Around the world in 80 hours of TV


Photo Credit: alvaro tapia hidalgo via Compfight cc


Day 5, Hour 77: 9:53 pm.

Twenty-three hotel floors above the gritty neon splendor of downtown Las Vegas, I am nearing the end of a bewildering travel experiment: For the past five days, I have been watching the Travel Channel for the entirety of my waking hours, without ever changing the station or (save a few key occasions) leaving my hotel room.

My goal has been to create an intensive, vicarious televisual adventure — to glean five days’ worth of travel experiences from the glowing parameters of a single TV set and figure out what the Travel Channel might be saying about how one should see the world.

In the 77 hours since my experiment began, I have witnessed many wonders. I have, for example, seen three grown men shriek like schoolgirls while locked overnight inside a dubiously haunted English inn. I have learned that ants in the Ecuadorian Amazon taste like lemons, that Gulf Coast raccoons taste like turkey, and that Andean guinea pigs taste like roast pork shoulder. I have learned that nachos are not authentic Mexican food, and that the Japanese have invented a toilet that can both wash and blow-dry your ass. I have seen two separate shows that sing the praises of deep-fried Twinkies, and I’ve heard the phrase “like a party in your mouth” used to describe the culinary merits of three separate food products. I have seen a restaurant full of Americans cheer like hockey fans while watching two guys devour a 10-pound pizza in less than an hour.

I have also watched commercials — more than 2000 of them in the course of five days. According to the tally marks in my notebook, I have been invited to visit Jamaica 16 times, been warned 51 times that my existing health insurance might not be adequate for my retirement needs, and thrice been asked to ponder how Cheez-It is able to bake so much cheesy goodness into such small bites.

I have left my hotel three times in the past five days, and been nearly robbed once.

In exactly 7 minutes (once the guy who ate the 10-pound pizza finishes eating a 4.5-pound steak), my TV marathon will culminate with two back-to-back episodes of a show called America’s Worst Driver, which — like many shows on the Travel Channel — doesn’t appear to be about travel.

Brandishing my notebook, I stare at the screen with a fatigued sense of resolve and ponder the events that brought me to this moment.

Read the rest of Rolf’s TV adventures on Gadling

Posted by | Comments (3)  | August 2, 2014
Category: Rolf Potts, Travel Video

3 Responses to “Around the world in 80 hours of TV”

  1. Roger Says:

    What an amazing undertaking, Rolf. Please accept my commiserations for your efforts on this experiment. You have done some pretty unusual things before, but this? Did you feel especially obligated to gather empirical evidence that the Travel Channel is almost totally saturated with worthless fluff and filler? Surely, you were leaning to that conclusion when you started…did this just put undisputable frosting on the cake? Heaven knows that you can get more interesting travel-related shows from your typical PBS station or even Home and Garden TV.

  2. Roger Says:

    Rolf, again I send commiserations, and beg your forgiveness for my somewhat truculent comments above. Those were my first impressions, but after that I went to your much more detailed Gadling article. Readers, please see this. I now understand that you actually—did this experiment. I didn’t read all of your report, faithfully, but enough to get your point. Yes, and I couldn’t agree with you more about most of it. I’m glad that you did have some form of mass media theory preparation before you did this. That is commendable. It comes down to the fact that TV is mostly for show and is woefully shallow, with a few noteworthy exceptions, Tony Bourdain, being one of them. The inconvenient truth is that there aren’t many people doing really good shows about travel, at least not on the Travel Channel. Not the likes of Rick Steve’s, Globe Trekker, Burt Wolf, or Rudy Maxa, or House Hunters International. Television just doesn’t have the patience or the interest to do justice to travel, like noteworthy travel literature, or the best of our history documentaries and films. It’s little wonder that there is so much fluff that is touristy, when the travel industry only wants to sell tickets for short-term gain, in no small part, because we have such paltry amounts of vacation time. Thanks for your experiment. It speaks volumes.

  3. Rolf Potts Says:

    Hey Roger — I agree that the Travel Channel is hardly the best place to watch travel programming, as the Gadling article/experiment showed. Part of the trouble with travel-TV anywhere is that the person in front of the camera isn’t traveling so much as performing travel. I actually wrote an essay that’s a spin-off of the Gadling article — one that goes deeper into my own experiences in front of the camera (as well as film theory); it’s set to appear in the Indiana Review this coming winter.