"Where do I really belong?" For host Matt Gross, who writes the "Frugal Traveler" column for the New York Times, it's a question that's dogged him most of his life, prompting endless wanderings—from rural Wisconsin to urban Vietnam—in search of possible answers. And along the way, he's discovered he's not the only one who's faced that question—and come up with an exotic solution.
From small-town America to the foothills of the Himalayas, Gross has found eccentric characters who've given up any semblance of a “normal” life to pursue their passions, whether halfway across the globe or in their own backyards. Each episode of Strangers in Strange Lands will introduce us to two people who are living vastly different but equally extraordinary lives in one locale—like the Orthodox rabbi ministering to Jews in Cancun and, in nearby Mérida, the famous novelist's granddaughter luxuriating in a palace. In the South Pacific is a young woman sailing alone in search of serious surf breaks, and in the mountains of Darjeeling, India, an imperious mystic lords over a stories tea estate. Who are these people and how did they choose their paths? What are their lives really like? And is this the kind of existence that might convince Matt Gross—a cheerful, adventurous, open-minded 35-year-old who's ever restless—he's found his true, ultimate place in the world?
Beyond the exotic locales, it's the interaction between host and subject that makes Strangers in Strange Lands unique. As each episode progresses, we will see the bonds of friendship take shape, a process that leads us deeper and deeper into these strange lands. In fact, this is Gross's specialty—as the New York Times's Frugal Traveler, he's become an expert at making fast friends in random places, and he knows firsthand how personal connections are key not only to finding unexplored corners of the world but to making those journeys meaningful.
At the same time, Strangers in Strange Lands doesn't stint on the classic, visceral pleasures of travel television. Matt’s new friends will introduce him to their corners of the world in every way imaginable, be it kayaking through picturesque corners of Patagonia to photograph wildlife, or driving through rural Malaysia in search of the perfect bowl of noodles. Each episode will be full of the kinds of adventures we each long to live out—a longing that some of us, no doubt, will choose to make a reality.
(Incidentally, although Matt writes for the Times, this project is utterly unconnected to the paper.)
We're now getting ready to shoot a 10-minute promo reel—a "sizzle reel," in the hideous industry parlance—and are seeking funds to cover an early-June trip to Costa Rica, which will focus on two "Strangers": a professional gambler and a woman running a gossip news agency from a tiny beach town. The money we're hoping to raise—$2,500—will cover airfare, equipment rental, and travel and lodging costs for three people, Matt Gross, producer Mariah Wilson, and director of photography Justin Du Bose.
What will we do with this sizzle reel once it's edited (by our executive producer, Misty Tosh)? That's when we'll start sending it out to cable networks, who no doubt will jump at the chance to snap up the show and fund it fully. (Fingers crossed!) But until then, we need Kickstarter's help to get ourselves going.
What will Kickstarter users get out of this? A chance to help put real travel on American TV. This won't be one of those glossy, polished shows that shies away from the insanity and difficulty of foreign travel. Rather, it'll embrace the challenges, and show them to be not just tough and inevitable but also liberating and inspiring. If you care about travel, this will be a series for you.
- (23 days)