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Catching crabs has never been more entertaining

There are plenty of reality shows that I’m not manly enough to compete on. “Survivor.” “The Amazing Race.” “Dancing with the Stars.”

Now with “Man vs. Wild,” “Survivorman” and the watercooler hit “Deadliest Catch,” the Discovery Channel has a lineup of reality shows that I’m barely manly enough to watch.

Each week, Bear Grylls, a former member of the British special forces, strands himself in some exotic locale and has to make his way to safety in “Man vs. Wild” (9 p.m. Fridays).

The situations — such as being marooned on a Pacific island with only a knife and the clothes on his back — are designed to educate tourists in case they ever find themselves in similarly dire straits. But Grylls clearly is showing off as he demonstrates how to make sunscreen or a rudimentary outrigger or how to find nourishment by drinking a fish’s spinal fluid, all the while looking like a model for Survival Weekly.

Taking a similar approach to wilderness education is Les Stroud of “Survivorman” (various times on Discovery; 9 p.m. Wednesdays on the Science Channel).

Part MacGyver, part nut job, Stroud is known for stunts such as stranding himself in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert for a week with only a gallon of water, an energy bar, a broken motorbike and a multitool. In between demonstrating the best ways to eat live scorpions and prickly pear cactus, he’ll show you what types of wood to burn for a smoke bath that will let you freshen up before your rescuers arrive.

Stroud takes things one step further than Grylls by ditching the camera crew and handling all the filming himself. But it’s kind of a cheat because he doesn’t bother with getting rescued, he just finds ways to survive for seven days until his crew comes to get him.

As goofily entertaining as these two are, the real stars of the Discovery Channel are the fearless crab fishermen of “Deadliest Catch” (9 p.m. Tuesdays).

Unlike Grylls and Stroud, the stars of reality TV’s version of “The Perfect Storm” aren’t inventing life-threatening situations. They’re just going about their job, one that’s been labeled the most dangerous in America. (The series is quick to point out there’s an average of one fatality per week during crab season.)

On other reality shows — “The Real World,” “The Bachelor” or “Flavor of Love” and its offshoots — the worst you’re looking at is catching a different kind of crabs. But, like its name implies, “Deadliest Catch” can cost you your life, as it did the three crew members whose boat sank in the season premiere.

Every October, hundreds of daredevils converge on Dutch Harbor, Alaska, to fish the Bering Sea. They’re subjected to backbreaking work around the clock: baiting the 800-pound crab pots, dumping them into the sea, throwing out the 90-pound spools of rope, and then reeling it all in hours later. All told, there are 10 million pounds of crab pots and 2 million pounds of bait to lug around on each boat.

Crew members will tell you there are a hundred ways to die onboard. In addition to avoiding everything that could crush you in an instant, 20- to 30-foot waves soak the deck, and if you hit the frigid water without putting on a special survival suit, you’ll be dead in less than 15 minutes.

There’s also a nearly 100 percent injury rate, and when the worst inevitably happens, you’re right there to read it on the faces of the captains: The Time Bandit’s Johnathan Hillstrand, the Harley-riding hero whose crew just saved a deckhand swept off another boat; The Cornielia Marie’s Phil Harris, who has two sons learning the ropes on deck; The Maverick’s Blake Painter, a rookie who, in another life, would be his fraternity’s pledge master; and The Midwestern’s Sig Hansen, the Gary Busey-esque breakout star who recently guested on “The Daily Show.”

It’s not all gloom and despair. There’s still time for practical jokes: welding other boats’ crab pots closed or setting up your own crew member to have a bag of flour explode in his face when he reels in the catch.

But while the rewards are potentially huge — deckhands can earn between $20,000 and $30,000 for less than a week’s work — you never forget that these men are risking their lives every second of the day to provide an upscale meal.

It’s times like this that make me glad to have simple tastes. I doubt anyone ever died putting a grilled cheese on my table. But if they did, I never had to watch it unfold.

Christopher Lawrence’s Life on the Couch column appears on Mondays. E-mail him at clawrence@reviewjournal.com.

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