‘Gold Rush’ mines fascinating group of veterans for Season 11

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This group of “Gold Rush” miners is like none of their predecessors on the top-rated Discovery series.

“Gold Rush” returns Friday for Season 11 with a two-hour episode (8-10 p.m.) and a new mining boss: Fred Lewis, a former special forces medical sergeant and linguist who’s assembled a team of five veteran pals to dig for gold in a ghost town near Sumpter, Ore.

“They’ve all overcome obstacles,” says Lewis, 42, who took a bullet to the helmet in Afghanistan. “What we’re trying to do is to give them a new drive in life, a new purpose. Two guys were set to go to the police academy and COVID stopped that. I was supposed to be in the Yukon but the border was closed due to COVID. I also coach high school wrestling and that stopped.

“We were forced to fend for ourselves,” he says.  “Not to sound cliched, but it was ‘s–t or get off the pot’ and this was probably the best time to do this.”

The Lewis team comprises battle-scarred veterans Kendell Madden (Air Force); Stuart McKenzie, a former infantry sniper whose hand was blown off by a roadside bomb then re-attached (he’s now a bodybuilder); Stefan Generally, a Green Beret who served for 26 years with 12 deployments; Kyle Pletzke, whose pelvis was shattered in a rollover accident in Afghanistan; and John Stanz, a former Marine raider with two Purple Hearts who was in a coma after being blown up by a roadside bomb. “He was given 0 percent chance of living and they said he’d never talk,” says Lewis. “Now he’s he’s super-obnoxious.”

Fred Lewis and Kendell Madden
Fred Lewis and Kendell MaddenDiscovery Channel

While this is his first time as a mine boss, Lewis is very familiar with the “Gold Rush” world. Three years ago, he accompanied series star Parker Schnabel to Papua, New Guinea as his security chief and medic, then worked behind the scenes on “Gold Rush” last season (in the Yukon). He also traveled with Schnabel to Australia.

“I saw how gold affects villages and started to get interested and was picking up more and more [about mining] and thinking about what I could do,” he says. When COVID put an end to his Yukon sojourn, Lewis was asked to assemble a team. “My thought was always that I wanted to do this with a team of vets,” he says. “I knew we could pull this together. I pitched it to Discovery this July and three weeks later was chosen as the next mine boss.

“We went right into the gauntlet,” he says, “right from pitching it to meeting the claim owners and negotiating the lease. I financed all of this with my own money and with two of my other veteran friends …between the three of us we pooled our money and invested in the opportunity. A lot of people think Discovery pays for everything — this is all us.”

Fred Lewis and Kendell Madden
Fred Lewis and Kendell MaddenDiscovery Channel

And, with Lewis acutely aware of gold prices being very high, he prepared himself to embark on his mining expedition.

“I had to run my own intel,” he says. “I thought outside the box. I did a lot of research on the largest gold reserves near me [in Eastern Washington], spending lots of time on microfiche trying regarding historical data and finding this area that’s a ghost town … that was never mined before. I used to teach high school biology and we tested some ash that was 4,000 years old in ground that had never been dug.

“This season is a great success as far as the operation,” he says. “We’re living the American dream, up in a ghost town, and we’re the only residents. No matter how much gold we find, we’re all going to benefit.”

Lewis, whose wife Khara also served in the military (former psychological operations), says he hasn’t seen any of his episodes yet.

“I like to watch it on TV for the first time,” he says. “On Friday at 8 we’ll be about 260 people at a local bar for the premiere party. We’re going to watch it — then wake up the next morning and go mining.”

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