Spike TV's American Digger debuted on Wednesday night, March 21, 2012. Featured are former professional wrestler Ric Savage and his American Savage, a company which specializes in historical artifact recovery. Girdwood, Alaska, is the setting for the premiere episode, with Savage and his team unearthing bear traps, rock augers, mining pans and other items from the site of the 19th century Turnagain Arm Alaska Gold Rush.
American Digger constitutes one of the latest entries in the TV treasure hunting show sweepstakes. The TV reality series profiles the exploits of Ric Savage's family-owned American Savage, which claims to be the largest artifact recovery company in the United States.
Spike TV's American Digger Debuts
American Digger debuted over Spike TV on Wednesday night, March 21, 2012. The first episode introduced the cast: Ric Savage, former professional wrestler and owner of American Savage; Bob, battlefield historian; Rue, recovery specialist; Ric's son G, tech specialist. The show's introduction set the stage, telling viewers, "America's history is buried in its soil..."
The debut segment takes place in Girdwood, Alaska, the site of the Turnagain Arm Gold Rush of the 1880s. The recovery team immediately sets up an ARZ – artifact recovery zone – spanning a number of old mines in the area and begin soliciting property owners for the right to dig on their land with the promise of sharing in the profits. One woman is dead set against the idea, telling Ric Savage to get off her property before she calls the police. Several other property owners are also cold to Ric's offer, shutting the door in his face. Finally, they are able to land a live one, with a male property owner agreeing to a 70/30 split with American Savage getting the lion's share.
Ric Savage of American Digger - Spike TV
Crow Creek Treasures Unearthed
Cold temperatures (13 degrees Fahrenheit and dropping) plus snow on the ground make this treasure hunt a real challenge. Armed with state-of-the-art metal detectors, the team goes to work at Crow Creek, a site which produced more gold than any other mine during the 19th century gold rush.
The first item unearthed is an old tin pan which was used to pan the streams for gold. Remarkably preserved, Ric places a value on it of $250. Next up is a 19th century pick head, which is valued at $150-200. Good finds but the going is rough, however, as the ground contains a lot of minerals which play havoc with the team's metal detectors.
Digging one hit proves to be a real shocker, with Ric excitedly telling his guys to back away when he glimpses the item buried in the creek. It's a rare 19th century Newhouse 15 bear trap, which if armed could easily take off a man's hand, arm or foot. Bear traps such as these were banned 50 or 60 years ago, Ric explains, with a trapped bear often eating through its own leg in order to escape the device's iron jaws. The gold miners used the traps for both protection and profit, selling the bear's prized hide to merchants of the era.
Ric and his crew move to a new area which once housed the miners' barracks. Here they uncover an old rock auger, which was used to drill through rock in order to set the dynamite charges. A value of $500 is placed on this artifact. When frozen ground proves to be an impediment, the team turns to fire to thaw the ice. What they initially believe to be junk turns out to be an old crosscut two-man saw, which Ric appraises at $1,000.
Duane's Antique Market: Recovered Artifacts Sold
As is their custom, Ric and his team attempt to sell their recovered artifacts locally, taking them to Duane's Antique Market, one of the largest dealers in the state. Duane jokingly greets Ric, telling him that the scrap yard is just down the road. But these items have historical value, with Duane impressed by their local pedigree and fairly good preservation. Ric asks $7,000 for the lot, with Duane countering with an offer of $5,000. A little more haggling ensues, with the two men finally agreeing on $6,000.
The property owner receives 30% – $1,800 – with American Savage pocketing the rest. It's reported that the team stayed on in Alaska for another seven days, eventually turning a total profit of $19,750.
American Digger: History, Controversy & Machismo
American Digger is big on history, controversy and machismo. The latter shouldn't come as a surprise, as Ric Savage (real name: Frank Huguelet, born 6/5/69 ) is a former pro wrestler encompassing all the bluster and macho traits that sporting entertainment venue has to offer. As with most reality shows of this genre, the boys let off a little steam, with Ric Savage, who plied his trade in the ring from 1991-97, leading the chorus with a lot of spirited enthusiasm, grunts and shouts of "Hoo! Hoo! Hoo!" When the team begins to thaw the frozen ground, Ric makes like British rock band The Crazy World of Arthur Brown in their 1968 smash hit "Fire," declaring, "Burn, baby, burn. I'm the god of hellfire!"
American Digger, along with a similar show from the National Geographic Channel titled Diggers, has attracted a lot of controversy. Professional archaeologists have condemned the series as promoting looting and destroying history while a gaggle of online petitions have popped up urging the show's cancellation. But Shana Teper, a spokesperson for Spike TV, counters that criticism, telling ScienceInsider, "Our show is shot on private property. They're getting artifacts that are otherwise rotting in the ground."
Still, there are those out there who wish bad things for American Digger, perhaps conjuring up the show's eventual fate from Arthur Brown's 1968 hit "Fire," as in "You're gonna burn!"
- American Diggers TV logo with cast - Spike TV
Copyright © 2012 William J. Felchner. All rights reserved.