When the underwater-mining-show “Bering Sea Gold” returns for its third season on Friday, Dec. 13, opera-singer/gold dredger Emily Riedel is back in Nome, Alaska, for the summer, large and in charge for the first time.
After working for longtime friend (sometimes with benefits) Zeke Tenhoff on his little dredge, the Clark, and then on his larger one, the Edge, and then spending the winter season trying to work for her father, Steve Riedel, on his ice-dredger, called Steve’s World on Ice, Riedel has struck out on her own.
She’s now in charge of the Eroica (formerly the Edge) and out to discover if she has the makings of a captain, as the first and only female dredge owner in Nome, Alaska.
But on this December day in Los Angeles, Riedel is enjoying the warmer California weather, taking meetings, posing in a photo shoot and just generally enjoying herself. She takes some time between appointments to meet Zap2it for lunch in Santa Monica. The statuesque Riedel (who is taller than she looks on TV) talks about the men she loves — starting with her dad.
“I have a hard time,” she says, “at times, understanding my dad. My dad is brilliant, very caring, very eccentric, the black sheep of his family. At one point in life, he went off the eccentric deep end and never swam back. That’s all I can really say about him.”
She continues, “I care for him deeply. He’s a great guy, but you put him in this environment, and this is what happens. Everybody reacts to Nome differently. My dad becomes a character there. He’s 100 percent genuine; he’s 100 percent ridiculous. In the end, my biggest hope for my dad is that someday he actually is successful as a gold miner. He deserves it. He really needs to make it work.”
By the way, Riedel says her father is no longer living in a schoolbus, as fans saw in earlier seasons. “He’s upgraded to a yurt. It’s a small upgrade — no water, no electricity, still living off the grid. But he has upgraded.”
Meanwhile, viewers have watched Tenhoff struggle with the repercussions the suicide of his lifelong friend John Bunch, seen last season. He and Riedel had a falling-out during winter mining, and things don’t yet appear to be looking up for Tenhoff.
“John’s death really set off a certain mental-health state for Zeke,” Riedel says. “John was a childhood friend from a very young age. They were raised together, essentially. John was like an unofficial brother. That really set Zeke off and put him on a really bad path. When your life is really changed by a sudden and traumatic event, you’re either going to struggle for a while then slowly rebuild your life, or your life falls apart, and everything falls apart.
“It brings out all sorts of things — anxiety, depression. Substance abuse kind of helps alleviate all of that, but it’s only very temporary, and you’re not really dealing with the issues. That’s what happened. I witnessed it happening, and I couldn’t help. He was not willing to be helped in anyway.
“In the end you can’t function through that, especially in that environment. Gold mining is not for the sane, but it’s not for the insane either. … I can’t tell you exactly what happens, but it doesn’t get any easier.”
Bunch was an alcoholic, and according to Riedel, that’s no big thing in Nome.
“Nome is where you go to become an alcoholic,” she says. “Nome is where you go to stop trying in life. It’s not always, but it can be. … If you’re a drunk there, you fit in better than if you’re sober.”
And for fans who wonder if they might ever see Riedel mining gold on dry land, as on Discovery’s other Friday-night hit, “Gold Rush,” she says, “Spoiler alert — I operated an excavator. I don’t know if they’re going to use this footage or not, but I did operate the Pomrenke’s excavator this last season in Nome, and I loved it. I was hooked; I felt like God. It just felt amazing. I can see myself doing that someday, but I want to stick to the ocean for a bit more.”
On her off-season travels, Riedel runs into fans now and then. But if you see her while on the road, you might want to keep your distance.
“With folks on the freeway,” she says, “it’s a game to me. I want to be ahead. I want to be going the fastest, and I’m very intensely focused. There was this car, a couple of lanes behind me, circling around me, and I was being very mad at it — not that I suffer from road rage or anything like that. Eventually they turned off, and I gave them this glare. They were waving at me, and they were so excited. They knew who I was. I felt like such a jerk. ‘Oh, no, there goes a fan!'”
Here’s a sneak peek at Riedel acquiring her new dredge and the very personal reason for its new name: