, but that’s the truth.
M&C: Yeah, what kind of prep did you have to do physically for this very grueling six-week assignment?
Rick Ness: Oh, I’m sure that there was a ton of crap that I should have been doing, but unfortunately I didn’t have any time. It was same as last one. We went straight from the mining season, I got to go home for about a week, and then it was straight off to the jungle. It was trial by fire once again.
M&C: Did you have to have a special physical, or get shots or anything?
Rick Ness: Oh, yeah. There were tons and tons of shots. Yeah, I think it was…I can’t remember now, eight or nine different shots. I had to go in for three rounds of rabies, immunizations, and yellow fever, and typhoid and daily malaria pills. Yeah, there was lots of stuff like that.
M&C: Are you getting to explore gold mining anywhere else in the world? Have you and Parker talked about where the next one might be?
Rick Ness: I think some destinations were thrown around, but I really wasn’t even in because all I could focus on was getting the hell out of there and getting home. Quite honestly, it’s too soon to think about that right now.
M&C: Do you like Alaska? Do you like mining up there, or do you like mining in Oregon? Is there a particular favorite spot that you have?
Rick Ness: Oh, I love…where we were in Haines, Alaska, on Parker’s grandpa’s mine. I mean that area, to me, is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Haines, Alaska, is just absolutely gorgeous. I would have to say that’s my favorite right there, yep.
Gold Rush: Parker’s Trail premieres Friday, March 30 at 9pm ET/PT on Discovery.