Bear Gryll gets the Glory, camera crew gets the shaft

Not pictured: All the locals who lug their gear and the camera crew that captures their glory

Members of Expedition Africa. (Not pictured: All the locals who lug their gear and the camera crew who captures their glory)

Few knows this, but a while back someone asked me to audition for a position as the host of a television series that focused on Tattoo cultures around the world.

I was fresh off my trip to Asia tracking down my clothes – pre-book deal.  I set a camera in a field of corn and talked about where I came from and why I would be a great host for their show on tattoos, even though I knew I would be a horrible host for a show on tattoos.

I don’t have any tattoos, nor plan on getting any ever. The only tattoo I would consider getting is one from a man I heard about from some around-the-world sailors. He asks you some questions about yourself, you pay him, and then he gives you the tattoo he wants to give you.  If you ask for a certain tattoo, “I want a pony,” the deal is off.  “No Tattoo for you!”  This option would work for me because if the tattoo looked stupid, I could just blame it on the guy who gave it to me, absolving myself from the decision making process.  “Who would have thought that Care Bears were big on that remote island?” I could offer as my excuse.

Anyhow, I digress…

I would have been a crappy host for a number of reasons.  First, I don’t have any tattoos.  Second, I have a major problem with many of these “go places, do stuff, travel/adventure” shows: the camera crew is completely forgotten.

Bear Gryll…GRRRRR….gets me fired up.  Death waits around every ravine, under every rock, and from every angle.  At least that’s what he says.  As he climbs up the mossy rocks of a waterfall he looks at the camera and says something like, “One wrong step and I fall to my death.”  As he wades his way through snake and alligator infested waters he warns, “At any moment I could be attacked and fighting for my life.”  Bear Gryll is nuts, sure, but what about the poor cameraman?  He’s climbing a mossy waterfall while holding a camera.  He’s trudging through death-infested waters while holding a camera.

I’ve been watching Expedition Africa on the History Channel.  Four “explorers” are following in the steps of Stanley’s expedition to find Livingstone. The four fight over who’s leading the group where while local porters and even two bushmen look on. One explorer is even carrying around a pith helmet! It’s embarrassing.  It’s just a reminder of the ugliness of colonialism.  “We’re white, educated, explorers, the locals are cute and all with their bare feet, but we know better than they do.”  The group comes across some tough conditions – climbing muddy mountains in the rain, crossing deserts in excruciating heat.  But…what about the camera crew who are climbing a muddy mountain in the rain while holding a camera, and crossing the desert in excruciating heat while holding a camera?

I’m not a big fan of half stories and half-truths and that’s what these shows give us.

I would like to see a show about the camera crews who are tossed on ships while holding a camera filming the The Deadliest Catch, the camera woman sitting in the out of control rig barreling down the Ice Road, the dude climbing next to Bear Gryll.

Now that’s a show I could host.  Although I suppose then there would need to be another show about the people filming the camera crew who are filming the camera crew.

Not only are the camera crews left out of the story although they are sweating, trekking, risking their lives just like the stars of the show, but the affects the cameras have on the results of the show aren’t acknowledged.  Go to your nearest airport and start begging for 100-bucks.  Not going to happen.  But go to your nearest airport with a camera crew from the Amazing Race filming you, and your chances are good.

I’ve said it before, reality brings death to romance and I would like to make one addendum.

Reality (TV) brings death to romance and cameramen.

(Below the cut is an old column about my Travel Channel Hero Alby Mangels and the time I spent with his nephew in Australia)

A Hero Revealed
By Kelsey Timmerman

“Have you ever had a dream?  Just pack up and go?  Well I did.”  Every afternoon in college I would turn to the Travel Channel to hear a middle-aged Australian by the name of Alby Mangels utter these words, introducing his show Adventure Bound.

He would stare into the camera with squinty, worldly eyes and a weather-beaten face.  Gray streaks were hidden among the bleached blonde curls that fell upon his shoulders.  He wore khaki pants and a denim shirt; standing with one leg up on a rock, his words were delivered in a short choppy manner- without a doubt read off a cue card.

For the past few decades, Alby has traveled the world-over filming his grand adventures, narrowly escaping death in nearly each episode.  After the one-hour show was over, I would daydream of packing up and going, seeing the world, and dangerous adventures.  A life in an office I could not fathom, but Alby’s…now that was living.  I hesitate to use “Hero,” but I am at a loss.

Sleeping beside a river in Africa, Alby wakes to find large tracks left by a crocodile running through his camp.  He follows the tracks down to the riverside where he cautiously pushes his way through the reeds.  Before him a huge croc suns himself in the shallows.

Crossing Mozambique during a civil war in search of the Bushmen of the Kalahari, Alby is given a machine gun and wears the ammo around his neck like a scarf.  Gunfire pounds in the distance.

Two-dimensional heroes of the TV stand on a narrow pedestal of fiction; such is the case with my “hero” Alby Mangels.

“Have you ever heard of Alby Mangels?”  I would ask Australians as I explored their country.

The question would be answered with eye rolls and sighs.

Australian’s in their mid-twenties grew up with him.  His movies are claimed to have out grossed Star wars, Superman II, Ghostbusters, and Gremlins in Australia.  He is a memory of their childhood long forgotten- Mr. Rogers with machismo. His life was in jeopardy each adventure and a girl was always on his arm- Errol Flynn in a Speedo.

“See this tiny swamp.  This is mini-Africa.”  Rick Snel, Alby’s nephew and sidekick/camera man on a third of the Adventure Bound episodes, was giving me a tour of his back yard.  “We would go to a country shoot it from every angle and then come home.  If we needed additional footage we would shoot it here around Adelaide.”

At thirty-three years old Rick was living in his mother’s house.  He invited me to his home to watch the footage of his new self-produced adventure series.  Alby had made US $25,000 per episode that the Travel Channel showed and Rick wanted some pointers from an American, hoping to increase the chances of his show being picked up.

“Remember that scene where Alby was crawling through the reeds in the river to get a closer look at the croc?”  I nodded.  Rick motioned towards mini-Africa.

“How about the time where we found a gorgeous naturalist studying seals on a small rocky island off the coast of Australia?” Again I nodded.  “He flew her over in his helicopter and then we shot the film like we stumbled across her.”

Rick continued to reveal the fraudulent adventures of Alby Mangels.    It did not take long to realize that Rick was bitter.

A web site dedicated to Alby Mangels talks about Rick’s adventures with Alby, “several times Alby tried earnestly to kill the lad off, but each time he managed to survive.”

Unable to kill him off, Alby laid Rick off, and replaced him with smaller cameras that his bikini-clad cohorts of the time could easily handle and operate.  Rick did not see a penny for some time from his work with his uncle and the tension began.  Once paid off, he invested in equipment to begin producing his own films.

In a tone verging on whining, Rick informed me that Alby had actually closed more doors for him than he had opened.  Rick had sold one episode to an Australian network, but this did not even come close to covering his expenses.  He was struggling and near giving up.

“Greedy bugger runs on money and women.  I took a girlfriend once to Brazil while we were making a film.  Alby complained that she wasn’t good looking enough. Not enough curves, if you know what I mean?”

We watched his footage over and over again.  Occasionally his mom, Alby’s sister, would pop in with some food for us.  She was the spitting image of Alby and it humored me to no end that Alby’s sister was making me breakfast and lunch.

I stayed two days which we spent windsurfing, barhopping, cruising around the countryside, and walking along the beach behind their house.  They were hospitable hosts and I hope that I was a gracious guest.

A cloud of spite hangs over Rick.  The shadow of his uncle cast upon him seems inescapable, but Rick has a dream just as a young Alby had had many years before.

Two weeks later in Sydney a freshly arrived Canadian was moving into my room at a hostel in King’s Cross.  The conversation was like one’s I had had many times before: Where you from?  Where you been? Where you going? Etc.  I fielded them as I continued to read my book.  I answered the questions with polite disinterest, but then I was hit with a new one: “Have you ever heard of Alby Mangels?”

I looked up from my book in mid-sentence, sighed, and rolled my eyes.


Let your voice be heard!