Chasing Mummies: yeah, it sure looks like the show is staged

The first thing I wrote in my review of The History Channel's pilot episode of Chasing Mummies was: "It's clear from the jump that this purported documentary series is in fact a reality series in the tradition of Bravo's Flipping Out." I then go on to state about supposed archaeology intern Zoe D'Amato: "If Zoe's not an actress and this show not severely engineered / scripted, I'd both be surprised and deeply curious about how the hell Chasing Mummies could look this level of manipulated and artificial."

the history channel

Well, all appearances are that Zoe D'Amato is indeed an actress and that this supposed show about delving into the mysteries of ancient Egypt is in many, if not most, ways some sort of ill-defined "drama." The "hard" evidence (above and beyond the obvious scripting embedded in the pilot episode itself) comes from Zoe's own website, where we learn that she will be "appearing as an Archeological Fellow in the upcoming History Channel adventure series, 'Chasing Mummies' alongside legendary Egyptologist Dr. Zahi Hawass.

If you then take a further look at Zoe's website, you'll note that the "portfolio" does not include examples of an Archeologist's work, but a model's photos. Zoe's resume then reveals that while she did (apparently) earn a BA in anthropology and art history from McGill University in Montreal, her background is replete with modeling and acting work. Indeed, she's due to make an appearance in HBO's upcoming epic-looking series Boardwalk Empire.

zoe d'amato

I spent some time thinking about how much I "care" about all of the above. In terms of a show like MTV's The Hills, I always assumed it was a loosely scripted drama that's set up to have the veneer an unscripted reality show. I never watched The Hills, but the sense that the show was manipulating its audience in some way (or attempting to) made me vaguely uneasy. Still, because it was a soapy show about kids hooking up and hanging out, it didn't seem like a huge deal.

I think that Chasing Mummies, for what it's worth, needs to be held to a different standard. First, this is The History Channel, not MTV. The expectation is that its programming is about, you know, history and stuff. Not overtly fake actresses traipsing around a cranky Egyptologist somewhere outside Cairo and getting "trapped" under pyramids. That said, if there was a disclaimer that Chasing Mummies is a "wacky dramatic adventure in the tradition of Indiana Jones" or some such, then fine I suppose. Not that I or anyone would be interested in watching, but at least they'd be up front about what the show is.

But sending people on screen who in theory are who we're told they are, but in fact are something significantly different, throws everything we're watching into question. And that drains any interest in the show at all from the perspective of learning something about, you know, history and stuff.

Not cool, History Channel. 

By Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader"

About the author

Eric is the publisher and revered leader of TV Geek Army… at least in his own mind. TV Geek Army is a place for serious TV reviews and news for serious fans of great television. Contact: eric-[at]-tvgeekarmy.com 

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50 Comments
On: Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Samuel said:

Having seen Zahi Hawass M. D'Amato is needed to make seeing him palatable.

On: Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader" said:
She might be needed for your viewing pleasure, but that doesn't make her an Archeological Fellow ;-)
On: Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Marco said:

So long as the content of the show is informative, I don't really care if they tart the show up a bit to make it more visually appealing for those who aren't as excited about archaeology as the rest of us might be. It's TV - they've been tossing in pretty girls to balance out ugly men for years. Why change now?

On: Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader" said:
Wouldn't you agree though that this is a bit different than adding eye candy to a news show to spice up the visuals? That is, if the show is being untruthful about its very nature (who is an actor and who is not, which situations are real and which are staged, etc.) doesn't that throw the facts that are being tossed our way into doubt?

That's why I noted if it's The Hills doing it, I can (sort of) deal with it, but on a show that's supposed to be about historical stuff, I cry foul.
On: Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Twelvecarpileup said:

I agree, the show is terrible. A show about "discovering" tombs in Egypt should not need to manufacture situations and characters. 

 

The argument of "as long as it's informative" is kinda tossed out the window since, the show's argueably made up of fiction. 

On: Tuesday, July 20, 2010
ErnestPayne said:

Time team manages to make it fascinating with Baldrick as host and some of the most shaggy archaeologists I have ever seen. And they do it in 3 days.

On: Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader" said:
Yeah, I agree, and I'd add that with all of the above being said, if the fiction was highly entertaining or compelling, that might shade things a bit... but alas, it didn't work. It felt like an awkward and ill defined reality show with actors intruding upon staged "situations."
On: Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader" said:
The above comment was made in reference to Twelvecarpileup.

Ernest, took me a minute but think you're talking about the BBC show with Tony Robinson?
On: Tuesday, July 20, 2010
some girl said:

sigh. this is definitely timed with the national geographic cleopatra exhibition tour. I am sure they will be at Taposiris Magna with Zawass on the show as well.

On: Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader" said:
If it's anything like that traveling King Tut exhibition tour I will definitely pass ;-)
On: Tuesday, July 20, 2010
jdulesjr said:
watched 19 minutes till it looks like another reality show is the guy real or is he just around to run a sham. what a joke
On: Tuesday, July 20, 2010
g-unit said:

Should have known it was a set up when she showed up by "mistake" instead of some surely less attractive girl who was "supposed" to be there, then immediately ran around all "what's this? a tomb right?" i'm sure there's hudreds of people who are really working on Ph.Ds in this field and would have killed for this kind of opportunity, good job "history" channel on your string of irrelevent shows about logging, trucking, pawning, dumpster diving (i mean "picking"), and aliens.

On: Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Milo Balls said:

Dr. Zahi Hawass, what happenend? Not to long ago I held you in the highest regard, your passion and repect for Egypts cultural heritage always impressed me. And then I saw this. Seriously I can't imagine you don't know this show is staged. "Oh my god I'm lost in a tomb, I really wish this camera man would show me the wsy out. Ya know, instead of just walking in front of me and filming this." Thanks for cheaping egyptology and descrating sacred places, hope it was worth it.

On: Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader" said:
jdulesjr - loved that you clocked your progress on the show and cut it off at exactly the 19 minute mark :-)
On: Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Anonymous said:
Watchig the show was terrible and boring. Hopefully it was scripted because if it wasn't then the archeology was rushed and WRECKLESS. Fame, arrogance, fakeness, and lies don't belong on a History channel show. Just stop.
On: Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Ken said:

I think this is an example of History Channel having to placate to the viewing mainstream. It's a speacialty channel and unfortunately there are not enough of us to make the network as profitable is it probably could be.

It's sad in one way, but at least it's better than 80 new Ghost hunter clones and scads of wrestling and giant monster schlock on SCIFI

 

On: Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Jouda Mann said:

I admit that I've watched an episode or two, and I feel I must ask:

Who REALLY believed that around a sarcophagus that supposedly still had the original mortar on it, indicating that it had been "sealed since antiquity", as Dr Hawas said, one would see a cameraman traipsing around and through the site exactly where, just a few moments later, Dr Hawas would berate a fellow for walking?

Who REALLY believed that in that same burial chamber all of the pottery would be in the exact spot that Dr Hawas put his glorified paintbrush, sweeping away what we are to believe is a couple millennium's worth of sand and dust in just a few seconds, with little apparent care that you would show a real fresh find? 

And lastly, Who else caught that in that same burial chamber, we saw Dr Hawas handling said pottery (miraculously intact, which in reality is an INCREDIBLY rare find) without gloves? On previous shows, all of his fellows have always worn gloves when simply meticulously treating a wooden coffin with a preservative. A coffin which would not have a hand laid on it until it was ready to be removed, was being treated by a fellow wearing gloves. And yet, Here goes Dr Hawas with 4k year old pottery, getting his sweaty and oily hands all over it, turning it around, even using his hand to rather roughly abrade the dust off of it.

Yeah, I don't really think the jusy is out on this one anymore.

On: Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader" said:
G-unit - I found Zoe showing up "by mistake" particularly weird. It oddly put this "new character" into focus that something was amiss or off about her, right?

Milo - I'm learning a lot about Dr. Hawass' reputation since I wrote this piece. A lot of people agree with you, and haven't seen much to refute.

Hard to disagree, anonymous.

Ken, doesn't The History Channel run a lot of "ghost hunter" type programming these days - Ancient Aliens, UFO shows, etc.?

Jouda - You bring up a great many good points. There were so many details about Chasing Mummies that gave anyone looking for a show about real "history stuff" cause to pause at the least.
On: Wednesday, July 21, 2010
susan said:

i was so excited about thsi show, and now that ive seen it i just want to scream

On: Thursday, July 22, 2010
Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader" said:
I can totally understand your frustration Susan. Hopefully you're finding some solace in this comment thread !
On: Friday, July 23, 2010
Jerry said:
I think that the show is fantastic in showing how hard it is to move through the tombs as to the humidity I see basements with bags of stuff hanging purchased at hardware stores that absorb humidity why not use them in the 5 chambers .I would love to be able to explore ancient tombs in egypt great job history channel keep it up how about a show about what happened to all the stuff "tanks"etc in europe after the war as I used to see lots of it in the woods in Germany in 1955
On: Saturday, July 24, 2010
Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader" said:
Good point Jerry -- I did think it was cool to see how claustrophobic some of the tombs and crawl spaces are... unfortunately all that's mentioned above tarnished the ability to appreciate / believe any "reality" going on with this show.
On: Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Tyler Shingleton said:

And from the same Producer of "Walker, Texas Ranger", we should expect no less..

For History channel to greenlight such a production, to me, tarnishes the credibility of their other programs.

On: Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader" said:
Didn't know that the show's producer also produced Walker, thanks Tyler !
On: Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Dave said:

Dr. Hawass WAS one of the most highly-revered Egyptologists in the world. This show - and specifically Zoe - lessons his credibility. I half expected to see McDonald's logos in the graffiti in the pyramid the other night. I'm sure that's next now that I've put the idea out there.

On: Thursday, July 29, 2010
Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader" said:
Dave, amazing how many people have the same opinion as you do. Wonder if Dr. Hawass is regretting his participation in this "project."
On: Thursday, July 29, 2010
Sue Anne said:

I was really disappointed in just watching a few minutes of the show. I was looking forward to it, but I'm bummed that History Channel has gone down this road of "staged" reality. And, if Zoe is an actress, she's one of the worst I've seen in awhile. 

On: Thursday, July 29, 2010
Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader" said:
Yeah, I'm afraid I agree Sue. I just sat through Discovery Channel's The Colony, which wasn't great, but at least it was totally up front in terms of the show concept.
On: Sunday, August 1, 2010
Steele said:
Something felt wrong from the get-go; the story's convenient chronology, the photographer's amazing locations, the narrator's timing. That reminded me of watching the old Mutual Of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, with Marlin Perkins. Then comes this skinny, hot babe with botched credentials showing up in her nicely-fitting desert attire. Dude, if your papers aren't right, you're not even gettin'into the Country, much less onto a high-security dig site! Yeah, the "stuck inside the Pyramid" thing was way obvious. And as it progressed, we saw the tart intern use her feminity to get out of a mess and move closer to the all-powerful, good Doctor. That was written to make us wonder where that relationship was going; thus tune in for more. What happened after the nightclub opening? Hmmmm.... I don't blame Zoe. This was a great gig and no aspiring professional in their right mind would have turned it down. Look at the exposure!! I hope she has a good future and some opportunities for challenging roles she enjoys - -and we enjoy seeing her represent; A hot babe with a good mind, awesome, as long as she has the personality to match. I do blame the good doctor first, for disappointing so many of us who once believed in him. (Slaves weren't used to build the Pyramids? Really, now....) I moreso blame the History Channel. What a missed opportunity, what a disappointment. In my mind, you were an institution, untarnished and dependable. You are no more. I guess everything has it's price.
On: Sunday, August 1, 2010
Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader" said:
For sure, I don't blame Zoe either -- an acting gig is an acting gig.

You seem to be implying that there will be some kind of "closer" relationship between Dr. Hawass and Zoe developing (as scripted, of course). Do you think this is so ?
On: Sunday, August 1, 2010
Steele said:
I felt they were planting that subtle seed, whether they water it or not. Zoe has credentials, but she's there as an actress, not a real intern. Serious interns in any professional field can face daunting, humiliating demands. Rearranging the doctor's bookcase would be a cakewalk in comparison. Here, they have the vulnerable, sexy, screw-up character facing humiliation, and overcoming it by kissing-up to the doctor while walking across the desert. Note that the camera and microphone pick up every important detail. Then, there's his videotaped invitation to dinner followed by her getting dressed for a night out. What's that got to do with mummies and where does that look like it's going? (insert jokes here) What if this isn't about mummies, after all? What if the writers and producers are trying to tell us what we're seeing is how the world of anthropolgy really works....
On: Sunday, August 1, 2010
Annie said:

I graduated from the best arch program in the southeast U.S. and worked for 3 1/2 years. Very sad way for a respected archaeologist to lose credibility. Not to mention the desecration of history. Congrats guys. And having a BA in anthro doesn't mean much in archaeology if you haven't had a field school and we just aren't sloppy like that because "context is everything."

On: Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader" said:
Wow Steele, you just blew my mind! ;-)
On: Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader" said:
Annie, I continue to find it very odd that some obvious actors on this scripted show just happen to have an apparent background (undergrad at the least) in areas related to the show. My guess is that the casting people saw this background on their resumes as they went through auditions and said, "Yes, this is perfect. This makes so much sense!"
On: Wednesday, August 4, 2010
M said:

I caught the first three episodes of this show this afternoon, and it's definitely a hot mess. Strangely entertaining if one can shut off their archaeology sense (I was cringing over the lack of gloves and rampant contamination of sites, not to mention how EASY it was to pull stuff out of the sand. I've excavated in the Middle East before, and it isn't like that. At ALL.) because Dr. Hawass is and always has been such a notorious dickhead. I laugh every time he tells someone they will never work for him again. Possibly this is because my specialty is not Egyptology and I've never had to deal with him, but he does make good copy.

Zoe... ugh, don't get me started on her or any of the interns. I'm annoyed as hell by the very sight of them, but Zoe in particular. I was hoping Dr. Hawass would slap Derek when he asked about aliens, too. Sigh. Way to not show archaeologists in a good light, HC.

Oh and I should note - no archaeologist in their right mind would believe the peeing in a pyramid thing. Most of us are half-camel within a year or so of fieldwork. And we know NEVER to go anywhere that even remotely looks like a feature. Field school 101. Inside the burial chamber of a pyramid? Heifer please.

On: Wednesday, August 4, 2010
M said:

"having a BA in anthro doesn't mean much in archaeology"

Well, it does if your school only confers degrees in anthro with an archaeo emphasis, but I know what you mean. My BA says "anthropology" but I never took any socio-cultural classes beyond the required core. I might be able to fake my way through a bit of anthro if I had to, but certainly not on a professional level. I'm a shovelbum.

On: Wednesday, August 4, 2010
pcrich said:
Interestingly enough when I googled: "is the archaeology fellow Zoe blowing him" this was the first result... One gets the idea that not only is Hawass a dickhead but a dirty old man to boot. Why else would he turn a 180 after a walk in the desert with a dingbat who one episode peed in the great Pyramid. I hope she has a great mouth because Hawass is THROUGH as a serious scientist....
On: Wednesday, August 11, 2010
KingTut said:

Hawass is a cranky big headed bully. I thought the program is a comedy! Anyway, who needs Egypt...it's full of assasins and ancient dirty old man. After pawnbrokers,
rig driver and trash diggers, History Channel....Enough!!

 

On: Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Depressed said:

It's just the last nail in the coffin of the history channel, the last rat off the sinking ship.  Between whatever truckers, the pawn zombies and this scripted atrocity full of idiots.  I have no B.A. at all and I could keep up better than that pathetic Zowie, (Zoe). Brain dead actress probably got her degree blowing her professors. 

 

Please just let History change it's name to SPIKE 2 and get it the hell over with. 

On: Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Catalectic said:

I personally feel that Dr. Zahi Hawass is a con man. I wouldn't give him a thing. Who calls people and to tell them that they have a "cursed" item in there house in order to get it back to Egypt for his personnel glory??? If it wasn't for how absolutely HOT Zoe is I would have never given this show a chance.

On: Thursday, August 19, 2010
Walter said:

It's Hitler of the Nile meets Bimblow-me. Let's face it, Zoe wants to climb to the top, and Hawass's dick is just another rung in the ladder. 

On: Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Sara said:
Doesn't matter how hot Zoe is, this show is still absolutely awful. Poor History Channel, it is SO tough to be the nerd in the classroom. But it never helps to try and be something you're not. (This show makes me wish I hadn't named my daughter Zoe. THAT BAD.)
On: Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Diana said:

The entire show is a charade.  The "cast" of actors including Zoe and Zahi Hawass are completely disingenuous.  Very disappointing.  Had this been an authentic program, it would have been fantastic.  Shame on the History Channel...I think I'll stick with PBS for real fact based history. 

On: Friday, August 27, 2010
taco said:

Hey - you might want to do a google search on "Lindsay Tanner archaeology" - she's one of the other fellows and has an acting lean too.

On: Tuesday, September 7, 2010
Steele said:

I searched around for a bit of positive reaction to this show, looking for some different perspectives; I haven't found any.

On: Saturday, September 11, 2010
Citkat said:
Well to say I am disappointed would be minamizing what I feel. I watch these type of shows for legitamicy and truth, not to be lead around my lies. I truthfully also felt that the way this man treated some people was a busive, I understand he is great and world renouned, but that does not give him the right to treat people this way. And with what happened in the Pyramid, well he should have really made sure that there was something there to use for people to releive themselves, I mean it is unhealthy and very damaging to not relieve yourself for 10 hours, and to belittle someone who may have a small bladder makes him look small. I mean for 2 actresses and a camera man to just willingly go into the Pyramid with no training of before should be applauded, especially considering Zoe was enclosed/trapped for 8 hours in a different part not long before this, I mean I would have been shitting bricks to even think about going back into something like this, I salute you Zoe for going back in, when so many of would not have. Even if it was actors I would have watched the show just for the experience of the viewing, too bad History Channel and the Dr. Himself thought so little of the find to realize this.
On: Monday, October 11, 2010
Alyse said:

As an archaeologist, I am insulted by this show.  As an intelligent human being, I am insulted by this show.  It's actually painful to watch, being so scripted.  I have enjoyed Dr Hawass's contributions to other documentaries in the past, even though he was obviously a bit of an egomanic, I still admired his passion for Egypt and it's history.

But the whole point of 'Chasing Mummies' seems to be Dr Hawass's way of acting out his Indiana Jones fantasy about himself, in front of the world - he seems to have wanted some way of both acting out a fantasy while still passing it off as a real world documentary, and the result is disastrous and just odd.  He's not an actor, he's not Indiana Jones, he's just an archaeologist, and a legitimate documentary series about his work would have been interesting, and I would have watched it.  It's a shame he has too much power - I can imagine someone has probably tried to tell him along the way that this series was ridiculous, but I have a feeling he does not listen to other people unless they are agreeing with him.  I can't see this series being anything but damaging to the careers of anyone involved, which is a shame.

On: Thursday, October 14, 2010
quert said:

I just tried to watch chasing mummies.

What a load of crap.

On: Thursday, October 14, 2010
Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader" said:

Very hard to argue with that assessment !

On: Thursday, December 2, 2010
Marc said:

Am I missing something here? How can one be a fellow when only having completed undergrad studies in the first place?

Zoe and Lindsay are said to be fellows on that show, but both have "only" undergrad degrees...is this even possible?

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