Expedition Africa: Finale

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.

3 thoughts on “Expedition Africa: Finale

  1. I could not agree with you more. I loved this show! As you said, I usually don't watch much during the summer. When I saw the advertisements for this show, I thought it would be based on just four average people in a "Survivor" like setting. I was amazed at the resume of each of the four main explorers. This was very truly the real deal as far as reality goes. The friendship between Benedict and Mireya really touched me. They way they all came together at the end and made the effort to work through their differences was a great lesson. The Maasai warriors and the Porters were so interesting as well. I learned a lot about the diversity of the African landscape and their people as well. What a worthwhile show! I hope that the History Channel books them for another adventure soon.


  2. I struggled with the personalities in this series; their conflicts seemed at times petty as well as overpowering. Pasquale’s comments that an expedition was not a democracy seemed appropriate. Consensus is not always the right decision-making process. Watching the team members struggle to assert themselves and establish their pecking order was fascinating. Conflict is inevitable in most any group, particularly one that faces the physical and mental challenges of such an expedition.A few things I took from this series: a. Henry Stanley’s 8 month search for Livingstone in 1871 must have been an almost unimaginable ordeal. Africa shows little mercy to its explorers. b. Africa is a magnificent and terrifying continent. The team trekked thru swamps, salt flats, mountain ranges. They slept with rhinos, hyenas, and green mambas just out of range. They traveled beside and on rivers and the enormous Lake Tanganyika. They dealt with malaria, foul water, and poor food. Regardless of the background safety net the History channel and producers may have provided, I’d say that’s still a fair accomplishment.c. Leaders can make mistakes, exercise poor judgment, lose their temper, and become petty at times. Pasquale’s role as “navigator” seemed poorly defined, at least to the team; “expedition leader” may have been a more clearly stated role for him. The team did not produce another clear expedition leader, as best as it tried, and Pasquale assumed that role naturally.I enjoyed the series.


  3. Glad we agree, Kristen! I loved the Maasai too, and only wish they'd gotten some more screen-time.And Barry, I agree with you that consensus doesn't always work in the backcountry. I think I just balked at Pasquale's often-condescending tone towards the other explorers, though they were experienced in their own right.And yeah, after watching the series, I won't be planning any trips across Africa any time soon.


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