My first exposure to Expedition Unknown, a series on the Travel Channel, was the episode where Josh Gates, executive producer and host of the show (who “has a degree in archaeology”), went to Yonaguni, Japan to investigate the “ruins” there. I’ve written on these in the past and I’m probably due for an update, but I haven’t noticed any new data on them. They’re still just underwater geology that has curious shapes, angles, and patterns.
I started the episode expecting to shout at the television and ultimately turn it off before my head exploded from the stupid. Instead, I was rewarded with a fairly interesting show. Gates started out seeming to accept the claims of ruins at face value and even dove on them with a camera crew. He spoke with true believers and at least one skeptic and ended the program by saying (I’m paraphrasing) that he found the formation under the waves to be completely fascinating but that he couldn’t accept that they were man-made.
The show itself was well-produced, it had humor, good travel video, exposure to native cultures and peoples, and a core purpose (explore the underwater formation). Not only did I not turn the TV off or shout at gates, I then resolved myself to seek out other episodes. Since that time, I’ve followed Gates to Nepal where he looked at the legend of Shangri-La, to Mexico where he explored Teotihuacan, to Norway in search of Viking sun-stones, and even Cambodia in search of linga stones. Each of these episodes was interesting, colorful, and rich with fun travel video of distant places my bank account prohibits visiting myself. I found myself continually surprised at the fair shake Gates gives each of the legends he investigates, though a few times I was a bit put off by his humor at the expense of locals which was almost cliche for the arrogant American. But most of the time, the locals appeared in on the joke and seemed to be having fun themselves, so I forgave his antics pretending to be an ice cream vendor in Mexico or trying on hats in some shop.
However. I’m glad I didn’t start with the first episode of season 1, which was the search for Amelia Earhart. I was disappointed that he didn’t follow up on a bone discovery under a house in Fiji–and that he was poking around there willy-nilly to begin with. And I was also disappointed that he didn’t follow up on the Gardner Island lead where an aluminum panel that matched her plane was recovered along with other artifacts. But, as Jason Colavito mentions in his review, perhaps Gates was unable to get to the island because of budget, timing, or red-tape.
Another episode that rankled me a bit was the one of the ones where he visited Peru, “Secrets of the Nazca.” Overall, it was interesting but there was a moment when he was with Brien Foerster, the pseudoarchaeologist/tour guide, that made me throw up a little in the back of my throat. I have to give Foerster some credit however, at least he put the human skull he so casually and callously picked up from a local cemetery back on the ground and gently covered it with soil.
All in all, I’m a fan of the series. As long as Gates doesn’t go too over the top with the silliness at the expense of locals, continues to keep a skeptical view, and remains ethical in his “expeditions,” I’ll continue to watch as time permits.