TV Review: Expedition Africa: Stanley & Livingstone

Hey there…

In the 1800s, explorers were the celebrities of their day. Dr. David Livingstone was one of those celebrities, exploring the interior of Africa in search of the headwaters of the Nile River. Along the way, he was the first European to see the splendors of Victoria Falls, he lost an arm during a lion attack, and disappeared during the Nile expedition around 1870.

Enter Henry Stanley of the New York Herald who was sent to find him and eventually succeeded, greeting the Dr. with the immortal line “Dr. Livingstone I presume” on November 10, 1871. Unfortunately, Livingstone died two years later.

Now in 2009, a group of adventurous souls will brave the African wilderness to retrace Stanley’s footsteps from Zanzibar to the village of Ujiji on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania with a compass, basic maps, skills, and the will to succeed. Expedition Africa: Stanley & Livingstone documents the trials of their 970 mile journey across swamps, mountains, salt flats, and a whole lot more.

At the core of the expedition is Pasquale Scaturro, Mireya Mayor, Benedict Allen, and Kevin Sites. Together they have an amazing array of skills from leading expeditions up Mt. Everest to reporting on the disappearing species of Madagascar, from surviving 1000-mile treks across deserts to reporting from the front lines. Each has a unique perspective on what it means to be part of this historic expedition, but their personalities may pull them apart far too quickly to succeed.

Scaturro has been exploring the planet for more than 25 years. In 2001, he led blind climber Erik Weihenmayer to the summit of Mt. Everest as he led the National Federation of the Blind 2001 Everest Expedition. Time magazine called it one of the most successful Mt. Everest expeditions in history. He’s also an experienced river guide, having led multiple trips on world-class rivers in South America and Africa.


For the last 10 years, Mayor, a Ph.D. in anthropology, has been reporting on wildlife and habitat issues for National Geographic Television and exploring the world. She has dealt with remote jungles with poisonous snakes, gone diving with great white sharks, been charged by gorillas and chased by elephants.

Allen has been touring some of the world’s most inhospitable places, writing about it, and been depicted in no less than 6 major BBC TV series. Where Scaturro has been leading expeditions, Allen has been immersing himself in locations around the world and surviving 1,000-mile walks, alone except for his camels, across the Gobi Desert.

And finally, Sites is no stranger to danger either. He’s spent the last 7 years covering global war and disaster as a multimedia journalist for several national networks. As a solo journalist (or “SoJo”), he brings his tools with him to record, write, edit, and transmit his reports from wherever he is. He’s also a certified EMT.

So to say this team has “mad skills” would be an understatement. Each of them possesses amazing knowledge and experience in a number of fronts. And it will be very interesting to see who survives the journey when the series ends.

Produced by Mark Burnett, who has created hits like Survivor (CBS), The Apprentice (NBC), Rock Star (CBS) and Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader (FOX), Burnett knows how to make successful television. And for me, this series plays a bit like Survivor on steroids, played by professionals.

From the very first episode, the team is challenged not only by the elements and the sheer scope of the journey, but by personality conflicts within the team. And from that first meeting, you can see that Pasquale and Benedict will be butting heads with very different styles of expeditions under their belt. What’s amazing is that each member has something to contribute – but it becomes a question of who’s willing to listen before something bad happens.

The goal is to move 970 miles in 30 days. Will they make it? Who will survive the journey? Tune in to find out.

Expedition Africa begins on May 31, 2009 at 10pm EST on the HISTORY channel. If you’re a fan of Survivor, this is one amazing trip to follow. Be sure to check it out.


p.s. Also check out the Expedition Pack contest!!

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  1. Ok, Enough is enough! While certain charactors have redeeming qualities, the combination of these four is toxic! Talk about overblown egos…I’m a survivalist, I’m a primate expert, I’m a journalist, I’m a adventurer, I’m Borrrrring, Borrring, Borrring. This series is almost as bad as “I’m a celebrity, get me out of here!” By the way, Stanley was a racist who beat his porters and treated them like slaves. Why is he being glorified! Mark Burnett was misguided on this one!

  2. @Dark African – I find the series fascinating from the outside in, though it definitely does have its issues. The battles between Pasquale and the survivalist and between the primate expert and the journalist do start to get a bit old after a while. But the trials and tribulations of travel across the African continent is still amazing to me, so I will most likely continue to watch. Thanks for the comment!

  3. This show is so “fake” and unbelievable.

    After supposedly walking through swamps and jungles and searing heat, their clothes look clean and neatly pressed! After climbing mountains and going through dusty trails and dense jungles, there is no sweat, no mud, no rips on their clothes!

    Please let me know the manufacturer of their apparel so I can buy it.

  4. Hey Vendee, try ExOffico. They make clothes that will do just that. You’re an idiot who’s clearly never been outside. Hike much? I think not.

  5. This show is fun to watch for the group dynamics but it presents a huge amount of misinformation or leaves out information that could provide accurate context. One example: the Uluguru Mts section was presented as being fairly remote and arduous; it’s not. What wasn’t mentioned is that a good sized modern town (Morogoro)on a main highway sits right under the mountains, and that the Ulugurus are heavily populated and mostly covered with agriculture (as opposed to the nearby Udzungwas or the remote Livingstone Mts, which are both much harder to deal with). Regular tourists do the Uluguru mountains often and student groups hike it regularly.
    This isn’t an isolated incident. I would think the History Channel would want to do a little better.

  6. @holapaul – I think the object was to trace Stanley’s journey to find Livingston as closely as possible with changes to the modern world. So even though the highways and towns/cities may be there, they may have deliberately made the route go through the less populated areas. But that’s the difference between a (at least somewhat) historically-based expedition of this nature vs. a travelogue that might appear on the Travel channel. That said, I’m sure there’s some fudging done here and there to simplify things for viewers. Thanks for the unique perspective. It definitely makes me wonder about the populated areas then vs. now and how travel has changed.

  7. This show RULES! It is interesting and unique. I love every second of it. I don’t really care what the detractors want to say, it is better than the majority of the scripted stuff on tv these days.

  8. I really enjoyed the trip,but I must add I could not stand Pasquale,the things that that made me keep watching was all the trees,snakes,I just found him to be a bully to the group including the hired help.That is enough, that had to be the most uncomfortable trip of a life time.I have seen Pas on the Mts.and he was the same ugly way.Bless you all for your patients.

    trip for all the people it was his way or no way.

  9. I am blown away that this show has left out the major facts that Livingston was a missionary as well as an explorer that took the message of Christ’s love to the African people, why leave that information out? The whole premise for the show was that he was lost and they sent a reporter to find him.. I think not, I can not believe that the history channel is leaving out so much of the history and basis for the original expedition.. the most amazing part of the Livingston story is that when he died the african paople carried his body across the country taking something like nine months to the ocean where they shipped his body home to London. Just some intresting facts that the show left out.

  10. @Shawna – Like with any documentary, there are choices made as to what to include and what not to include. I would hope that a show like this might cause people to do their own research and discover facts about Livingston’s missionary work and the tales of his body leaving Africa, which are definitely both interesting and would be worth reading more about.

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