EXCLUSIVE : Juan Ibarra GOLD RUSH Interview

For six seasons, Gold Rush has been captivating audiences on the Discovery Channel as it focuses on the mining of gold placers deposits found in the Yukon Territory by various minors. The reality show, originally called Gold Rush: Alaska, began with six men from Sandy, Oregon who were forced to change careers due to the economic downturn and take all-stakes gamble to enter the gold mining business. Eventually becoming “the Hoffman crew” led by Todd Hoffman and family, the crew began mining over the seasons bringing in millions in gold. This season, Hoffman has added a new mechanic to his team Juan Ibarra, who left his family, a steady job, and took his own gamble to test his luck in Alaska.

I wanted to ask you, what would make you want to be involved with such a crazy group of people — because you’re in such crazy conditions and so much intensity, and so much danger.  

Juan Ibarra: You know, it’s kind of who I am, I like a good adventure. So definitely stuff like that appeals to me, I’m the type of guy who wants to do the next big, great thing and check things out. I’ve always been like that. It’s about adventure, new experiences and also – you know everyone has that dream to be able to provide a little bit better life for their family. It seems like it might be a good way to do it.

So can you tell people how it started and how you got to be the new mechanic, and your new role now on the season on Gold Rush?

Juan Ibarra: Yeah you know, my brother in law is a big fan of the show so he follows all the social media feed from Todd Hoffman and the guys on the crew. So he saw that Todd had posted on Facebook that he was looking for a new mechanic, and so my brother in law kept on telling me “hey you need to apply, you need to apply”, and I’m really not big into the social media thing so I told him “hey if you’d like to apply for me you’re more than welcome to”, so he did. He got – he got my paperwork together, he got my application in, got my resume in there and sent it all out. And about two weeks later – sorry, about 2 days later, I started receiving phone calls back and ended up having a couple Skype sessions with a couple different people, talked to Todd several times, and it ended up working out.

You know, I never – never would’ve thought in a million years that it would’ve happened but, it worked out so it was pretty neat, you know, the way it all came to be -you know my brother in law was a big driving factor, driving forward behind the whole – the whole reason that I got hired on. I would’ve never done it myself, but um, he’s a big part of why I was able to go and do this.

So what has it been like? Because you know, as a viewer, I’ve watched the show for a while, and I know that the Hoffman’s have risked everything, and sold their business, and have kind of taken off in the hopes of finding all of this gold, and going to Alaska, and you know, leasing, and doing all sorts of crazy things, and they’ve had so many ups and downs on their whole adventure that we kind of followed, so for you walking in, and being the kind of new guy and coming in, what has it been like for you, and what has your experience been like so far?

Juan Ibarra: Well you know I had a lot to prove coming in, you know I was a new guy on the crew, no one knew who I was really, you know they spoke to me on the phone several times, but I wanted to make sure, and show early on that, hey, I could be a valuable member to the team, and you know I could do what they needed, and on the same token I know the Hoffman’s, they’ve sacrificed a lot to be able to go and do what they’ve done, and on the same token I have, you know – I left my business, I left a really good contract that I was working on in Central Alaska, I was actually a maintenance contractor – I had four guys working for me, my business – we actually were working in Central Alaska at another mine. I left all that, you know, I traveled three thousand miles to go and work with a group of guys that I never worked with before, I took my own truck, my own tools, and uh – you know it turned out to be a really good gamble. It was a gamble, I didn’t know how it was going to turn out, but it turned out to be something that I really enjoyed, and it was a great experience. And I hope that maybe next year I’ll have the chance to do it again.

And that clip that the Discovery Channel has released that kind of introduces you, and we get to see the belt that has broken, and you coming up with this crazy [idea] of how to fix it, what goes through your mind when something like that happens? And everyone is looking at you to come up with an idea to fix something on the fly like that?

Juan Ibarra: You know, that’s where I excel, you know I really like that type of thing, you see something you can kind of see what needs to be done, and see in your mind what you need to do, and that’s the type of thing that I really like. It gives you a chance to be kind of, you know – creative and figure out problem solving and all that, so you know, it’s – it makes it a little tough when you have people there staring at you, and even harder when you have a camera in your face trying to document what you’re doing, but uh, it’s all part of the experience [laughs],

You mention that you wanted to provide for your family, so was that difficult? You took a gamble with this show? Did they stay home? What was that dynamic like?

Juan Ibarra: So starting the season off, I went by myself, my [wife], she actually came up later in the season, she was pregnant at the time so she came up and she stayed for about a month with me, and then ended up flying home, we wanted to make sure she was home for the end of her pregnancy but, it was good there was a little bit hard being away from home, away from the family, but like I mentioned, we do what we do, so we can provide a better life for our family.

So it was tough, you know it was difficult trying to make that decision whether – hey is this going to be financially feasible for me to go and leave my business, leave what I’m doing, to go and experience this new experience and take a gamble. Maybe this may pay off a little better in the future. But, it was definitely a tough decision but it was a decision that was well worth it.

So, the second part is, what was it like walking in with cameras all over you and filming everything you’re doing, and then dealing with – you know I think it gets extreme high pressure now in this kind of situation, so what is that on the flip side? First you’re working calmly, and now everyone knows who you are, and everyone’s going to be watching what you’re going to be doing, and then you have all these cameras, so what is that like?

Juan Ibarra: That’s the hardest part to get used to, everything else you can kind of control you know, what’s going to go on, but as far as cameras you know, the pressure and the stumbling all over your words and trying to figure out – gather your thoughts, it’s difficult.

You know the very first day when I got there, I did not expect it, they actually filmed me coming right in the very first day that I showed up, and I was not ready for it, I totally just, was in shell shock, it scared the heck out of me, because you know it’s something I’ve never been involved with.

But after a little bit you do get used to the cameras being there, they got a job to do just like we do, but uh, and the other thing is, on that note, is you want to get things done because you’re at a mine, we have production goals, so you want to try to get things done as quickly as you can.

But sometimes we have to step back a second to make sure the cameras get their angles, that they get their shots, that way they can document what we’re doing. You know, they told me early on that -hey, if it doesn’t happen on camera, it didn’t happen. So you know – because when I got there I was really excited to work and I wanted to try to fix things as quick as I can but if they don’t document it then it never happened so, [laughs], you got to make sure that you can play ball with the camera guys.

So because the show is so fast pace and there’s so much going on, but what can we expect as the season goes on? What can fans expect this season? 

Juan Ibarra: Well you know the season is going to be a season to remember for sure, the things that we were able to accomplish this season were just, amazing, mind boggling what we were able to do. But it’s definitely going to be a season to remember, as far as, I can’t give a whole lot away, but it’s definitely going to be something they’re going to want to watch. If they liked Gold Rush in the past, they’re going to love it now. Todd and his crew, they really stepped it up this year, they really were able to do, just amazing things and especially the Hoffman crew, you know it’s amazing the fellowship that they have amongst each other, the friendship.

Everyone there, you don’t see it but they’re all really good friends, and for me coming in as a new guy, it was really nice to be able to feel that, you guys will see it a little on the show this year, but yeah, stay tuned it’s going to be great. What we did last year is going to look minuscule to what we’re able to accomplish this year.

And of course I have to ask, do you guys get a ton of Gold?

Juan Ibarra: [Laughs], you know the Hoffman’s are very very generous people. Todd and his family just are an amazing group, an amazing family, they do, they take care of us, the crew members definitely do get a percentage or a little bit of a bonus at the end of the year, so yeah we do walk away with a little bit of gold.

Nice! And is there any way that fans can talk to you? Because I know you said you don’t do a lot of the social media stuff, do you now? Or is there a way fans can communicate with you?

Juan Ibarra: I’ve got a Facebook set up, I try to post as much as I can, you know, I’m not real savvy on that, but I’m getting better. It’s Juan Ibarra, my name, so if they want to look me up on Facebook, I think I have a twitter account as well, and if they want to call me for plumbing work or whatever I’m in the phonebook, give me a call [laughs].

One last question, a lot of fans grabbed onto you and started talking because you’re the new guy and they’re super excited, you have a huge fan base already. So I just wanted to ask you if there’s anything you wanted to say to your fans that are excited to see you?

Juan Ibarra: Absolutely, you know, make sure you stay tuned to Gold Rush, Friday Nights on Discovery Channel, it’s going to be a great season, also a lot of people were asking “how do I get involved”, keep an eye on social media, that works, I never thought it did but I’m a believer now, keep an eye on it, apply, you never know where it’s going to take you, you might end up on a TV show, don’t be scared to give it a shot for sure.

Watch Juan Ibarra meet the Hoffman crew and take on challenges including a broken belt, harsh conditions, and being away from his pregnant wife this season on the Discovery channel Fridays at 9pm EST. Participate in live Twitter comments with fans by using #GoldRush.