Reality TV shows are all the rage these days from Survivor to Big Brother to Duck Dynasty. Well, Grand Forks now has one of their own soon to be appearing on a reality show.
Professional gold hunter Dave Varabioff, who was born and raised in Grand Forks, will be one of the stars of Meltdown: Bite the Bullet, which goes to air Halloween night at 10 p.m. on the National Geographic channel.
Varabioff now lives in Spokane, Wash., and operates Goldbay, a store which sells different kinds of gold and other metals.
“It’s really exciting,” he told the Gazette in an interview from Spokane. “It’s the first of any reality show to be shot in Spokane. So it’s huge here in Spokane, let alone Grand Forks.
The journey to the show began on Sept. 1 of last year for Varabioff. He answered a casting email he had received but really wasn’t expecting much.
“I emailed her back right away but didn’t expect to hear back as it was a Saturday,” he said. “She called me immediately and we talked for about 15 minutes.
The casting director said they were not particularly looking for a character like Varabioff. They were looking more for a rough, aggressive type.
“She told me, ’You’re way too nice. But I like you so I’m going to send you through,’” he said.
Varabioff had more interviews where he was told the same thing from the producers.
“Eventually, Nat Geo (National Geographic) told the producers to use me,” he said.
Varabioff has already completed most of the first season of Meltdown. The show has even been signed for a second season.
The show is mainly about urban prospecting, said Varabioff.
“I did all my own stories,” he said. “I came up with all my own story lines. I’m out in the city urban prospecting—finding gold, silver, platinum, palladium, where people aren’t looking.”
The show will follow Varabioff around as he finds “invisible” gold, which is microscopic gold that most people wouldn’t realize is there right in places people wouldn’t normally look, such as dentist offices and pawn store floors.
The show tagline reads: Go inside the high stakes world of turning unassuming and often discarded objects into profit as National Geographic follows a unique breed of prospectors on their search for precious metals to melt into cold, hard cash.
Varabioff got his start in the gold business right at May Creek outside of Grand Forks.
“When I was 11 my father first took me gold panning at May Creek which is just out of town,” said Varabioff. “That first pan had five nuggets of gold in it and that changed my life right there.”
After that, Varabioff spent every summer while growing up panning for gold around Grand Forks. What began as a hobby quickly became a career once he graduated.
“I travelled all over, going to Alaska, Montana, Australia, California, Nevada, all over the world metal detecting and dredging,” he said. “It was mostly a hobby until 1999.”
At that time, Varabioff started up a website and began looking into buying gold nuggets. He found a good deal on a nugget through eBay. When he finally got the nugget he realized it wasn’t the size or quality he expected.
“It was very small,” he said. “It was not what I expected at all. So then I decided to become a gold seller instead of a gold buyer.”
That decision proved to be a fruitful one for Varabioff as he eventually opened his own store, Goldbay, in Spokane and has two other stores.
Although he has lived in Spokane for 20 years, Varabioff still comes and visits Grand Forks every couple of months to see his sister and father, as well as friends.