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.”
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.