Mark Burnett, executive producer of, among other things SURVIVOR and THE VOICE, has always loved adventure series. His first foray into the adventure reality series world was with 9 seasons of ECO-CHALLENGE, a show that followed trained athletes as they competed around the world in some of the most difficult challenges one can undertake. Tonight on ABC, his latest venture into that adventure world premieres in the form of EXPEDITION IMPOSSIBLE – a competition series that pits 13 teams of 3 against each other as they battle tempers, stereotypes, and the vastly differing Moroccan terrain to become the grand prize winners of $50,000 cash per teammate and a brand new Ford Explorer.
To talk about his fun summer series, starting at 9/8c PM tonight, Mark spent some time with us earlier this week discussing the idea for this show, what he compares it to, and why this is the kind of TV people should be watching and relating to!
I’m excited to talk to you; I’ve been a fan for years and EXPEDITION IMPOSSIBLE is no different!
You’ve had a chance to see the premiere episode?
I have, it’s already found a place on the DVR!
Oh thank you so much! It’s great to see very ordinary people just trying things that are so way beyond what you’d expect, having a real adventure.
Absolutely! Every turn of the episode, I found myself saying “Nope, I would never be able to do that!” and these people are just like me, so maybe I could if I actually tried it!
By the way, that’s the entire point of what we really want to show you. We’re really hoping A) it’s great television and B) people now realize, you know, I thought these things were just for these crazy mountaineering athletes, and as a fact, regular people can try these things, and I’m so glad you said that!
For people that maybe don’t know that it’s coming, or what this show is – talk a little bit about EXPEDITION IMPOSSIBLE. What is it, why should people tune in?
EXPEDITION IMPOSSIBLE is a race for teams of ordinary Americans, racing across Morocco on horse, camel, on sailing boats, on rafts, mountaineering, and it’s all Indiana Jones style. It’s 10 stages across Morocco, and it’s teamwork where if any one of the team of three quits, the entire team is disqualified. You may want each day to give up yourself, but if you gave up, you’d be sending your whole team out of the race. So there’s some peer pressure there. It’s beautiful terrain. It really is, I think, stepping back in time. It’s magical, and it’s very Indiana Jones.
I think a show like this is immediately going to draw comparisons to other things that we’ve seen. Along those lines, how is it similar to shows that we’ve seen and how is it different?
On network TV, I don’t think you’ve ever seen these ordinary people having to ride untrained camels across the Sahara desert or rappel down 300 ft cliffs. In the second episode, each will be given an Arabian stallion, again, very Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. They have to ride those stallions and then you know, climb a mountain. I don’t think anyone has done this sort of thing with ordinary people. I had previously, for nine seasons, produced a race called ECO CHALLENGE, which was for extreme athletes, but this is for very ordinary people, and while it’s something that requires them to dig deep in their character, it’s very doable. It’s really more about can they get along with each other, because that’s what really would defeat people. The arguing, the disagreements would reduce their energy. It’s not really how hard the camels or the mountains are. It’s the other people on your team. That’s what I think is the underlying dramatic part of EXPEDITION IMPOSSIBLE.
For this show specifically, and for other shows in general – where do you get the inspiration and know that this is the show that you want to produce and be a part of?
I’ve always really liked adventure. I feel if I’d have been born 100 years ago, I probably would have been an explorer of some kind. These are things I really like to do. I’m drawn to adventure. I’m especially drawn to encouraging who would ordinarily of done things like this to do it. And that’s what EXPEDITION IMPOSSIBLE is. EXPEDITION IMPOSSIBLE is great family entertainment. I’ve tried to keep that within all my shows, and it’s a really diverse cast of ordinary Americans. Between firefighters, cops, Kansas girls where one of them is a high school student. As you saw, there’s a grandpa, his son, and the granddaughter. A team of girls, called Latin Persuasion, who are Puerto Rican from the Bronx. It’s really ordinary people, and that’s what inspires me. I love, personally, being around and making adventure programming, which as you’ve seen between ECO CHALLENGE, SURVIVOR, and now EXPEDITION IMPOSSIBLE.
Talk a little bit about the casting. You mentioned the various teams; with a show like this, you don’t need to manufacture the drama. The terrain, the interaction between people, they kind of do that themselves. How much of an idea of what you’ll see on camera from the people goes into the casting process? Is it a general feel that you like a person, and they may do great on the show?
It’s a great question. It’s hard for me to predict who will do well, so what I decided to make sure is that we wouldn’t put anyone in there who was an expert at crossing remote terrain. The only person really who had some experience like that is our blind competitor and his guide, but because he’s blind, it really evens it up. He had actually climbed some big mountains before. Everyone else was very, very ordinary. A bunch of fisherman from Gloucester, Mass. They’re tough guys, but they’re used to being on big waves, not walking across the desert. It was really about how you could identify the team. The team of fisherman; the team of cops. The firefighters, the students. All of these different characters are what’s important to me. To make sure that we were racially diverse, and that we were geographically diverse, so it was truly a cross-section of America. That’s the way I approached the casting.
Why do you think that this is a show that people will relate to?
I think it’s a really perfect summer series. Which is really about the characters. The back drop is this great, epic, Indiana Jones adventure, but what you’re really watching are these great characters, and these great teams who are trying to get to the finish line. I think it’s great summer fun.
For a show like this, do you have a plan for when we get a Season 2? What other countries you want to explore – are ideas ruminating for that right now?
You know, I like to think about that. As you know, ECO CHALLENGE changed countries every year, and SURVIVOR has changed countries almost every year, so I’ve spent a lot of time around the world, looking at the right kind of terrain. We chose Morocco by the way, because despite there being the Sahara desert, there are also these incredible mountains. And you’ll see in episode 4, when they have to cross the Atlas Mountains, there’s a major snow storm, and they’re in this deep snow, and it’s something you really wouldn’t expect, right, in North Africa, there’d be heavy snow. It really gives great diversity with the camels, and the rivers that they can paddle down. I’m looking for the right kind of diversity. Clearly, Patagonia in southern Argentina is an amazing place that this could work in. You know? Ethiopia is some place where I think could work well.
EXPEDITION IMPOSSIBLE premieres on ABC at 9/8c. Will you be watching?