After averaging 2.65 million viewers a week during its first season on Discovery Channel last fall, Jungle Gold is back, having started Season 2 on Aug. 11 (now airing on Sundays). The series chronicles the continuing efforts of former real-estate dealers George Wright and Scott Lomu as they mine for gold in Ghana in an attempt to pay off the over $1 million debt they face in the wake of the real-estate crash.
This season, Scott and George have family money on the line — in the form of an investment from Scott’s father-in-law — and a new colleague, Dave Thomas, as they had back to Ghana looking for enough gold to pay off the debts and secure their families’ futures.
I talked with Scott and George by phone recently about Jungle Gold, a few days after the Season 2 premiere.
What was the viewer reaction following the season premiere of Jungle Gold?
Scott Lomu: Because we’ve moved from Friday to Sunday it seems like our audience has gotten a lot younger. There were more tweets during our reruns that Sunday [during a Season 1 marathon] than we got all of last year. I think our audience got younger and that could be because we were advertised heavily during Shark Week. And we’re kind of a fast-paced, explosive show, and I do think we attract a little bit younger audience. The Friday audience is a different audience.
What sort of feedback do you get from viewers about the show?
George Wright: There’s a lot of entrepreneurs out there that get in touch with us. There’s a lot of feedback we get where people are just really inspired by the idea that we have a goal and we’re willing to do whatever it takes to obtain that goal. One of the things that people always ask Scott and I, even before the show came — because we were traveling back and forth to Africa for two years before the show with Discovery Channel even got a green light or was even an idea in either of our minds — people would always say, “What do you do for work?” We’d say, “Gold mining.” They’d say, “What? No way.” We say, “Yeah, we travel back and forth between here and West Africa.” And then they always said the same thing — which I felt there needed to be some deciphering after they’d say it — they’d always say, “I wish I could do that.” And I said, “Well, I don’t think you understand what you’re saying. We work really hard and it’s really dangerous at times.” This was never a get-rich-quick scheme. We knew this was going to be a 5-to-10-year job on our part. What we finally realized after discussing it was people weren’t saying they wanted to literally go to Ghana to do gold mining but rather they wished they could do whatever it is their dream was, whatever it is they hoped to be able to do — be it open up a restaurant, or open up their own salon or become a writer. Whatever it is, that’s what we realized they were saying — “I wish I could do that.” Meaning that dream. I feel that resonates with people on a pretty personal level.
Can you talk about your new colleague Dave Thomas?
George: We met him towards the end of our last little stint out there. He’s a gentleman who’s a land broker. We met him last year. He had some access to some land that Scott and I were needing, if we can come up with the money, so we had to come back home and figure out how were were going to do that. Once we did, we got back in touch with him and he had land available still, and from there it was just kind of the beginning of — I’m not going to say a beautiful relationship, because I’m not a huge fan of Dave. I like him every once in a while (laughs) it’s just really hard to trust him. We’ve always felt like maybe we need to have the production company subtitle him with “truth.” Bottom line, he’s surprised us in a lot of good ways, and he’s surprised us in a lot of bad ways, as you’ll see in the season to come.
What are some of the more hair-raising encounters we’ll see you experience in Season 2?
Scott: Things have been getting pretty tense in Ghana because our show has shed a lot of light on a lot of illegal mining activity happening in Ghana. And George and I think as a direct result of the show there are a lot of government and military raids on illegal mining camps, and there are a lot of robberies happening. What happens when a government shuts down an illegal camp is it basically displaces 80-100 local young men who no longer have a job. So they turn to other means. Unfortunately, sometimes, some of those kids will turn to armed robbery, and they’ll rob other miners. The entire landscape of the mining industry over the last year has changed dramatically, and so we encountered a lot this season. We encountered a lot of stuff that’s never been shown on TV. … There’s a lot of hostility we ran into this year; quite a few from locals, from other miners, and, unfortunately, from higher authorities, and we’ll just leave it at that.
You’re doing this all for your families. What do they think of this?
George: I think this all would have ended a long time ago had our wives and our children, and even extended family and close friends, not been so supportive. It mostly comes down to the bravest of us all — which is our wives — they support us 100 percent. I think it would shock a lot of people to hear how encouraging they are, and how supportive they are. Of course they’re concerned for us, of course they worry about our safety. But they trust us enough to know that there are certain lines that we won’t cross and that we have, believe it or not, enough common sense to stay alive. And it’s worked up to this point. That support’s been really the lifeblood in this entire operation.
How is the gold market lately? Is it worth all the effort and danger you’re going through?
George: When we first originally went to Africa gold was actually lower than it is today, even though it’s taken a hit over this last year. It’s still higher than when we originally went to West Africa to find it. We fell comfortable. Even way back then we kind of had a number saying, “Okay, what happens if it goes this low, are we still good?” It’s still a viable business, and we believe it still will be for many years to come. Obviously, we’d appreciate it if the gold prices were higher, always; however, we’re still feeling very good about the price of gold today.
What is behind the allure of gold mining?
George: There’s something to be said about “gold fever” — about realizing that I dig a hole, I find gold. There’s something to be said about that allure. I feel like it’s actually underappreciated and underdemonstrated in any medium. If you take any human being out to a site where there’s gold, and give him a shovel and they find gold there, they’ll say, “Give me more shovels, give me more people!” Because it’s really quite addictive once you catch it. And I think that’s evidenced as anything by the things that Scott and I have been doing. We’re more committed now than we ever have been. So, gold fever — it’s addictive.
Season 2 of Jungle Gold airs Sundays at 10pm ET/PT on Discovery Channel.
Scott Lomu, George Wright and Dave Thomas of Jungle Gold: Credit Discovery Channel