At first blush, “Jungle Gold” is just “Gold Rush: Alaska” or “Bering Sea Gold” in a balmier climate. Watch closely, though, and this latest Discovery series about manly men trying to get rich quick takes on a more troubling aspect — casting its intrepid adventurers as modern-day Tarzans, surrounded by amoral, often-threatening people of color. Discovery might very well strike gold with the show — it has a sense of thriller-like urgency, which is well-tailored to the genre — but the whole exercise feels like an imperialistic throwback, while offering further proof all reality-TV that glitters is not, you know.
The premise sounds a trifle fishy, but in the broad strokes hinges on a pair of one-time real-estate kingpins — George Wright and Scott Lomu, both conveniently built like linebackers — who have hit hard financial times, and decide to literally dig themselves out of debt by panning for gold in Ghana. Because they’re in such deep financial holes, they need to earn — cue Dr. Evil laugh — $1 million!
Upon arriving in the West African country, however, they’re immediately greeted by its dark-skinned, strange-sounding inhabitants — including villagers who shake them down for money just to pass through their turf; and heavily armed “Chinese guys” also mining for gold, albeit with little concern about ill-gotten gains.
Wright is more impulsive about, say, confronting shotgun-toting thugs jumping their claim, while Lomu suggests taking their grievance against the Chinese to the local chief. All this, of course, costs them time, as the narrator keeps reminding us, with a skittish investor and struggling families back home to occupy their thoughts and keep the pressure on.
“Jungle Gold” uses every available editing trick to heighten the tension and get the audience rooting for Scott and George, but the approach is so steeped in xenophobia and Great White Hunter short-hand this might as well have been made in the 1930s.
Ultimately, viewers are expected to give a damn whether our made-for-TV heroes actually hit the mother lode and save the day. They very well might, but if the premiere is any indication, those who become emotionally invested in the shiny facade of “Jungle Gold” is on a fool’s errand.