LOS ANGELES – It’s the number one program in all of television, including broadcast and cable networks, in numerous key Friday night demos, and it ranks as the second-highest rated Discovery Channel series of all time, trailing only “Deadliest Catch.”
But not even “Gold Rush” star Parker Schnabel, the youngest miner in the hit series, understands why the reality series has struck such a chord with viewers.
“Mining just doesn’t seem that interesting to me, but maybe because that is just what I am doing,” the 18-year-old high school graduate and gold-mining guru told FOX411’s Pop Tarts column. “I don’t think that people even involved in the show understand the scope of it… Gold mining is a business where you can work as hard as you can through the whole season and still lose money, or if you pick the right little chunk of ground in one day you can pay for everything. It’s the treasure hunt, and I think that’s what intrigues people.”
The Alaska native learned the ropes – and the riffles – when he was barely eight years old from his grandfather, a longtime gold miner with mines across Alaska. But he never could have imagined his passion would translate into fame as well as fortune.
“I come from a small town, I graduated with a class of 26 and I still live there. So the show is a pretty big change, things like being recognized in the airport. It is hard to believe and I’m not used to it,” Schnabel continued. “In a few stores I have been followed by people looking me up on their phones. I never expected things like that.”
And in the decades-old profession where experience is often associated with success, being on the hit series has given the young competitor some serious nuggets of credibility.
“’Gold Rush’ is good because it gives us a lot of great opportunities we wouldn’t otherwise have, and a lot of people take me more seriously,” Schnabel explained. “It makes the mining part of things a little easier, just as far as contacts go.”
However, there is a downside to devoting your life to digging.
“It was tough with school and mining. I didn’t give everything the full attention it needed, my grades suffered more than my parents would have liked,” he admitted. “And between work and the show, it hurts my social life. I am a recluse when it comes to that. A lot of the people I went to school with – from kindergarten through to 12th grade – I haven’t seen since the last day of high school and we are all in the same town. I feel bad about that, but that is the sacrifice I have made, and I am happy with what I am doing.”
Yet in spite of the success the show has brought the ambitious teen, don’t expect him to trade his tractor for Tinseltown.
“I could never do the Hollywood scene. I like spending a few days or weeks here, but I could never live here,” he said. “As for gold mining, it is difficult to make money doing it. My dad had the chance to get involved but he stayed away. There is no guarantee you will get paid. I don’t know if this is what I will be doing in 30 years from now, or even five years from now. But in this moment, I enjoy it. It is a huge amount of freedom, especially for someone my age.”
The “Gold Rush” season three finale airs on Discovery with its first-ever live event “Gold Rush Live” this Friday, Feb 22 at 8PM ET/PT.
Hollie McKay has been a FoxNews.com staff reporter since 2007. She has reported extensively from the Middle East on the rise and fall of terrorist groups such as ISIS in Iraq. Follow her on twitter at @holliesmckay