‘Around the World for Free' relies on kindness
St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MCT) - How nice are people, really? Would they help you get to the bus station? Would they help you get to Bolivia?
Boylan tested the principle by going around the world with no money in his pocket, a trek propelled by social networking sites and documented on the Internet. Now, that journey is a television series, "Around the World for Free," airing at 9 p.m. and midnight EDT Thursdays on WGN cable.
After he and childhood friend Chris Luca won the second edition of CBS' "Amazing Race" in 2002, Boylan wasn't ready to settle down. He worked in television, both in front of and behind the cameras, before he and partners Burton Roberts ("Survivor: Pearl Islands") and Zsolt Luka came up with the "Around the World for Free" concept.
"Most travel shows just aren't authentic," Boylan says. "And the news doesn't really show the reality of the world either, beyond all the bad news in the headlines. We thought, what if we were stripped of everything and forced to rely on the locals? What an amazing perspective on the world that would be."
"Around the World" relied on the reach of such Web sites as Facebook and Twitter to create a network that would carry Boylan and Luka, who traveled with him and carried the camera, from place to place.
"The audience today doesn't just want to watch a show," Boylan says. "They want to be part of the process of creating something, even if it's just voting on 'American Idol.' For our show, the audience was the host. I was just the tool."
"Around the World" launched in September 2007 from midtown Manhattan, with a kickoff on CBS' "Early Show."
"We walked down the street with our backpacks, wondering what to do next, when some construction workers offered us a lift," Boylan says. "Then a woman wrote in on our website that a woman had bought us tickets to her hometown, Florence, S.C. And boom, boom, boom _ it started."
Staying in people's homes, Boylan and Luka traveled through South America and Asia, visiting 16 countries on four continents over 159 days and 45,000 miles. They documented their adventures online, with Luka shooting video, editing it on the fly (once, in a butcher shop with newly slaughtered pigs hanging behind him) and Roberts holding down the fort back home.
Sometimes, the roadblocks were as insignificant as a broken-down bus. But the guys also were threatened by riots in Kenya and wandered lost in the desert in Chile.
"Whenever we were in trouble, our (online) community would jump in and rally all the resources possible," Boylan says. "And food and lodging were never really a problem. Wherever we were, we were always provided for, whether it meant sharing a bowl of rice with monks or having a luxurious dinner with fine wine. All over the world, food is a common bond."
Back home with 300 hours of high-definition video, Boylan, Roberts and Luka still didn't have a TV home for "Around the World for Free."
"We pitched it everywhere beforehand, and networks thought it was a cool idea, but they were afraid to take the risk, so we decided to do it on our own," Boylan says. "But now we've sold it to WGN, and we couldn't be happier that people are going to get to see it on TV."
In the end, the journey proved his theory, Boylan says.
"It took a global effort to keep us moving," he says. "And everywhere, people came through. It was strangers connecting with strangers. The world is good."
AROUND THE WORLD FOR FREE
9 p.m. and midnight EDT Thursdays
Gail Pennington: firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2009, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
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