tough jobs

I don’t know anyone except T and me who are watching America’s Toughest Jobs.  It seems to be drawing pretty low audiences.  But I’m enjoying it.  It’s a tough competition, without the random luck or bunching that drives me crazy on The Amazing Race, and it’s mostly just about the ability to do the job, without a whole lot of relationship drama.  (They’ve occasionally tried to make a story about why the contestants are doing this, but that’s been underwhelming.)

"Tough" jobs, in this context, mostly translates as physically demanding and/or dangerous.  Certainly today’s episode, logging, was brutally physical.  Since they’re putting untrained people into the jobs, they can’t require serious training, so no air traffic control here.  And as much as I’d love to see these folks dealing with a room full of toddlers, it’s not going to happen.

Interestingly, two of the final five contestants are women.  They’re very tough women, but they’re mostly not as strong as the men. Some of the men are complaining that the bosses are grading the women on a curve, but I don’t think that’s it — I think it’s that they’ve consistently shown hustle and good attitude, and the bosses give them credit for that.

The grand prize at the end will be the total annual salary of all the jobs they do.  The main thing that’s struck me is how *little* most of these jobs pay.  I don’t think any of the ones we’ve seen so far pay more than $45,000, and some of them (prospecting for gold) pay a lot less.  Life lesson: go to college — you can make a lot more money for a lot less work.  Or get a union job — although they didn’t say so, I’m sure the bridge maintenance work they did last week is unionized.  And it’s the best paying job so far — and probably the least real danger (yes, you’re very high, but you’re always clipped in).

At the end of the show, they tell you what the contestant who got kicked off that week is doing now. Almost all of them have changed their jobs since being on the show.  One of them did in fact get hired to drive a truck in Alaska.  Another is working in a national park.  So, I guess that’s another life lesson:  there’s a lot of options out there, and you don’t have to do the obvious ones.

Anyone else watching?

10 Responses to “tough jobs”

  1. dave.s. Says:

    This responds to your GoToCollege advice: I did a poor job in high school, so I careened around in college – not as much as Sarah Palin (!) but I went to a public junior college (Merritt Jr College), a state normal school (Sonoma State), and finally my state flagship school (Berkeley). Went on to grad school at Berkeley and Harvard. For me, college was swell, and Thank God for Second Chances. I’ve done far more interesting and better-paid work than I would have without it. And I had a great time, and gained confidence, and met my wife. It’s all good!
    Murray’s been hammering on the idea that not a lot of kids ought to go to college – here’s a comment-fest from Joanne Jacobs on his ideas and folks’ reaction to them: here is a big slam on him and his ideas: and here’s the man himself interviewed by Deborah Solomon:
    I’ve stayed in touch with an old girlfriend from Sonoma State, and through her I hear about the life patterns of several of our friends from there. These are probably the people Murray thinks ought not in general go to college, and for a number of them it’s not at all clear that they are doing anything they could not have done with a high school education. So they had four years lost wages and student debt and no net gain – income wise. Maybe they are more informed citizens? This issue is well worth thinking about – again, for me, college was wonderful. But for some kid who, in fact, ekes out a ‘c’ in an English class and has no real idea even what he is missing, is he better off? Only because State Farm decides that the only path to selling life insurance lies through getting a bachelor’s degree.

  2. amy Says:

    A big fat second on daycare. Or parenting for real while maintaining a career.
    In the last two weeks, I’ve chaired a conference panel (translation: done publicity, gotten panelists together for drinks, arranged airport rides, read panelists’ books, attended other panels, prepared intro, arranged for podcasting, checked room A/V, schmoozed as necessary, battled to get other people to pay for event publicity and pizza (this required a dean’s intercession), followed up with thanks and tentative plans for next year’s conference) turned in two grant proposals (translation: wrote most of them, begged for references), revised a story, taken my kid to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (interrupted by email: “[Writer on tomorrow’s panel] is MIA”) and Shabbos services, done an interview, read a book to review, packed lunches every non-holiday schoolday, given baths, taken kid to swimming lessons, hosted a playdate, made dinner every night, walked kid to school, picked kid up from school and took her to daycare while kid bitched about everything in the world because it was 3pm and she was tired, dealt with hair tangles every morning, played many rounds of “kitten in a box”, in which the girl is a present that’s really a kitten in a box, and I must play with the kitten; cleaned house, paid bills, read stories (this goes slowly when the child points at each word with a light-up pen and then you read it to her), listened to semi-coherent semi-factual stories of what other kids did wrong at school, battled school admin on after-school care, worked out (with kid) new chores/higher-allowance arrangement because she’s five, took kid to orthopedist and waited two hours to see him (I don’t fault him, nice man, one of country’s best ped orthos), negotiated with ex about taking kid to birthday party on “his time”, accepted a book project I don’t have time for but will do because it might be the last money on earth, exercised regularly, mowed lawn, returned the trove of diet Coke cans, did massive grocery shopping, did laundry, and had one gorgeous, gorgeous night of 11 hours’ sleep.
    I win. Me. Under $45K, yep, right here. I must say, though, that in this case higher ed only made things worse. I lurved it, of course. But big money, no, not a consequence.

  3. trishka Says:

    elizabeth, i don’t watch the show but my husband occasionally treats loggers in the ER and honestly it is an ubelievably hard, dangerous job. so many of them end up killed or maimed by middle age it is not funny. and yes the money is good for someone with only a high school education (compared to, say, service-level work) but it isn’t really that good. not for how dangerous it is.
    and you know, running a daycare w/ 5 toddlers may be tough in some ways, and i hate to not be a good feminist about this, but i honestly don’t think it compares because if you make a mistake (assuming the daycare is set up as a safe environment for the kids) you don’t have to worry about losing an arm.

  4. Amy P Says:

    “and you know, running a daycare w/ 5 toddlers may be tough in some ways, and i hate to not be a good feminist about this, but i honestly don’t think it compares because if you make a mistake (assuming the daycare is set up as a safe environment for the kids) you don’t have to worry about losing an arm.”
    I’m from a logging area, and locally, there’s a big memorial with a long list of people killed while working in the woods. The thing about logging is that while the money is pretty good while you can work, it breaks down a person’s body. Working in shingle mill is also infamously dangerous, and there are now a lot of undocumented immigrants working in those jobs. My dad worked in cedar salvage up into his mid-thirties, and it was standard practice to speed up the work by riding the hook at the end of a line pulled by a helicopter, so the work involved flying through the air on the hook, dozens of feet up in the air. Cedar salvage is another area that is now largely done by undocumented Latin American immigrants.

  5. Amy P Says:

    There’s a very nice youtube video showing the cedar salvage process at

  6. dave.s. Says:

    Megan Mack is onto the ‘go to college’ question:

  7. amy Says:

    “and you know, running a daycare w/ 5 toddlers may be tough in some ways, and i hate to not be a good feminist about this, but i honestly don’t think it compares because if you make a mistake (assuming the daycare is set up as a safe environment for the kids) you don’t have to worry about losing an arm”.
    No, of course, you’re right. All you have to worry about, if you’re a mother of young children running a daycare, is that you’re so sleep-deprived (how many times did the baby nurse last night? Who had an ear infection?) that you’re going to crash the daycare minivan into a guardrail or a Buick with slow reflexes. And, you know, what’s bringing home another case of strep to your 8-year-old with asthma?
    My fave daycare danger moment was watching a woman rescue her infant from two 4-year-old boys who thought it’d be fun to pile cushions on the baby and jump on the pile.
    Please not to exaggerate the manly hero labor guy in comparison with others.

  8. dave.s. Says:

    More on who should go to college:
    from America’s Most Overrated Product: the Bachelor’s Degree
    “I have a hard time telling such people the killer statistic: Among high-school students who graduated in the bottom 40 percent of their classes, and whose first institutions were four-year colleges, two-thirds had not earned diplomas eight and a half years later.”

  9. dave.s. Says:

    Joanne Jacobs piling on, on college for poorly prepared students:

  10. dave.s. Says:

    Coyote piling on, with bonus female wage differential slam:

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