Jungle Gold: TV Review

Jungle Gold - Discovery Channel Show - H 2012
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Discovery's second gold-related series hits pay dirt once again.

Though "Jungle Gold" is a good companion series to "Gold Rush," the two could not be more different in their portrayal of fortune hunting.

After the success of the original gold-mining series Gold Rush (whose third season premiere intros into Jungle Gold), Discovery has taken its fortune hunting in a new direction, tagging along with two Utah men (George and Scott) who have gone to the dense jungles of Ghana to try and strike it rich during Ghana's current gold rush.  

More happens in the premiere of Jungle Gold than on some entire docuseries, and while things are sure to settle down once the two men get their site set up (most of the first episode was dedicated to those issues) so far the series is exceptionally fast-paced with a real sense of unpredictability and high stakes. George and Scott made a fortune as business partners during the most recent real estate boom, but either greatly mismanaged their money or lived far beyond their means, because since the crash they have both amassed debts of over $1 million between them. The men, feeling desperate, believe that the only way for them to come out of their financial hole is to strike it rich, and set their eyes on gold-rich Ghana as the answer.  

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In Gold Rush, three crews battle the harsh Alaskan climate and the wilds of the Klondike, but in the end they are still in their own country.  In Jungle Gold, George and Scott seem out of their depth as they come up against not only dangerous jungle conditions during the Ghanian rainy season, but also an often desperate local populace and, in an unexpected villainous turn, the Chinese. In fact, our introduction to the men's claim and their first day setting it up is discovering that the Chinese have stolen their site and there's nothing that can be done -- the Chinese are armed, the men and villagers are not. The village chief basically shrugs and says "they will kill you if you try to take it back."

Several times during the premiere, Scott (who is cautious and level-headed whereas George tends to react more quickly with anger) tells the camera crew to hide their cameras or turn them off completely for safety. When the men, late in the episode, become extremely desperate for cash since they haven't been able to start mining yet (on a new Chinese-free site, although a bullet whizzing past them on its border reminds them they are still surrounded by Chinese miners), they decide to "flip" a piece of gold that they will pay cash for in a village and sell in town -- typically a very risky practice reminiscent somewhat of a drug buy.  During these interactions there are hidden cameras that track the action (with blurred-out faces), giving a further intensity to the already sketchy proceedings.

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George and Scott are not as instantly likable as some of the cast members of Gold Rush, feeling quite a bit at times like just hustlers. The pattern of exploitation of African natural resources by outsiders also makes for an uncomfortable setting, and when George refuses to pay a toll on a bridge in a Ghanian village because they had built a small bridge themselves and wanted payment for it, his guide Victor tells him that they just want appreciation for their work and "if you're going to be arrogant about it, they will be even more arrogant." Of course, George is naturally on edge since from the moment he and Scott landed they have basically been shaken down or the victims of corruption and the threat of violence (everywhere there are machetes and guns).

Jungle Gold is much more intense a series than Gold Rush, and extremely different in not only its themes but seemingly in the nature of the work itself. Having only seen the first episode I can't speak to further ideas about the crew or the machinery that will be used once they open up their claim, but in flashback scenes to a year ago when the man first scoped the area, things seemed a literal world away from mining in the Klondike. Whereas the men of Gold Rush have big dreams of profit, Scott and George are hoping to just break even, with extreme stressors coming from every side (their families, the investor, the locals and themselves). And while George and Scott may have risked everything without the guarantee of reward, fans of Gold Rush as well as those who enjoy adventure series will find Jungle Gold a sure bet.