As much as I love the idea of Around the World for Free
, that's how much I hated the first episode. What's billed as an adventure - two men traveling around the world without a dime in their pockets - has all the intrigue of the E! channel going on spring break.
But "just hold on," says Alex Boylan, one of the travelers. By episode two, and for the 10 hours after that, things get progressively more difficult. He and cameraman Zsolt Luka get stuck in the desert. They end up in the middle of riots in Kenya. They encounter extreme poverty.
So it's not all yummy food and hugs from friendly locals, said Boylan, who traveled through four continents and 16 countries over 159 days from September 2007 through January 2008.
OK, we'll see.
Boylan and Luka made the trek with help from people who followed their journey over the Internet. (Portions of Around the World for Free
were shown in real time on aroundtheworldforfree.com.) Along the way, locals provided places to stay, food, jobs, cash and airline tickets. Sometimes, they just offered advice.
In a telephone interview, Boylan said the trip was more challenging and potentially more dangerous than CBS' Amazing Race
, which he won with his friend Chris Luca in 2002.
Here's what else he said.
NUVO: In the first episode, it looks so easy. Did it get harder as you went along?
Boylan: For sure. It was surprising for us that it wasn't super-challenging leaving. That being said, there are going to be plenty of challenges. But this show is about immersion. It's about the real world out there. We wanted to create the purest travel experience possible by staying with locals every step of the way. That's what's different than anything that's ever been seen on TV. We take you to 16 countries and four continents around the world. From living with monks to staying in South Carolina, you're with the real people.
It was very hard. We were two people on the road for 159 days. The Amazing Race
is on the road for 30. Survivor
is maybe 35. We're stuck in the middle of the desert, we're in the middle of riots in Africa, we walk over the border from Thailand to Cambodia and have to sleep with monks in their huts. So there are very challenging points.
NUVO: So what did you learn along the way?
Boylan: I learned that people are people, no matter where you go on this planet. When we listen to the media, you maybe get a grim feeling about what's out there. We were one Canadian and one American traveling around and no bit of hostility. If anything, it was just huge amounts of passion. Every person in every corner of this planet wanted to show their culture and show their place and what their world was all about.
NUVO: If there had been no Web element, could you have done this?
Boylan: I believe you could. Absolutely. This started when we were shooting a documentary in El Salvador. That's really where the seed of this idea came from. One of the days, the surf wasn't going. We were in a town called La Libertad. We looked up and there were these favelas [shantytowns] on the side of the mountain. We went up there with a camera and said let's see what we can capture.
It was amazing - these people were letting us into their homes and we watched people living in these shantytowns. And the people were welcoming and warm. I think that would happen no matter where you are on the planet. That being said, the Web gave us the exposure. So I think you could do it. It might take you a bit longer, but ... It also gives you the credibility so people might not be as scared or apprehensive to help you out. They know you're not going to do any harm to them.
NUVO: The lesson may be that the Web is the most incredible unifier of people around the world.
Boylan: Absolutely. And what's remarkable is how viral it gets. When we were in tough situations, it was amazing to watch the audience and community come together to find a solution. It wasn't just with our Web site. We had a situation where we were in Kenya when riots broke out and a gentleman from South Africa was asking Skype users to find someone there to tell this story, to help point us in the right direction.
It's so much bigger than we can ever comprehend. Of course, we had our little site where people could write in and communicate with us. But this thing translated and morphed into so many different sites and platforms that people use to communicate.
NUVO: What was the most dangerous encounter you had?
Boylan: We were there when the elections were happening in Kenya. Riots broke out and people were trying to take over the capital. And we were smack in the middle of it. A bomb went off maybe 100 yards from us. We had hardships in Chile when we went through the desert and tried to hitchhike. That proved to be quite difficult.
NUVO: One thing this show does that I don't recall seeing before is that you use unknown bands for the music and you put their credits up while their songs are playing.
Boylan: We wanted to use real artists. And not only independent artists here in America, but we actually find people on the road and we feature their music. Most of the artists we went to and said, "We're looking for great new talent," and we worked a deal out where we give them credit where credit is due. These are all people that no one had ever heard of. They're independent, non-known artists. We worked out the deal to give them an on-screen credit because we feel they deserve it. Music is a big part of our show, and we want musicians to submit their music.
I think as the future of this property evolves, we'll even see things like going to the Web site afterwards and download the music. We're trying to create a multi-platform, interactive experience for the audience. When you see the second season roll out, we'll even have more of this.
NUVO: Second season? Are you going out again?
Boylan: Wouldn't be me. But we'll probably get the audience involved in this and have them be a part of the casting process. But yeah, we'll be casting someone and looking for a second season, absolutely.