UW–Madison alumnus Alex Charvat is the co-host of the upcoming Discovery Channel series Reclaimed, which features Charvat and his longtime friend Kevin Gilman working together to transform people’s long-dormant mining claims into thriving operations. Charvat, in coordination with the producer, developed the idea for the show, which premiers on Thursday, Jan. 9 at 8:00 p.m. CT (9:00 p.m. ET/PT). For more information, check out the show’s Facebook Page and Discovery Channel announcement page.
This isn’t Charvat’s first foray into TV. He was selected to participate in the third season and fifth all-stars season of Top Shot, a shooting competition reality show. He then went on to produce an aired pilot episode for a show called Cabin Rescue, which eventually morphed into Reclaimed.
Charvat attended UW–Madison in the late 1990s, receiving his bachelor’s degree in forest science and his master’s degree in biological systems engineering. He credits UW with teaching him about perseverance, a trait that has helped him be successful in his TV career and his business career. Charvat is the owner of Colorado-based structural engineering firm Alexander Structures, Inc., which focuses on log and high-end residential engineering and design.
Despite his busy schedule, Charvat was happy to answer a few questions about his career path and his new show Reclaimed.
How did you get started on your career path?
Early on, television was never on the radar for me. My inspiration was [to build] a log cabin in the woods. I built that cabin with my family and my wife (who was my girlfriend at the time) in 2001. In 2003 we landed in Denver, and we now live together with our three kids in a much bigger log cabin in the mountains of Colorado. I initially applied to a bunch of Denver engineering firms, with no luck. Knowing I could do better, in 2004 I opened my business door with Alexander Structures, LLC. TV still wasn’t on the radar…
So how did you get into TV, then?
My favorite hobby—which is more like a passion—is shooting, and I’ve been doing it since I was six in every way, shape or form. That shooting continued at a much higher level at UW, where, as an undergrad, I was the captain of the UW–Madison Army ROTC rifle team — as a civilian.
In 2010, I saw an advertisement for a reality show called “Top Shot” on the History Channel. I applied and I ended up placing 4th out of 50 contestants for the 16 slots on the show, so I made the cut. I more than held my own on Season 3 of Top Shot, and I was invited back to compete against the best of the best of the previous four seasons in Season 5 – All Stars.
After Top Shot was over, I realized I craved the camera lens. It wasn’t the fame, spotlight, or even the money—which is meager at best—it was acting out the scene that I loved.
Sounds like you wanted more TV opportunities in your life…
Yes, and here’s where the engineering background and that first cabin come in. In 2014 or so, I got a call from a creative producer looking for a referral for an expert in log homes. I told her no referral was needed — I was that expert. That show became Cabin Rescue, where I fixed and flipped old off-the-grid log cabins. The pilot aired December 4, 2016 at the same time the NFL playoff games were on. The ratings were OK, but not good enough. But we persevered. Years in progress, the show morphed into Reclaimed, where we fixed up old mining claims throughout the Wild West. We added gold to our pitch—literally, bright yellow, periodic-table gold, and we were green-lit. That’s the industry term for “it’s a go.”
How have your UW degrees helped you along the way?
My education and experience was—and still is—second to none in the log home engineering industry, thanks to UW–Madison. Most people in the log industry are self-taught. Some have forestry backgrounds, others engineering backgrounds. In 19 years of practice, I’ve met exactly one other engineer that also had a forestry degree. This combination gives me a unique set of expertise and has allowed me to rise to the top of an industry I’m passionate about.
What is your role in the new show?
In Reclaimed, I’m a co-host, one of two main characters. The other is my best friend Kevin. Kevin and I are yin and yang, complementary but complete opposites in many ways. We have overlapping but different skill sets. While I was the sole host on Cabin Rescue, as it morphed into Reclaimed the producer saw our friendship and decided to make it part of the show.
The show follows us as we look for patented mining claim owners that are willing to barter our expertise in construction, buildings, and off-the-grid living for a stake in their mining claim. While most people think the gold rush has “rushed,” as in past tense, there’s still plenty of gold and silver and other minerals left. Back in the late 1850s, the cost of transporting and milling the ore was so high, that typically any ore that had less than 4oz/ton of gold was not financially viable… Now, with modern mining technology and substantially higher gold prices, reclaiming ore that was previously tossed aside can be extremely lucrative. And that’s just reclaiming the tailings, the already discarded “rocks” on the side of the mountain. It’s not even digging in the mine itself for newer or richer deposits.
Often, the big challenge is getting to the mines. The mines are typically extremely remote, and part of the storyline is accessing the claims and then figuring out how we are going to get the building materials there.
Tell us something interesting about the show—or about your being involved in it.
Everyone thinks reality TV is scripted. For the record, it’s not and I’ve done several shows. We are not told what to say or how to act. Occasionally we’ll have to redo a scene or repeat what was said due to weather, lighting, sound, or other issues. We’ll sometimes have to include certain “lines,” always in our own words, to make the story whole from a production standpoint — like mentioning our location or elevation in our conversations.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Reclaimed consists of eight, hour-long episodes. It took six months to film. We typically worked 12-hour days, often from sunrise to sunset, and were gone for extended periods of time, with meager accommodations. It’s hardly the glamorous Hollywood movie star role most people envision – for the most part we lived in the reality of the show. Despite the long hours, travel, hardships, it’s a dream job that I didn’t even know was an option for my life. While serendipity and being in the right place at the right time played a part, UW–Madison is truly what made it possible. As you watch the show, check out what hat I wear…it’s in every episode.