In Arts and Culture, News & Blog, Peer Profiles, The Spin Magazine

The final season of the hugely popular, made-in-BC reality show Jade Fever offers viewers a new twist: excavator operator Shane Bunce, who joins the cast and single-handedly proves that people with SCI are up to some of the toughest jobs on the planet.

Breaking New Ground: SCI on Reality TV
Shane Bunce sits on his excavator at camp (all photos by Ryan Kenny).

In 2015, the hit reality show Jade Fever debuted on the Discovery Channel and quickly became a runaway success. Audiences around the globe began to tune in to watch the show’s family-based crew face danger, financial risk and no shortage of equipment failures as they pursued the dream of striking the motherload of all jade deposits in Northern BC.

Fans of the show enjoy the lively and colourful day-to-day exchanges between owner Claudia Bunce, her husband and mine manager Robin Bunce, and the members of their immediate and extended family who make up the mining team, as they work together to overcome the significant risks and challenges of finding and extracting jade.

For most of the year, the Bunces make their home in Jade City, located on Highway 37, just south of the BC/ Yukon border. But for a short window of time each summer, the Bunce operation (which employs most of the tiny community’s 35 residents) makes a pilgrimage into the nearby rugged Cassiar Mountains in search of jade, a precious stone which is mainly mined for and sold into the Asian market.

Since 2015, their struggles and successes, beginning with simply getting into the remote and rugged mine locations and continuing with the daunting challenge of locating and extracting the precious green stone before winter flies, have been captured on camera by Discovery Channel’s production team. A seventh and final season of Jade Fever has been completed (yes, it was shot during the pandemic in 2020—more on that later). While a firm release date hadn’t yet been announced at the time of writing this, we do know that enthusiastic audiences in more than 180 countries around the world will be able to tune in at some point this Spring.

New Cast Member with SCI

We don’t know exactly what the new season has in store for viewers, but one thing we do know is that there’s a new addition to the cast: Shane Bunce, nephew of Claudia and Robin Bunce.

Bunce, who lives in Prince George most of the year, sustained his L1 injury in 2013, when he fell asleep behind the wheel of his truck while driving back to logging camp. Since his recovery, he’s continued to work as a heavy equipment operator and a home builder. But when his Aunt Claudia called him last April to see if he wanted to work on season seven of the show, he jumped at the chance and put everything else on hold. He joined the rest of the crew in Jade City in May and worked with them at the mine until the end of August, when winter weather started to arrive.

Bunce concedes his adventure started on a sour note. During the 1,200 kilometre drive from his home in Prince George to Jade City, he aggravated a recurring pressure sore.

“The coccyx has always been a problem since I got my first sore there while still in VGH,” he says. “But the rest of the summer was great; it healed within two months. I just had to be mindful of it and I never let my medical conditions restrict me from adventure.”

Bunce spent the first week at Jade City, working with the crew to prepare the convoy bound for the mine site. At that point, he joined several other crew members who flew in by helicopter to open up the camp. The remainder drove the 12 hour trail with the equipment, fuel and supplies needed for the start of the season.

bunces
Shane’s Uncle Robin and Aunt Claudia, the two principal cast members of Jade Fever.

Adjusting to Camp Life & Reality TV

No stranger to camp life, Bunce knew what to expect—rugged terrain, zero accessibility, and long, exhausting days of work. But one unknown was how well the TV production crew, as well as his fellow miners, would accept and work with a new cast member who happened to use a wheelchair. As it turned out, he had nothing to worry about.

“The cast and crew were awesome— we drank well together, and Claudia wasn’t impressed her camera crew was hungover at constant intervals,” says Bunce with a laugh. “They loved the aspect of someone in a chair out in camp, running an excavator and dealing with the adverse terrain, making the camp accessible for the chair, building an accessible outhouse, and getting in and out of machines and jacked up work trucks.”

His first order of business at the camp was getting his own situation and needs sorted out in preparation for the gruelling days and weeks of work ahead.

“The first couple days, I had to bum up the few steps into the cook shack and leap into the existing outhouse, but once my humble abode arrived on the back of the Bedford (AWD flat deck truck), I was at home. The eight foot by 14 foot ATCO building was easily made accessible—just a piece of plywood and I was in. We had to build ramps into the cook shack and shower room and assemble an outhouse I pre-fabbed while in prep mode back in Jade City. The first day running the excavator, I dug the hole for the outhouse and off-loaded the ATCO and levelled it in place. Nothing is level in camp!”

a close up of Shance Bunce, sitting on the tracks of his excavator in a yellow hazard vest and blue jeans

With his basic accessibility needs taken care of, Bunce got down to work with his fellow crew members, grinding out long days in the quest for jade. Bunce quickly dispelled any doubts about his skill and comfort with his excavator, which can be controlled entirely by hand—there are even alternate hand controls for the tracks, which are normally operated with the feet.

He concedes that one challenge was getting into the cab without any type of lift or hoist. “Getting in and out of the excavator was a learning process that I was able to perfect throughout the summer, relying on positioning and how wet everything was since there weren’t many days it didn’t rain the whole summer,” he says.

Despite the rugged, unforgiving surroundings and terrain, Bunce says he only had a couple of spills in his wheelchair. “Once they caught it on camera before I could get back in my chair,” he laughs. “Mud and adverse terrain aren’t very forgiving.”

Looking Back

“Life in camp was a constant adventure. The mountains are breathtaking, everywhere you go. I’d say I enjoyed every moment of the summer, except maybe a few moments of discomfort like the 12-hour drive back to Jade City from camp, with no accessible bathroom facilities along the way. But I pulled it off without incident.”

As for shooting the season in the midst of the pandemic, Bunce says there were no issues.

“Because of the remote setting of Jade City and Two Mile Camp, it was easy after the two week quarantine,” he says. “Every member of the camera crew was tested before coming up from Vancouver, so it didn’t affect much at all.”

For up to date information on when you can view the show, visit discovery.ca

Cover photo of The Spin Spring 2021 issue featuring a man sitting on the wheel tracks of a construction digger in Northern BC
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of The Spin. Read more stories from this issue, including:
  • Neurostimulation & Blood Pressure Research
  • Restoring Sexual Sensation
  • New, Affordable Techonology

And more!

Read the full Spring 2021 issue of The Spin online!
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