The synopsis for Discovery Channel’s Jungle Gold, which kicked off the first of two seasons in 2012, tells you all you need to know about this shitty fucking show. A pair of Mormons who lost their shirts in the collapse of the real estate bubble are seeking an even greater fortune in the rough-and-tumble gold mining frontier of Ghana. The show, during both seasons, chronicles the drama of just how badly two unprepared doofuses can fuck up a small-scale gold mining operation in a poor African country while committing multiple illegal acts and embodying every possibly negative stereotype that makes people throughout the world but especially in developing countries detest the United States.
The first season was a ratings smash hit, featuring uncountable instances of casual exploitation and arrogance committed daily by a pair of clueless Americans brought up to believe that the entire world is their personal play-ground. The climax of the season was when George, a beefy Mormon cowboy, choked out a local farmer who attacked the dig site with a machete. This was played for high drama, and the danger of the steamy Ghana jungle proved to be an irresistible draw for audiences back home.
The second season, which flopped, featured the bumbling prospectors having to flee the country after the Minister of Mining and Natural Resources issued a warrant for their arrest after the first season finally aired in Ghana and he saw how flagrantly they were flouting the law. Illegal small-scale mining in corrupt resource rich countries by foreigners is nothing new - but bringing a Discovery Channel film crew and broadcasting it to the entire world in the name of entertainment and notoriety is perhaps the epitome of idiotic American hubris.
Leaving aside the overall authenticity of the show (there are clearly a few staged moments of manufactured drama and questionable camera cuts), there are still abundant genuine instances of these two tall, broad-shouldered Americans bribing local officials, fighting with villagers, and destroying property in impoverished rural towns with a flagrant sense of entitlement that is simply maddening. They come into Ghana and walk all over it like they own the fucking place. There could not be a more perfect symbolic representation of Western exploitation of resources in countries that have lots of mineral wealth but little else.
For these guys (who truly suck at gold prospecting by the way), Ghana is there merely to have its gold extracted by them to make their fortunes and they don’t give a fuck about anything else. Sure, they pay lip service to sharing some of the profit from their claim with local village heads, and further claim their dig site employed a lot of locals. Sorry. That’s not good enough. That doesn’t give you the right to waltz into another country, stake a claim to a piece of its natural wealth and declare that it is your God-given right as an American just trying to make a buck to take it back home with you. Even worse is that this was then packaged by Discovery and sold to a simpering mass of other Americans who delighted in the danger-by-proxy of these buckaroo adventures in Ghana.
In the second season they enlist the help of a shady local fixer named Dave Thomas. Now it should be obvious that a white guy living in Ghana named after the founder of Wendy’s who runs a local church ministry and claims he can get you a mining concession is not to be trusted. But of course, George and Scott are equipped with the savvy of your typical walnut and immediately enter into a partnership with this guy. The most infuriating thing about these ass-cats is they continually declare that everything they are doing is legal and above-board, because Dave said he would take care of the concession and mining license (which, shockingly, he never actually produced before they are chased out of the country). Now using a shady fixer to bribe local officials to obtain an illegal mining license is not, it should go without saying, legal and above-board. But this is George and Scott we are talking about, so of course we need to say that because they have a fairly pronounced aversion to reality. “It’s just so unfair,” George laments, as a Discovery Channel-funded helicopter whisks them to Accra so that mobs of machete wielding vigilantes don’t hack them to death. “You do everything right and legal and official and you end up getting accused of something like this.”
No George. You know what’s unfair? When people from wealthy Western countries come to Ghana to exploit it. When a pair of Mormon schemers who lost their shirts speculating in real estate get thrown a life-line of cash from their father-in-law and use it to bribe their way into an illegal mining concession so they can steal what rightfully belongs to the people of Ghana. You know what’s unfair? Hundreds of years of colonial exploitation that left society and politics and institutions totally fucked up and vulnerable to continued exploitation by the very same Western people who caused this mess in the first place. And it’s simply blisteringly, astonishingly infuriating and wrong of those people to then claim they are the aggrieved ones, that the situation is somehow unfair to them because their casual, entitled exploitation of a country’s natural resources - for the purposes of making a fucking TV show no less! - was thwarted.
The only fair thing about this show is that it didn’t get picked up for a third season. The most unfair thing? That you guys weren’t arrested and thrown in a jail cell in Accra. That’s not fair.