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‘Meltdown’ reality TV show to feature Spokane gold dealer

Dave Varabioff, of Spokane, will be featured on a National Geographic Channel reality show starting this month. (Tyler Tjomsland)
Dave Varabioff, of Spokane, will be featured on a National Geographic Channel reality show starting this month. (Tyler Tjomsland)

Spokane coin buyer and precious metals dealer Dave Varabioff is reconsidering his career options: He might just have a future as a reality TV star.

The National Geographic Channel will feature Varabioff in a new reality series called “Meltdown” that looks at urban prospectors: people who find valuable metals in unlikely places.

The series debuts on Halloween.

Varabioff was chosen for the series despite being told initially that he didn’t have the right quality.

“They told me they really wanted someone who was (a jerk),” Varabioff said, using a saltier description of the desired personality. After a number of interviews, show producers told Varabioff he didn’t fill that bill.

“But they kept deciding to send me through,” he said with a laugh. “I must have been better than anyone else they were considering.”

Varabioff operates GoldBay, at 4201 N. Division St., where he sells gold nuggets, coins, jewelry and gold flakes.

“I wake up each morning and one of the first two things I think about is gold,” he said of his interest in the precious metal.

He first heard about the National Geographic series when a customer sent him a link to a casting application. Varabioff emailed the application and heard back from one of the show’s casting representatives within an hour.

“The show is fun and educational,” he said. “It was a total blast doing it.”

The episodes show Varabioff visiting Spokane locations and demonstrating ways to find small amounts of precious metals.

His favorite episode was shot in his store, which had previously housed two retail jewelry shops. He said he suspected the carpet in the main showroom contained microscopic flecks of gold and silver.

During an eight-hour shoot, he and his co-workers devised a tool that could extract the metals from the carpet tiles. By the end of the day, Varabioff said they’d collected $4,000 worth of gold. He and his three co-workers split the money, he said.

In another Spokane segment, he visited a vehicle salvage yard. Some old vehicles have catalytic converters containing platinum that can be worth a good deal, he explained.

The series moves between Spokane, Detroit and Los Angeles, where two other “urban prospectors” go through similar metals hunts.

Skeptics usually disregard reality shows as being mostly scripted, but Varabioff said he told producers he wouldn’t participate in situations or demonstrations that were unreal.

“They wanted me, for instance, to overstate the amount of silver you can get by extracting the silver from X-ray fixer liquid or X-ray film used by dentists,” he said. “I wouldn’t say what they wanted me to.”

Varabioff received some payment for the series, but it wasn’t as much as one might think, he said.

“What I really got was publicity about my business. There’s no way to calculate the value of the free publicity this will generate,” he said.

Officials at Brownstone Entertainment, the show’s producer, told Varabioff he was a natural for reality TV, he said.

He added, “Right now I’m just hoping they renew the show for a second season.”

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