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.