Four top shows to punch your ticket in DStv’s adventurous August

Ed Stafford, Simon Reeve, Tony Robinson and Gordon Ramsay are going further, faster, harder and weirder in pursuit of adventure

Adventurer Ed Stafford believes that for most of us, getting through 2020 with our heads up will require the same qualities that it takes him to survive his extreme adventures as an explorer. “I think lockdown and dealing with Coronavirus is very much like being thrown into a survival show. Suddenly there are new parameters and rules, suddenly you have to adapt to overcome new difficulties. I think being resourceful, resilient and optimistic are traits that serve me well when I’m racing through remote parts of the world, but they are also the things that make you pro-active and a positive person to be locked down with during a pandemic. It’s more relevant than ever," he suggests.

Happily, DStv’s August slate brings us four fantastic shows that we can use to enjoy a bit more of a scenic adventure while we take notes and remind ourselves of those survival tactics. Ed is taking us around China in Ed Stafford: First Man Out, while Simon Reeve’s Sacred Rivers will take us down the Yangtze, Ganges and Nile rivers. Gordon Ramsay is back with a new season of Uncharted food adventures, which includes a stop in KwaZulu-Natal, and Sir Tony Robinson is punching our ticket for more spectacular train adventures, during which he’ll get licked by wolves and lose his trousers.

If it leaves longing for a little taste of adventure yourself, explorer Simon Reeves recommends starting in your own backyard – now that lockdown level 3 allows for leisure travel within your province in South Africa. “You can have exciting and memorable experiences close to home. I am rather taken by the idea that you take a glass, upturn it on a map of your area then draw a ring around the rim. Then explore that circle so you know it like the back of your hand. It's all too easy to travel to the other side of Earth and not know your home area,” he says.


Ed Stafford: First Man Out

In each episode of First Man Out, survivalist and adventurer Ed Stafford pits himself against a different fellow adventurer as they race across some of China’s most inhospitable landscapes. They’ll need to endure everything that the environments throw at them and depend on what they can forage for survival. “Everything was shot in China. It was such a privilege to get access to some really remote areas of China with extraordinary variety – high-altitude swamps and deserts, snow-capped mountain ridges and vast subterranean cave systems. It’s such a huge country and there was no shortage of space,” says Ed.

Coming up in August, Ed will challenge New Zealander Josh James “The Kiwi Bushman” (Kings Of The Wild) to survive a race through the Three Parallel Rivers plateau of Yunnan Province. Ex-PSYOPS Marine soldier and real-life ninja Hakim Isler (from Naked And Afraid and Kicking & Screaming) will battle Ed through the Zoige Marshes of Sichuan Province, and former French Foreign Legion desert specialist Xinlei Wu will be right at home as he challenges Ed to take on the towering sand dunes and ankle-breaking rock-valley areas of the Aksai Desert of north-west China. Ed will also be taking on 2 other Naked And Afraid stars later in the season: stuntwoman Ky Furneaux and boat captain Matt Wright (for a special coastal episode).

“To me, these challenges make me grow as a person – I’m often humbled by not having all the answers to a certain problem and I think it's having to think outside of the box and come up with new solutions that are critical to this being an amazing tool for personal growth,” says Ed. He reveals that he and his competitor aren’t exactly alone. There is – and always should be – a backup plan. “Behind the scenes, there is a fantastic team that makes sure that if something happens to me, a risk assessment and an evacuation plan are ready. Because of this, we can take more risks and produce an exciting programme.”

It wasn’t just the competing survivalists who had to stay safe – the camera crew and production team were also braving the elements. “The high-altitude episode shot against Ky Furneaux was physically the hardest episode,” says Ed. “There was a climb of about 700m vertically and after about 100m, the drone operator had to turn back. We went to Plan B, which was for the director of photography (DoP) to fly the drone. But as we reached the top, the DoP showed symptoms of pulmonary oedema and was escorted off the mountain. In order to get aerial footage of the beginning of the race, I had to launch the drone myself as I was the only other qualified drone operator!”

Watch Ed Stafford: First Man Out S2 on Wednesdays at 20:00 on Discovery Channel (DStv 121). 


Simon Reeve’s Sacred Rivers

Simon Reeve combines an exploration into history, travel and adventure as he takes us on a trip through 3 of the world’s most significant rivers: the Nile, Yangtze and Ganges. “It is a journey that encompasses some of the most extraordinary sights of human civilisation along the way. The big surprise about these rivers for me, which is obvious when you think about it but you really don't fully appreciate it until you see it, is just how central they've been to the existence of human civilisation, the development of human civilisation, the survival of human civilisation in each of these areas. They are life givers,” says Simon.

Simon found that following the course of these rivers did wonders for shaping his adventure. “There was a real sense of progression because you're following a river from its source and eventually you end at the sea. There's a clear conclusion. So often, people go to India and pop around for a few days or stay at a holiday resort. That's not memorable. What's memorable is when you go on an adventure; following a river delivers that in buckets.”

“The Yangtze river takes you through the centre of Chinese civilisation. In the far west of China, near the city of Lijiang, there is a bend in the river. The river is flowing south out of China, essentially, and then by a quirk of geology, it hits some hard limestone mountains that it hasn't been able to erode over hundreds of thousands of years – and so it does an abrupt turn and flows back across China. In doing so, it brings life to the country,” Simon says. “The Nakhi people, one of China's ethnic groups, worship the river in a very direct sense. We were even told that the mother of a person we met would never allow anyone to throw a stone into the river because she thought it would hurt the river's feelings. Many people are very closely linked to the river.”

Along the way, Simon will meet fascinating people who make their living on the water, including an “untouchable” family in Varanasi in India, who have made their fortune while in charge of the cremation platforms. “It is pretty extraordinary. Beautiful, ancient, dirty, joyous, upsetting – the intensity of life in India is taken up to level 11. We were just filming the cremation area on the river earlier, they were constantly bringing new bodies along, limbs were falling off as the bodies were burned. It's gruesome, but incredible,” he reveals.

Watch Simon Reeve’s Sacred Rivers S1 from Monday, 10 August at 20:00 on BBC Earth (DStv 184).


Around The World By Train With Tony Robinson

Anyone looking for a bit more of a sedate adventure should give Sir Tony’s (Blackadder’s Baldrick) epic railway journeys a try. He’s going off the beaten track and he’ll be hopping off the rails to explore in between his stops. Along the way, Tony will chat to extraordinary people like French cowboys and Mexican wrestlers, Argentine tango dancers and American Hip-Hop clowns, and he’ll get his mouth licked by wolves in the Arctic circle.

Tony’s rail journeys will even take him to Machu Picchu in South America – the fulfilment of a life-long dream that has him welling up with emotion. “I’ve spent 20 years doing archaeology and I suppose Machu Picchu is like what the pyramids were for the archaeologists in the late 19th century. There is something so profound, so big, so well made, so historic about it. It’s always been a dream place for me, so it was a pinch-me moment, for sure,” he says.

It’s a journey of extremes, as Tony discovered aboard Tren a las Nubes – Train To The Clouds – which travels from Salta in Argentina at the foothill of the Andes (around 1,000m above sea level) to La Puna, Chile, in the Andes mountains (4,220m above sea level). It took his breath away, quite literally. He needed to visit the train’s medical carriage for a dose of oxygen thanks to the sudden change in elevation. “At the end of the day, we’re not used to suddenly going up to high altitudes. When people climb Everest, they do it a little bit at a time,” he explains.

And among all the exotic adventures, Tony suffered some of the more mundane pains of rail journeys – like getting stuck inside a train toilet, an incident that he’ll be including in the show. “I must have been in there for a quarter of an hour, and none of the crew and the producer and the director realised I was missing and tried to find me. The noise of the train going over the tracks was so loud that nobody could hear me hammering,” he reveals. Eventually he managed to attract the attention of a passing guard, who arranged to have the toilet door taken off its hinges. We’ll also see Tony battle an obstinate pair of trousers that were on a determined downward journey while he was helping rangers drive some elk out of town during his journey aboard The Rocky Mountaineer train, which took him through the Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada.

Watch Around The World By Train With Tony Robinson S2 Thursdays at 19:00 on BBC Earth (DStv 184).


Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted

Gordon Ramsay is leaving his own kitchen – and other people’s horrible restaurants – behind for a new series of adventures that’ll see him cooking in the great outdoors, and learning all about local dishes from the top masters of indigenous cooking in the countries he visits – including South Africa’s Zola Nene.

If you thought making a dinner reservation by phone was a bit of a nightmare, wait ’til you see Gordon hike, helicopter, swim and climb in pursuit of a good meal. In South Africa, we’ll also see Gordon having to run in the opposite direction from his food as he’s chased by rhinos and has to escape 2 different hippo encounters. One particularly angry hippo sent both Zola and Gordon bolting for the horizon when it charged their lakeside cooking station. This season’s journey will also take in the jungles of Guyana and Tasmania, Louisiana's Cajun swamps, Norway's fjords, the mountains of South India and the Indonesian Island of Sumatra.

“What we found from the first season is Gordon never said no, and he wants more, more, more, so we really focused on upping the ante with the adventure component to it,” says executive producer Jon Kroll. “The more crazy ingredients that are pushed out over the edge of cliffs or that you have to rappel in with a helicopter to get to, we just looked for more of that kind of thing. Just like with the first season, there was nothing he wouldn't do. The most enjoyable thing for me was in Indonesia when he participates in this tradition of bull racing in a rice paddy. He was just like a crazy Westerner doing it – they didn't know who Gordon Ramsay was. The anonymity of it was really fun.”

It’s not all cuckoo capers, though. “We try to get more of the food and cultural foundations discovered. We’re digging deeper because every country has their heritage and sometimes it can get lost in translation. So, I think it’s becoming more foodie-oriented than it was in the first season,” says Gordon.

Watch Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted S2 from Wednesday, 26 August at 21:00 on National Geographic (DStv 181). And binge S1 on Sunday, 23 August from 15:46.

Also watch…

  • Alaska Extreme S1 on Saturdays at 19:00 on Curiosity Stream (DStv 185). This series showcases people living in one of the world’s most extreme environments, where every day is an adventure – particularly for bush pilots, who provide one of the only ways of getting around remote areas and must be able to land on anything from mountainsides to boulder fields and glaciers.
  • Dis Hoe Ons Jol S1 on Thursdays at 21:00 on kykNET (DStv 144). Jack Parow and TV producer Hardus van Deventer are roughing it around the Cape Peninsula in preparation for their motorbike tour around South Africa as soon as the travel ban lifts.
  • Leef Jou Reis S8 on Saturdays at 19:30 on kykNET (DStv 144) or on Catch Up. Adventures stay local in August as the team explores South Africa’s first official nude beach, Mpenjati in KZN; the world’s smallest desert in Port Edward’s Red Desert Nature Reserve; and visits a distillery that’s combining coffee and gin for a drink that’ll really straighten your socks.
  • Voetspore: Indië S10 on Sundays at 20:00 on kykNET (DStv 144). This August, the team’s motorbike journey takes them through a hair-raising series of hairpin bends in the Kolli Hills, and from Pondicherry, to Chennai and Madras, home of the Royal Enfield motorbikes. After that, they’re fuelling up for the 800-year-old Sun Temple of Konark and an encounter with the endangered Irrawaddy freshwater dolphins. And the end of August will see them having a nice cuppa in Darjeeling before hitting the difficult road to Sandakphu in Nepal and a view of Mount Everest.
  • Bear Grylls: Man vs Everest special episode on Monday, 17 August at 15:00 on Discovery (DStv 121). Bear, who’s successfully climbed Everest himself, presents stories and footage about some of the greatest ever attempts and achievements on the mountain.
  • Expedition Unknown S4 on Saturday, 22 August on Discovery (DStv 121) from 10:50 (assorted episodes) and S5 on Sunday, 23 August from 10:50-16:40 (assorted episodes). Adventurer and archaeologist Josh Gates investigates unsolved mysteries around the world. Expect tales of lost treasures and civilisations, and mysterious events from myth and legend.
  • Legends Of The Lost With Megan Fox on Saturday, 22 August from 16:40 (episodes 1 & 2) and Sunday, 23 August Discovery (DStv 121) from 16:40 (episodes 3 & 4). Actress Megan travels around the world talking to local experts, historians and archaeologists about stories on the border of myth and reality – like the warriors of Troy, female Viking warriors and the Amazons, exploring the uses of Stonehenge and one lost American civilisation. Like Rob Riggle Global Investigator, this is a “strictly for entertainment” adventure series.
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