The Unlikely Entrepreneur of Reality TV: Big Giant Swords

I’ve been neglecting someone on my little blog here. A group of people really, near and dear and close to my heart.

My reality TV friends.

Don’t worry. My non-husband-for-life XFE and I have been watching tons of crap on television. I mean, it’s winter, after all. And both “Vanderpump Rules” and “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” are on right now. What else would we be doing?

One of our current favorites is “Big Giant Swords” on the Discovery Channel.

When XFE first told me about it, he said it was called “Big Ass Swords,” which would have been a way more awesome title, if any executives from Discovery are reading this. No? Ok, then.

But, where “Big Giant Swords” falls short on naming-bad-assery, it is not short on entertainingly weird charm.

Irish Mike of Big Giant Swords
This, by the way, is your lead character in the show. Irish Mike.

Here’s the description, in case you couldn’t tell what it was about by the name:

“Big Giant Swords” is an American television series that premiered on January 13, 2015 on the Discovery Channel, The program follows sword maker Michael “Irish Mike” Craughwell as he and his associates create custom over-sized swords from scratch for his clients. Episodes focus on the creation process of one or two commissioned weapons as the team attempts to complete them to the customer’s satisfaction in a set time period.

Craughwell first began making giant swords in 2003 as a hobby and models many of his works after swords found in video games and other fictional media. Craughwell first garnered attention for his creations after posting videos of himself wielding the weapons on YouTube. He is based out of West Tisbury, MA on the island of Martha’s Vineyard.

Suffice it to say, this Irish Mike guy is quite the character. I am DYING to know what other folks around Martha’s Vineyard think when they see this guy rolling past the boutiques in Vineyard Haven in his tattered black t-shirt and his leather apron.

(While doing a bit of research, I came across this Yelp review for a shop in Tisbury. Apparently, the Poe-llows line of ridiculously priced pillows needs to be stocked at this store. Clear some shelf space, Midnight Farm).

Irish Mike is very socially awkward and yet, somehow, he’s able to get his crew of varying skill and talent abilities (ranging from the very talented, and maybe bald –well, we never see her without the headscarf—blacksmith Jamie to the practically useless cameraman Ameri-Mike – who really should consider wearing a headscarf. And investing in some hair product. His frizz has got me all worked up.)

AmeriMike from Big Giant Swords
Photos from YouTube and Discovery Channel.

Wait. What was I saying? Oh yeah, he’s got all of these not-so-charismatic guys to work for him basically for free. Or for the love of the craft. Or because there’s nothing else going on in Tisbury, and this shit is entertaining. Whatever.

But it all works. Mostly because, they, like him, are a bit of a group of social misfits, so you can tell they just get each other. Even as they avoid eye contact and mumble to each other.

And, well, the swords are really, really cool. I’m not really into swords, or LARPing or fantasy stuff, but these things are pretty amazing works of art in their own barely-functioning right.

One of the things we really like about the show is that it feels like Irish Mike is kinda in on the whole joke of the situation. He realizes this is a ridiculous way to make a living. His FaceTime discussions with his potential clients range from awkward to slightly derisive to totally jiving together on fantasy nerd stuff. Perhaps more than anything though, he just wants to get off the computer and get to work on his latest grande scheme.

But where Irish Mike’s personality really shines when it comes time to test the swords. Because he actually cares whether or not they could–ostensibly, if the client were a giant and incredibly strong–work. It’s during these bits that his desire to be in the spotlight and flair for flamboyance really comes out. So far, we’re about three episodes in and he’s already set himself on fire while slicing through gasoline-filled coconuts being hurled at him through the air. He’s also dressed up like Zeus and another time like swamp monster that rises out of a lake to demolish a row boat. And, when making videos he doesn’t have to interact with anyone, which you can tell suits him just fine.

So, check out the show (full episodes are online), watch some of his YouTube videos (the one of him lifting a 106 pound axe is pretty funny), or read his thoroughly charming yet very, very nerdy Reddit AMA.

I’m rooting for the guy. I hope Irish Mike can continue to exploit the ridiculousness of his current situation and make a great, sustainable business out of his hobby. It gives me hope for my Poe-llows.

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Yep, That’s 1,300 Words on ‘Jungle Gold’

As you may know by now, The Poe-XFE-Petunia household will gladly watch just about any reality television show that Discovery or A&E wants to foist on the unsuspecting viewing public.

For example, we recently watched an episode of “Doomsday Castle,” (basically a combination of “Doomsday Preppers” and “This Old House”). The hillbilly family featured in the show includes a cantankerous father yelling at his lazy, good for nothing offspring because they were moving too slow on a project to secure a steady water supply for their bleak, albeit large, bunker.

Or “Airplane Repo,” a nail-biting view into the world of luxury airplanes and the formerly flush CEOs who couldn’t keep up the payments. I’m still dumbfounded that someone can just walk onto a tarmac at a small, private airport, and just hop in the cockpit and fly away with a Lear jet.

We are especially susceptible to any shows with either “Alaska” or “Gold” in the title. Which brings me to the show that has me yelling at the television the most these days: “Jungle Gold.”

Discovery Channel
They always make those faces. And yes, the bullet proof vests are absolutely essential to gold mining.

“Jungle Gold” follows two Utah fortune hunters, George and Scott, and their Keystone Cop-like efforts to mine gold in Ghana. As in Africa. As in, not the most stable business environment.

As a former reporter covering trade and foreign policy, I used to have to write stories about the amazing business potential of Africa. And, invariably, whenever I asked the question of, “well, if there’s so much opportunity there, why aren’t businesses jumping at the chance,” I ran across the same answers again and again and again: political instability, corruption, lack of adherence to the rule of law, insecure infrastructure and supply chains, lack of an educated workforce, and on and on and on. Basically, anything you would need to run a business in Africa was lacking or severely deficient. The message was: you do business in Africa, you take your chances.

George and Scott didn’t get that memo. In fact, you kind of got the impression that those guys thought they were there to help liberate Ghana of all its gold, and only they could fulfill that destiny. Like they were doing the Ghanans some sort of favor or something.

ghana gold guys
Hmmm, seems like the Ghanans already have this under control.

It doesn’t help that George and Scott are kinda idiots. We gleaned from season one that these guys were formerly in the real estate business; ie: selling expensive houses and making bad loans to people who couldn’t afford them. When the financial market crashed, and the regulators began cracking down on the get-rich-quick scheme that was the American housing market, these guys basically had to find a new scam. I have no idea how that led to Ghana and gold, but I guess it beats getting a job at Starbucks (full disclosure: I’ve had a job at Starbucks. I think, in my limited experience, it was vastly preferable to gold hunting in Ghana).

But to Ghana Scott and George went, and their first televised effort was a total bust. To be fair, there are people successfully mining gold in Ghana. There are numerous small time operators, many of whom appear indigenous or at the very least, to live in Ghana. There are also, of course, a large number of Chinese gold miners, who appear to be mining illegally on land they just set up camp on. Very similar to what George and Scott do at first.

gold pellets
Not poop. Gold from Ghana.

Last season, our erstwhile Utah miners, George and Scott were saddled with equipment failures and the inability to secure land rights to mine. Plus, there was that whole ignorance of anything resembling a skill—neither of them can drive any of the equipment, they don’t know how to fix or patch any of the broken equipment. Hell, they barely even know how to pan. Needless to say, they were off to a rough start in their newly chosen profession.

So to get some money to keep their operation going, the two ended up participating in a quick-money “gold flipping” scheme in which they buy gold cheaply and take it into town to have it assayed. They buy the gold primarily from the illegal mining operations who prefer to stay out of the public square and who can’t afford to leave their illegal operations unprotected to travel over dangerous terrain for four-plus hours in order to cash in their gold.

Not surprisingly, that effort ended with George and Scott buying a large chunk of gold from an illegal mining operation, and then (rather predictably) getting robbed at gunpoint of said gold when they got back into their trucks and headed triumphantly down the road and straight into a staged road block. It was all pretty dramatic and very fake seeming, I must say.

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Nevertheless, since the whole enterprise had been a dangerous failure and they were hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, I figured that would be the end of the Jungle Gold Jackasses.

Oh, how wrong I was.

The second season started in August and had the boys contemplating a return to the jungles of Ghana. Even more frustrating, they secured a fairly substantial amount of funding from Scott’s father-in-law, in a move that had me questioning this supposedly successful businessman’s acumen. Who the hell would put up $50,000-plus for their son-in-law to leave his wife and children behind and go gallivanting for gold in Ghana? I cannot even fathom it. Unless, the Discovery Channel was really the one putting up the money, which seems much more logical. OR, another scenario just popped in my head: Maybe the father-in-law was hoping Scott didn’t make it back? Hmmmmm.

Anyway, the guys are once again, total failures at their gold endeavors, throwing good money after bad, trying to mine during Ghana’s approximately 10-month rainy season in an area devoid of roads, and encountering local hostilities from other miners and the government authorities.

oh yeah
Dude, I totally just suckered my father-in-law into giving us more money.

That last little wrinkle led to this season’s entirely over dramatic 2-hour finale, which we watched this weekend.

Long story short(ish): In a confusing series of events, George and Scott go to the office of the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources to secure a license to mine on the land which they’ve already staked out. We know it’s the Ministry’s office because of a cardboard sign that says so.  After a few tense minutes, George and Scott come out and tell us they have successful procured said license. Victory is theirs and they immediately go to lease two large excavators and a front loader to the tune of about $25,000.

About two scenes later, the guys say the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources has issued warrants for their arrests. It’s all over the African news. AND there’s been a violent attack and robbery on a neighboring mining operation, by some form of militia or people wearing uniform-like outfits and carrying weapons and Scott and George become convinced that this militia was looking for them. They tell us that they are now “Ghana’s most wanted.”

wanted
Wanted….for extremely annoying and self-important behavior.

They then embark on a low-speed, non-chase to outrun the armed militia group. Who we never see. To avoid all the military checkpoints along the main road to Accra, George and Scott take a helicopter to Accra’s international airport. But rather than staying in the safety of the airplane hangar at the airport, they go to a nearby large hotel to stay the night.

Meanwhile, the television crew, which also allegedly has warrants out for its arrests, make the seven hour drive, rolling through the various checkpoints with nary a problem. Still no sign of this supposed militia chasing down Ghana’s most wanted.

We’re then treated to a very long and dramatized play-by-play of the boys and the television crew getting to their Discovery Channel-chartered flight. The show really builds the tension by having George and Scott cut in between every mundane step of going through security, customs, passport control, and boarding gate to tell us how afraid they were each step of the totally procedural process.

customs
Seriously, how many times to I need to show documentation to board an international flight? Oh, three times? Oh. OK.

Honestly, it was the exact same process all of us encounter while navigating an airport. Yes, you’ll have to go to the ticket counter and check in. Yes, you have to go through an initial passport/boarding pass check. Yes, you have to go through security, etc. etc. But to these guys, every set of eyes were potential whistleblowers. XFE compared it to the escape scene in Argo. Except, in Argo, real danger existed. And in “Jungle Gold”….well, debatable. They were definitely laying it on pretty thick.

Hopefully, this is the end of “Jungle Gold.” As one of the miner/actors said when someone was trying to shake down some money for some additional equipment: “That’s a lot of money for us and it’s not that easy. Money doesn’t just fall down from the sky.” Well, boys, it doesn’t just grow up out of the ground either. Maybe y’all should try crabbing in Alaska or something.

rail road
Don’t worry, Ghana. We’ll be back.

Links: Naked and Afraid of Sharks Edition

Hope everyone had a great weekend. My personal master-of-the-remote XFE and I certainly did. I suppose you heard that we’re having a heat wave up here in the Northeast, so we did the safe thing, and spent Sunday lying on the couch with a couple of pitchers of watermelon-mint-tequila-aqua-fresca watching the first four episodes of Naked and Afraid. Let me tell you: I was Clothed and Stressed Out. That show is nuts! (Pun: INTENDED)

naked and afraid

While we all ponder why exactly the contestants have to be nude, let’s peruse this bounty of links provided by the Internet, shall we?

  • I’m just so genuinely happy that this exists. And it’s in Alabama, of all places. I present to you, the Prancing Elites.
  • Unfortunately, this Cynthia Rowley gold wetsuit being hawked on Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop is already out of stock. Question: Would a gold wetsuit promoted by Gwynnie make me more or less attractive to sharks?
  • This other wetsuit maker thinks they’ve got something to repel sharks. Not nearly as exciting as the Cynthia Rowley option.
  • Speaking of sharks, Discovery Channel’s new commercial for Shark Week had is pretty damn hilarious.
  • This amazing collection of vintage travel posters from the Boston Public Library will totally keep you busy for a while. With this heat wave, Antarctica is looking pretty good right now.
  • What else looks good? Beer. Any type so long as it’s cold. I just noticed the date on this beer map is kinda old, but I don’t care. There’s no expiration on beer. Well, actually, I think there is. But everyone knows expiration dates are just a suggestion.
  • In case you’re ever stuck in a room with one and don’t know what to say, here’s a list of things Texans like to talk about. Although, I’d argue that everyone likes to complain about how hot it is outside. And George Strait IS a badass. Everyone knows that.
  • Carrying on the Texas theme: 34 Things Austinites Love. 11 and 12 crack me up. I would just combine numbers 10 and 13 and say “floating down a river of queso” is my favorite thing. And I did just wait in line for four hours for Franklin’s brisket about 3 weeks ago, so obviously, that’s spot on.

I think I saw that Austin thong guy in those last two links on Naked and Afraid. He sure looks familiar….

Austin thong dude

Friday Links: Lot’s of Flowing Locks Edition

This week, huh kids? I know. Crazy! More people I know had babies, this time in London. Welcome Connor K!  Some other people I don’t know had babies, also in London. Congrats, Tatum-Dewan-Tatums. I finally finished off the brisket. Busy days, to be sure.

So kick back this weekend, relax, and have a “Manhattan. And kick the vermouth to the side with a pair of steel-toed boots,”  (Anchorman reference there) while perusing these links.

katchadourian-horizontal-gallery

Glamour Women Of The Year Awards 2013 - Red Carpet Arrivals

  • Our Qantas travel buddy (and, I suppose, she’s also known as a British pop singer) Jessie J totally copied my boyfriend and recently shaved her head. (Actually, it appears she did it first. UNLESS, she found out about XFE and then jumped into a time machine back to March in which case, she totally copied my boyfriend’s look. That seems the most likely scenario here.)
  • In honor of XFE and Jessie J’s recent head shavings, let’s share some fun facts about hair, shall we? Russia used to have a beard tax? A shady Chinese producer of soy sauce used the amino acids from hair in his product? Women spend $780 per year on hair products? (uh, easily) I’m disappointed that there weren’t any statistics about curly hair, however.

hair

So, It’s Shark Week.

I can tell by the keyword searches that are bringing folks to thePoeLog that the worldwide Interwebs audience is breathless with anticipation to hear my thoughts on Shark Week.

The keyword searches this week have consistently been shark related (well, except for a very odd and brief divergence into Kate Gosselin territory in which someone on Monday searched for news about Kate Gosselin and visited my site for said information THIRTY-FIVE times. Wouldn’t you figure it out, oh, say, after the first five times?)

Anyway, there have been some pretty funny searches, including “sad shark,” “sharks in Australia,” “sharks killing people,” “shark riding bears,” and my personal favorite: “shark week themed appetizers.” Because, honestly, how can you have a pseudo-self-proclaimed holiday or highly marketed week of themed television programming, and NOT have the appropriate snacks to accompany it?

(I’ve actually put a lot of thought into this and have decided that “shark week themed appetizers” should definitely include lots of red food coloring and ripped off limbs of things, like chicken wings. And those Goldfish crackers. You are welcome, Martha Stewart.)

shutterstock/Iriana Shiyan

Thanks to these shark-related searches, Everybody’s a Comedian When They Get Bit By a Shark and Shark Week is Apparently EVERY Week in Australia have been my most popular and visited posts this week.

So, as you can see, my feelings on sharks are well documented and run the gamut from hated to loathed, with more than a dash of fear thrown in. Why anyone would want to watch hours and hours of sharks attacking things is completely beyond me. I find it quite alarming just how much footage there is.

Y’all know sharks are having a big ol’ laugh at our expense, right? They’ve heard about Shark Week. And they think it’s morbid that we insist on watching what basically amounts to snuff films of our own species, all right there on the so-called Discovery Channel. As this guy put it in a very good Huffington Post article on the popularity of Shark Week:

Newsweek’s Isia Jasiewicz mused more cynically, “It’s a sadistic fascination with the horrific misfortunes of cute surfer boys, friendly marine biologists, and… innocent dolphins.”

The guys at Discovery are going all out. There are a truly alarming number of so called “games” on their website, including Shark Week Bingo, Shark Week Chompdown, Shark Munch, and a feature that lets you “shark yourself.”

No wonder the incidences of shark attacks have been steadily increasing. How are you going to have a healthy dose of fear if the Discovery Channel is going to make sharks all fun and playful??

Not helping.

Then, there are the shows. “Sharkzilla,” “Air Jaws Apocalypse,” and perhaps, (OK, no, definitely) the most terrifying of all: “Adrift: 47 Days With Sharks.” Here’s the description for that gem:

During a routine search and rescue mission over the Pacific in WWII, an American plane crashed into shark-infested waters. This is the inspiring true story of two war heroes — one an Olympian, one a pastor’s son — who managed to survive a record-breaking 47 days at sea in a life raft. They subsisted on only the food they were able to catch from the ocean and the water they were able to collect from the rain, all while fighting off a gang of sharks that were their constant companions. But when they finally did reach land, it was only the beginning of their troubles. What happened to these men is one of the greatest tests of faith, will and endurance of our time.

I might have just chummed my pants. “Gangs of sharks?” No, thank you. The only gangs I roll with are one of the 1700 species of shark-killing parasitic copepods or the two pugnose eels that somehow swim their way into a shark heart and kill it (warning: that last website is pretty gross).

Maybe we can convince Discovery to start having Parasite or Eel Week. I’d watch that.

Or, combine Shark Week with the Olympics. That might be “fun.”