Animal Planet’s well intended ‘Wild Recon’ rings hollow

26 Jan

Wild Recon host Donald Schultz kicks it with a big cat (courtesy Discovery Communications)

Strapping, fearless adventurer: Check
British accent: Check
Dangerous wild animals: Check
Gratuitous skydiving : Check
Beat-the-clock deadlines: Check

Animal Planet’s got an instant hit on their hands, right?

“This is not a stunt,” boasts the channel’s newest dandy before leaping from a plane 4,000 feet above some exotic locale.  “This is my job.”

The non-stunt strikes a familiar chord to regular Discovery network viewers.  No, this skydiving adventurer isn’t Bear Grylls, though the resemblance to the Man vs. Wild concept couldn’t seem more deliberate.

Our hero this time is herpetologist and self-described adrenaline junky Donald Schultz.  The show: Wild Recon, the latest in the network’s overkill lineup of danger-laced edu-tainment series.  The mission: to save the animals—and by extension, the humans who might benefit from the study of venom.  A noble goal.

From Discovery Communications’ press release:

Tearing his way through thick jungle undergrowth or clinging to rock ledges, Donald stops at nothing to complete his mission — getting viable bio-samples out of remote locations to research institutions or zoos – and it’s a race against the clock because the samples are so fragile. But before his precious cargo can be delivered, Donald will have to make it out alive.

Exciting, eh?  Maybe if  it been done, say, a decade ago.  Or if it had the slightest trace of originality.

Ultimately, Wild Recon comes off as a superficial rip-off of the Crocodile Hunter, Man vs. Wild, and Nickelodeon’s Go, Diego, Go.  It’s as if the producers couldn’t decide which format to adopt, so they tried to tackle them all.  Schultz seems like a truly cool guy, but he’s being shoved into niches that have already been filled by more genuine personalities.  (Except for Diego.  I hate Diego.)

Apparently, the only way for Schultz to get to his destinations is by jumping out of a plane.  Because how else can adventuring herpetologists get to these remote places?  Never mind that Schultz’s crew is waiting for him in the drop zone, having driven there in trucks full of equipment over pretty navigable roads.

Now that he’s made his grand entrance, Schultz can then drive solo to wherever the snakes are.  From there, it’s your typical Corwin-esque Animal Planet fare.   As the New York Times aptly puts it,

We learn assorted factoids that only a few of us are ever likely to use, like, “The best place to grab a kangaroo is by the tail.” We learn that many of Australia’s native species are in jeopardy because in the 1930s the cane toad, which secretes a toxin fatal to predators, was introduced from Hawaii as an ill-advised pest-control method.

What we don’t learn is why Mr. Schultz and those like him on other dangerous-animal shows have such an aversion to taking obvious precautions. If you were trying to grab a venomous lace monitor, a type of lizard, wouldn’t you put on gloves, or at least roll your shirt sleeves down? Someone cleaning a McDonald’s restroom wears more protective gear than this guy.

I’m not mocking Schultzy.  Dude’s obviously tough and well intended.  It’s just that in attempting to channel these other shows, Wild Recon becomes a parody of them.  These days, Discovery turns chaps like this out as quickly as Disney spawns its teen-aged tarts.

If Schultz wants to be remembered as anything but a Bear Grylls/Steve Irwin wannabe, we need to see what sets him apart from them, not how well he can imitate them.


Posted by on January 26, 2010 in Outdoor Adventure, Reviews, Skydiving


9 responses to “Animal Planet’s well intended ‘Wild Recon’ rings hollow

  1. Hailey Vial

    January 26, 2010 at 8:21 pm

    It doesn’t look interesting enough to tear me away from American Idol… ha ha.

  2. Ellen

    February 12, 2010 at 5:31 am

    seriously? this is my favorite show of this genere. this guy has more balls than steve irwin, jeff corwin or bear grylls put together! he’s awesome! apparently this post was written before “venom in vegas” was tsped?!? watch it and get back to me right?!

    • bonnevillemariner

      February 12, 2010 at 4:53 pm

      Thanks for stopping by, Ellen! I don’t disagree that Schultz has some serious stones. I was mainly criticizing the show’s copycat format. If it’s changed since I saw that first episode, awesome. I’ll check out “Venom in Vegas” and get back to you. Did he skydive into Vegas?:)

    • bonnevillemariner

      February 17, 2010 at 4:53 pm

      Ok, Ellen, I caught the last 45 minutes of Venom in Vegas the other day. Not a good comparison to Wild Recon because it’s not a Wild Recon episode. Again, Schultz is a brave and knowledgeable guy and ViV demonstrates that, but I stand by my take in the post.

  3. Daisy

    July 15, 2010 at 10:08 pm

    As someone who has dreamed of tranquizing elephants and taking bio samples since 5th grade, Shultz takes the credit for revitalizing a personal dream. There will never be another Steve Irwin, but Shultz is doing something different than the other danger seekers on air. Yes the skydiving may be a bit much but he is reminding me, and others, especially kids, that there are jobs like that to be done. It reminds us that there are alternatives to going to college for computer graphics or a job at your local fast food joint.
    I will never be able to meet my idol, Steve Irwin, but hpoefully my career will cross paths with this new passionate animal lover. Hopefully somewhere in Africa!

  4. Cody Conway

    November 1, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    I had the honor of meeting this guy at a local Reptile Expo, and talk to him deeply in regards to Wild Recon, ViV, and other aspects of his work. He was approached by animal planet to do the show in the way its done. He is an adventurer at heart and they put it in the show to reflect WHO he is, not mimic other shows. He was recognized in the science community long before he did Wild Recon, and if you think that he isn’t recognized, you should really check your sources, do a deeper literature review, and see his place in biochemistry history before Wild Recon ever existed. Steve Irwin was an entertainer, Jeff Corwin is a naturalist / Zoologist / actor. Donald Shultz is a researcher, and an example of field biologist who dedicate their lives to the preserving of biotic diversity, and the continued existence of the human race. Cody Conway, Reptile Experts and K&C Adventures. Herpetologist. Ornithologist. Zoologist. and Researcher.

    • bonnevillemariner

      November 1, 2010 at 5:35 pm

      Thanks for dropping by, Cody. It’s very clear that Schultz is a consummate expert and no doubt a fun guy to hang with. My criticism of Wild Recon (is it still on the air?) is not aimed at him.

      I never criticized or questioned Schultz’s credentials, so I probably don’t need to check my sources or conduct a deeper literature review. But thanks for the advice.

      My critique is squarely aimed at Discovery and the production of this particular show. Wild Recon’s producers may not have consciously mimicked other shows, but they were clearly following a proven formula. I think they could have done a much better job showcasing Shultz’s passion and expertise had they followed a different formula. Methinks they did him quite a disservice.

      Frankly, I’d love to meet Shultz. He’s living my dream! Ok, my dreams don’t involve snakes, and I don’t care to star in TV shows, but research plus adventure plus getting paid well for it…dream job, baby. Good on him.

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  6. Jennifer Ward-Andersen

    April 30, 2017 at 12:25 pm

    Damn Good way to rip David’s Ass. I personally liked him alot. And this is 2017 and I just googled to find out what the hay happened to him. Very memorable if you ask my family. Bring back the real tough dudes animal planet. Thanks from Jennifer Ward-Andersen South Carolina


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