In the reality TV world, the buzz-seeking segment has become as standard as auto-tune on a Kanye track. Try to cut through the noise, i.e. those other 947 reality shows, and turn your program into must-see TV.
Sometimes the buzz works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes, even after a show fails, that moment lingers, like a bad batch of the cajun shrimp and chicken pasta at TGI Fridays. Such is my relationship with “Chasing Mummies,” the late, not-so-great History Channel program centered on longtime Egyptian antiquities minister Zahi Hawass.
So when I heard that Hawass, the blustery archaeologist famous for his outbursts and Indiana Jones hat, was making the rounds, I had to bite. (He was in D.C. this week to promote tourism in Egypt, an industry crushed by the revolution that knocked Hosni Mubarak out of power.) “Chasing Mummies” centered on Hawass and his team of archaeological fellows or actors or both – who knows! – scrambling around ancient sites. The “moment” comes in the second episode as Hawass and his group huddle in a dark chamber within the Great Pyramid of Giza.
“What’s happening, Zoe. What’s happening?” Hawass says, cutting off his lecture about the dangers of humidity on hieroglyphics to turn to the source of anguish.
Zoe cups her mouth with her hand. Is she crying? Yes, definitely tears.
“Look at me, look at me,” says Hawass, growing more urgent.
“My god,” Zoe responds, sounding rather composed for what she has apparently done. “Dr. Hawass, I lost it. And I just went to the bathroom. I’m so sorry. I couldn’t hold it.”
The great archaeologist, the man the New Yorker once referred to as “The Pharaoh,” walks away.
“Please, Dr. Hawass,” she pleads.
“You do not deserve to be working with me,” he says with disgust.
As if that’s not enough, the camera pans to the floor near Zoe and we are treated to what appears to be a puddle. Yes, she has peed in the Great Pyramid! Now that can’t be good for humidity.
Okay, it’s been five years, the show is deader than “Date My Mom,” and Hawass is in the States talking about real issues – tourism and also the need for somebody to protect Middle Eastern museums and historic sites from ISIS – but I can’t resist.
So did Zoe really “lose it?”
“No, that was not true,” Hawass says without a pause.
What do you mean? It was acting?
“Later, I found out when the show was shown and I talked to people, they told me the show was fake,” Hawass says.
But they showed that puddle?
“I found out later it was water,” says Hawass.
Not surprisingly, a History Channel representative declined to comment on Hawass, saying there simply isn’t anybody still at the network from 2010 who could address his claim. Two other producers, Archie Gips and Dennis Anderson, also declined to comment, saying they weren’t at the shoot. And Zoe D’Amato, the adventurer and actress, declined to comment as well, saying that her contract wouldn’t allow her to answer any questions.
Does Hawass regret doing “Chasing Mummies?” Not at all. The show, he says, inspired people all over the world to get excited about archaeology.
“I forgave the director and the History Channel because they were able to bring fans. Even if the show was s—-, it was great,” he said.