By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
Josh Gates is one of those media personalities/presenters who has done more to fuel the proverbial fires of controversy with such shows like Destination Unknown in his search for cryptozoological and supernatural creatures. Maybe he has found evidence proving other beasts, namely the Yeti, exists but he cannot reveal it lest the textbooks get rewritten. Love his style or not, namely a paranormal reality program called Stranded (that’s a clone of MTV’s Fear), this daring adventurer can shrug off misfires and continue on with new escapades.
His bravado is what makes him adorable on-screen and his sense of humour is what draws many people into watching. There’s a lovable goofy charm about him when he steps into other worlds in his quest for finding answers to mysteries nearly impossible to solve. And when that includes guest appearances in Fact or Faked and Ghost Hunters, trying to appear credible is hardly ever an issue for him.
In his latest series, Expedition Unknown, he tries his best to be serious. This new program puts him quite literally in the spotlight. Along with a very small team of cameramen and sound techs to go globetrotting, the big question is if he will ever find some tangible piece of evidence that will become big news. They are in search for unsolved mysteries that dogged closure.
In the two-hour premiere, he’s in search for the remains of either aviator Amelia Earhart, navigator Fred Noonan or her plane, an Electra 10E. Like his previous show, the chances of finding any hard core evidence is slim and what’s left are mostly anecdotes of the legacies these people, places or beasts have left. Honestly, that’s fine. The best mysteries are those that are impossible to nail down definitive answers to. Take, for example, the Bermuda Triangle: do incidents happen because of hydrogen bubbles bursting up from the ocean floor or is it because there are magnetic anomalies in the air? Wormholes are debatable and who knows what exists in the extra dimensions that waver in and out of the five measurable ones that can cause objects and people to disappear. Maybe a different ‘triangle’ existed that spirited Earhart away. Until there is a hard piece of physical evidence revealing where she crashed, at least her spirit of adventure will always persevere. Gates chose a great person to search for in the premiere episode of Expedition Unknown since she is a role model to many people. Even he respects her for everything she represents.
Although he did not find anything concrete in Papua New Guinea or Fiji as to where her plane crashed and or if her remains were indeed found, any big news would have hit the media first instead of being saved on a Travel Channel program. Those kind of revelations are impossible to keep exclusive. And in this show’s construction, it is very much like Destination Truth with only a smaller cast. Sometimes his support crew gets mention. The interviews he conducts are pre-arranged and sometimes rehearsed so the interviewees are comfortable with the camera. To see how that will gel in future episodes will have some viewers tuning in, and hopefully what’s discussed is more fluid.
When the camera is focussed on Gates, he’s more natural at being a presence. Perhaps that comes from his post-secondary education as a student of drama. And to see how he reacted during an earthquake is not without some chuckles. Although the people in Papa New Guinea are used to it, not everyone else was. Now the big question is, what’s next? Will Gates get closer to an active volcano to chase down Montezuma’s missing gold?
But now that he is a married man, some viewers may wonder how the wife feels with him entering dangerous countries? What about never being at home? She might be travelling with him and staying in the background but until some insights about little bits of his personal life are revealed, to have a show spotlighting just one side of his life is lopsided. Fans don’t need to know everything, but no media personality is complete without some hint about what their life is like normally. Even Indiana Jones had to struggle with a father who never took notice of him. Lara Croft even had some daddy issues. Howard Carter, despite having survived the mummy’s curse, was an isolationist. Some of the best adventure seekers must have some family concerned for them.
In what’s next, production diaries suggest he will be looking for Jesse James’ buried gold and Captain Morgan’s sunken ship. He will also go rediscovering “lost cities” in Peru and searching for the Temple of Doom in Cambodia and go digging in Germany on the quest for the Amber Panels — works of art from Prussia’s royalty given to the Russians before they were stolen by Nazi Germany’s military during World War II and hidden away. At least the objects and places he’s visiting is not without some impossible obstacles to overcome. The question is if he will ever uncover that golden ticket to cement him as an archaeologist to remember much like Carter discovered King Tut’s tomb. Gates does not need to find the Holy Grail. If he can at least make new ground or lay the foundation for others to continue in his footsteps, then perhaps there is more to his show to enjoy than to watch a travelogue of his adventures.
To continue teasing viewers for as long as he has without obtaining undeniable proof can get tiring after a while. When dealing with the supernatural, yes direct evidence is hardly ever quantifiable. To have a new program dealing with archaeological mysteries will certainly give Josh Gates chances to make a discovery. Let’s hope that one day he will instead of sailing off to the edge of forever.