Category Archives: Skydiving

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

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


Get well, Spot: Skydiving acquaintance injured during Monday jump

A skydiving acquaintance of mine was seriously injured during a jump Monday afternoon.  Douglas “Spot” Spotted Eagle pulled out of his final turn too low.  He crashed to the ground at about 20 mph, breaking his pelvis and injuring his back.

“This was entirely pilot [skydiver] error,” Spotted Eagle told the Transcript Bulletin.  “The parachute deployed perfectly fine. It was a normal dive until the last two or three seconds. I lost grip on my toggle.”

He is expected to make a full recovery.

I mention the incident here because it was Spot who talked me into jumping out of a plane last summer (read about that here).

I conducted an extensive interview with him the day of my jump.  I asked him to list his motivations for skydiving.  His first response?  “It’s a serious responsibility.  How many other situations in life do you have complete control over?”

Makes perfect sense to me.

Spot is a videographer with Skydive Utah, a job that in my book takes some serious cojones.  Aside from concentrating on executing their own safe dive, videographers spend most of their jump filming somebody else, using helmet-mounted video and still cameras (the still camera is controlled with a special tongue switch).

When the plane reaches jumping altitude (around 13,000 feet), the videographer climbs out onto the fuselage to get an outside-in shot of jumpers approaching the exit platform.  He then falls backward to film their exits from below.  He spends the entire fall focusing on the jumpers, then times his own landing such that he is down and ready to film their landings.

Yes, skydiving is dangerous, but considering that Spot has 1,400 jumps under his belt, you could say he’s had a pretty safe run to this point.  Everybody I know at Skydive Utah is highly trained and uber-competent.  I have no qualms about jumping with them again this summer.

“People spend their whole lives working to have a life, but life’s not about working to live,” he told me the day of my jump.  “Live while you’re alive. If you wait til you’re 80 to enjoy life, you’ll not have the body nor the mind to appreciate whatever you’ve been working for.”

Here’s wishing him a speedy recovery and many more jumps afterward.

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Posted by on June 10, 2009 in Skydiving