Back in the mid ’90s, Cliff Simon was best known as shirt-ripping Mr South Africa 1992 and Gregory Mitchel on M-Net soapie Egoli from 1992 to 1997. Twenty-plenty years later, he’s an established Hollywood actor with roles on The Americans (Hans Christian Kemp, S2 in 2011), Nash Bridges (Dirk van der Goes, S1 in 2000) and Stargate SG-1 (Ba’al from 2001 to 2007). And now he is taking on the paranormal and unexplained in his own reality doccie, Uncharted Mysteries.

“This is something I have always wanted to do, right from the start of my acting. About four or five years ago, husband-wife producer team Robin and Laura Keats (reality show Pit Bulls & Parolees – it’s been running for almost 11 seasons) met me while I was working with rescue pit bulls here in LA. Laura approached me to do a dog-rescue kind of show. That never happened. But Robin (later) approached me to a show called Altered States – which was this show’s original title. I’ve got a military background and I want to be outdoors. I loved the idea. Robin has worked on it for four years back and forth. We’d meet once a year and that’s how long it takes. But we’re here now,” Cliff says about the show finally airing.

Mission man

Cliff may be greyer and 57 years old, but he’s still a lean, mean fighting machine. “Back in the day we had conscription in South Africa. I served my (military) time, and you get certain skills and you gain confidence and you become a man overnight and that sets you up for the rest of your life. I was a swimmer and an athlete, combined with my military training it gave me a lot of discipline. When I want to do something, I want to do it and get it done properly.”

That doesn’t mean he was prepared for everything he encountered. “I’d love to tell you all about it, but you need to watch – it’s the North Carolina episode, we had an incident happening at 03:00 in the morning… that was really scary and we had to go – fast!”


No phoney phantoms

The host is adamant about what kind of show he is making with Uncharted Mysteries. “What viewers see and hear is completely real. We’re not going out to debunk myths about legends or make fun of people who believe in ghosts or this monster or that thing. I’m just a guy with certain skills, and I want to get out there and see for myself what’s going on. If we can prove it scientifically or we see a creature, that will be amazing. I want to see an alien. I want to see a sasquatch. But if we don’t, we don’t. We are not going to make up a shadow running across the mountain behind the trees – ‘Oh, that’s a sasquatch.’ We are not that kind of show.”


Elbow grease

Pre-production on Uncharted Mysteries was a four-year endeavour. And even then, Cliff says that more work had to be done. “Robin had all of these stories saved and researched, but once (production partner) Cineflix picked up the show, they came up with a lot of stories and they collaborated with Robin, ‘Let’s do this, let’s do that.’ I think Robin had 26, 27 stories ready to go – that’s like three or four seasons. The other partners and Cineflix have an amazing team of researchers who put in a lot of time to get us these first six episodes.”

While Cliff reveals that he has very little say in the stories that the show is telling, he isn’t complaining – especially when the season starts off in a tropical paradise. “They tell me, ‘You’re going to Hawaii,’ so that’s where I go. I didn’t get to do everything I wanted, like cliff diving, because of insurance purposes, but I have had so much fun with this show. I’m a survivalist at heart, so I was in my element.”


Sights & sounds

Episode 1 became more than just a trip to Hawaii for Cliff to search for the Night Marchers (the spirits of long-dead Hawaiian warriors who’re marching and chanting in the dead of night) – he made something of a spiritual connection. “I met guys like Keli'iokalani Makua, the tattoo priest. The Hawaiian people are just amazing people and spiritual – you feel this close connection to them. Beautiful, calm, mellow guys. Me and Keli'i spoke for hours, he wanted to know about the person I was, to come up with my tattoo. It wasn’t up to me what he put on my body. That was up to him.”

The six-episode season takes Cliff across the US, including south to Louisiana’s Honey Basin in episode 3 to find the Cajun community’s version of the werewolf, the east coast to New Jersey in episode 4 (to search for the horse-headed, bat-winged Jersey Devil) and west to the Mojave Desert in episode 5 (to find the Mojave Sandman – aka Bigfoot). But Louisiana stands out as one of his favourites.

“I met the most amazing people in Louisiana. The swamps are amazing, the people – the Cajuns – are strange but in an amazing, interesting, fantastic way. We were there to search for the Rougarou. It’s a changeling, and I spoke to guys who’ve seen it, interacted with it… some even told me that a family member is the Rougarou!” Just watch, you’ll be… amazed.

Watch S1 from Thursday, 4 June on History Channel (DStv 186) at 20:15 

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