Summer usually means reruns. As a writer, I typically mourn the loss of scripted television between May and September.
Not this summer. Expedition Africa has been a welcome shot in the arm. In an era where the majority of Westerners spend their days lounging in climate-controlled, wireless-enabled offices and bedrooms, four intrepid explorers abandon the modern world for a real-life adventure in the wilderness. No sat-phones, no GPS. Just a compass and a tube full of hand-drawn maps.
The final two legs of the trek may have been my favorite. The music and the cinematography have really stepped up a notch here at the end of the season, with some Gregson-Williams-esque motifs and a lot of great helicopter shots. The night-hike through a moonless jungle was creepy (especially with all the hyena and lion eyes glowing through the trees), and I got a little anxious when they set up camp in an abandoned village (abandoned because too many children had been attacked by nearby crocs).
It was also nice to see Pasquale’s soft side. After learning about his nightmarish childhood, I began to understand some of his social difficulties, and his geeky enthusiasm for geology was endearing. I even got misty-eyed when he and the rest of the explorers said goodbye to their loyal porters. You could tell they had really bonded, despite linguistic and cultural barriers.
Kevin’s attitude did reach an all-time low towards the end of the first hour, but it’s hard to blame the man after such a grueling month in the wild. I actually took his side when Pasquale argued against “wasting” time speaking with a local farmer. Kevin’s a journalist. He should get fifteen minutes to interview someone every few days without catching flack for it.
The final hour looks to be smooth sailing (pun intended) after a leisurely canoe cruise down a placid river, but once the water opens out into Lake Tanganyika, all hell breaks loose. As those canoes, and later dhows, were near-capsizing in the choppy water, I couldn’t help but ask the same question I ask every episode when conditions get rough:
“How does the poor CAMERA CREW deal with this?”
Hopefully some special features on the DVD will shed some light on these hidden expedition members, who had to make the trek with God-knows-how-much extra weight on their shoulders.
As the team neared Ujiji, the proverbial end of the road, I found myself sorry that it was almost over. I mean look, there’s Pasquale, bathing in Lake Tanganyika, going on about wading through the same water molecules as Stanley and Livingstone. And there’s Mireya, introducing us to another snake, Steve Irwin-style. It’s a shame we won’t see these guys for the rest of the summer.
Their well-earned arrival in Ujiji was a real treat to watch. Those Edenic avenues of mango trees, the colorful local dancers, and dozens of wide white smiles. I’m glad they made it in one piece, bodies and relationships intact. And I personally would like to see a spin-off with Julius and the Maasai.
Did you all catch the teaser scene at the end? Is there really a Marco Polo-centered sequel in the works? Executive producer Maria Baltazzi has been kind enough to do a short interview with me for Mount Helicon, so I’ll see what hints I can tease out of her!
Major kudos to the explorers, the crew, and all of the creative minds behind the best reality show of all time.