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Exclusive interview: Josh Gates on incredible moment sarcophagus will be opened in real-time on Expedition Unknown: Egypt Live

Josh Gates ahead of the live event which takes us on a real Indiana Jones-like adventure in Egypt. Pic credit: Discovery
Josh Gates ahead of the live event which takes us on a real Indiana Jones-like adventure in Egypt. Pic credit: Discovery

Josh Gates has the best job in the world for someone who loves to travel and has an inquisitive mind. He goes to every corner of the planet to share and educate TV viewers — most of whom will likely never have the opportunity to visit these places — on cultures past and present.

This Sunday features Discovery’s latest special, Expedition Unknown: Egypt Live. It will see Egyptologist Ramy Romany, host Chris Jacobs and our intrepid host and producer Josh Gates beamed live in a two-hour event starting at 9pm ET/PT on Discovery.

They will be joined by other academics who will sort and explain the findings as a sealed tomb and sarcophagus containing a mummy are opened for the first time.

Monsters and Critics got the scoop first at the Television Critics’ Association press tour back in February and the event promises to be one for TV history.

This Sunday’s live special comes ahead of the return of the fifth season of Expedition Unknown, this coming Wednesday, April 10, on Discovery.

Egypt Live will allow viewers to peer inside the inner chambers of an excavation site, where archeologists recently uncovered a network of vertical shafts leading to underground tunnels and tombs, including an estimated cache of 40 “elite noble” mummies.

This massive underground complex of chambers is said to be a “treasure trove of antiquities” and has been left alone for thousands of years.

Viewers will also get to see a mysterious limestone sarcophagus, found buried deep within the complex, examined and opened as the cameras roll. But will they be able to identify who was buried in it?

Monsters and Critics spoke to Josh ahead of his trip to Egypt last week:

Monsters and Critics: Josh, how much pre-production have you done ahead of the live show?

Josh Gates: Right. Well you know it’s a really fascinating project. We’ve tackled it from a few different angles. I was in Egypt a few weeks ago filming some packages at the pyramids and the Egyptian museum, just some kind of color on the rest of the country so that we can have those to talk about during the show.

But in terms of the actual event itself, other than the logistics of figuring out the broadcast and all of that, this is a real archeological site and we’re going to be going into this tomb live.

So all of that is really going to be live, it’s going to be 3am in Cairo when we do this, it will be broadcasting live to both coasts here in the states at 9pm eastern on the 7th, and so it really is going to be something that happens in real time.

M&C: How do you know, though, that this particular sarcophagus…I lived through the Al Capone vault thing…I’m worried for you. How do you know there’s stuff in there?

Josh Gates: I’ll tell you that of the 20 or so interviews that I’ve done in the last couple of days, every single person has mentioned Geraldo, the shadow of Al Capone’s vault looms large, even now!

I have to say, I’m kind of embracing that. I think what makes this so exciting is the unknown. I think if we knew what were down there, and we knew who or what was in the sarcophagus, it would kind of take the fun out of it.

Look, this is an area in a part of the country called Middle Egypt where they’ve made some incredible discoveries in the last few years. There’s a real golden age of archaeology happening here. And they’ve found a number of these burial shafts that lead down to this network of tombs.

So we know that these are tombs. Mummies and other artifacts have been taken out of adjoining areas and parts of this tunnel network, so this is definitely a tomb, and we know that there are other sarcophagi and mummies and artifacts down there.

So I think there is no doubt that we’re going to encounter some unbelievably fascinating, priceless, historical relics that can tell us a lot about the people of this period and who is buried down here. As to who is buried in the sarcophagus, we don’t know.

They are sealed with a kind of ancient mortar, and so we’re going to open that on live TV and see for ourselves.

You know in some ways the reason I’m embracing that is that what we tried to do in Expedition Unknown is try to take our viewers on an adventure to see what real archaeologist are doing, and this is like the ultimate expression of that. This is what archaeologist face every day.

They dig in the sand and the soil, and they don’t know what they’re going to find, and so this really puts the viewer, you know they’re not watching the show, they’re there. They’re going to be in the tomb experience, all of this, as we experience it. And I think that’s what makes it really exciting.

M&C: Ramy Romany is your Egyptologist, and I believe you’ve worked with Dr. Zahi Hawass before too, have you?

Josh Gates: No, I’ve never had the pleasure of working with Dr. Hawass before. He is obviously a legend in the field of Egyptology and so I’m really excited to be down there with him, and Dr. Mostafa Waziri, who is on the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt.

These are lions in this field, and so to be able to not just go into this tomb, but to be with these venerated experts, is really what’s going to make the night so thrilling, because they are going to be the ones that are able to interpret what we find down there and put it into context for us to understand all of these really amazing things we’re going to see.

M&C: What are the typical things that Egyptians of that time took with them in the afterlife?

Josh Gates: Egyptians were either obsessed with life, or obsessed with death, depending on how you want to look at it, but they had a particular view of what you needed to do when you die in order to have a successful afterlife.

And whereas today, in people who are religious in the west typically believe that the soul leaves the body and kind of separates from the body, Egyptians really believed that even in death you were connected with your mortal corpse.

So they would mummify their bodies, they would remove their organs and keep them in what are called canopic jars. And they would also fill their tombs with things that were important to them in their life.

That could be anything from household pets to their bed, to games, to all sorts of things. Anything they wanted in the afterlife. It was this mentality that you sort of had to hoard it and put it down in your tomb, and then it would come with you to the other side.

So I think one of the things that’s so fascinating about looking into Egyptian tombs is it gives you this real snapshot of what was important to these people, and what were the items that they wanted to take with them to the other side.

M&C: Your new season of Expedition Unknown starts soon after this on April 10. Where are you taking us?

Josh Gates: The new season of Expedition Unknown is I think in some ways our most global yet. We’re really going to be going all over the world.

We have a huge variety of stories that we’re going to tell. There’s going to be archaeologically grounded stories. We’re going to be doing a big two-part special on the Dead Sea scrolls.

We are going to be on both sides of the Dead Sea in the Holy Land, we’re going to be in Israel and in Jordan working with archaeologists that are looking for new scrolls… and also trying to interpret scrolls that have been found.

We are also going to be looking for Nazi gold in the forests of Germany. We’re going to be hunting for a fabled shipwreck in the Great Lakes, a ship called the Griffon which is one of the earliest exploratory vessels of the Great Lakes. It’s often called the holy grail of North American ship wrecks that’s never been found.

And we’re going to be looking for a lost female World War II pilot. A story that I really love. A woman who was part of the WASPs, which was this brigade of female pilots in World War II, and she’s the only lost WASP. She’s the only missing pilot from that program and her plane is maybe just off the coast of California.

So doing a story looking at her life and her missing aircraft. So, you know, it’s everything from archeology, to treasure, to mysteries, to legends. We’re going to be looking for lost cities in the Andes. It’s going to be a big adventurous season.

M&C: Let’s back track a little bit, the Nazis hid gold and treasures in the forests of Germany?

Josh Gates: Yeah, so the Nazis, along with stealing an enormous amount of wealth from the citizens of Europe, also looted the banks of Europe. They took an enormous amount of gold and silver, and art from across Europe and really squirreled a lot of it away famously in places like Merkers Mine, where from what we know enormous amounts of art were stashed underground.

But they also stored an enormous amount of gold in particular in the rice banks in Berlin, and over time moved a lot of that money out of there as Berlin came under siege, and so there are stories of huge amounts of Nazi era money being moved all over Germany, and legends that persist to this day that they are buried in secret bunkers and caches in various parts of the country.

It’s fascinating history because it is kind of where legend intersects with, you know, a really dark chapter of history. So it’s a really interesting opportunity to look at some of the people that are out there trying to recover a lot of this stuff that is still hidden out in the battlefields of World War II.

M&C: I’m surprised that just average people who are sleuthing themselves aren’t out there with pick axes trying to dig it up and find it.

Josh Gates: Well some of them are! I think one of the things that we try to do on Expedition Unknown is meet with a huge range of people. Like we want to work with people that are vast experts in their field at archaeological sites.

But some of our stories are also about these legends that kind of appeal to everyday folks who want to find missing treasure, and lost pirate gold.

It’s the kind of stuff that calls out to people, and so meeting those folks, and hearing their theories and their stories, is a huge fun aspect of the show as well.

M&C: How many episodes for this new season? How many seasons now are you into Expedition Unknown?

Josh Gates: So this will be our fifth season of the show. We aired a four-part special already on the afterlife, and so we’ve aired those four and then there’ll be the Egypt Live show, and then there’ll be 10 new episodes coming after that. And then we’re under way in production on Season 6 already. So there will be more episodes following that.

M&C: Tell me about Chris Jacobs and his role for the live show?

Josh Gates: Chris is going to be there [in Egypt] to act as a topside host. I think most of the evening I’m going to be deep underground with Dr. Hawass going through these tunnels and tombs, and Chris is going to be there kind of as our guy above ground to really frame what’s happening down there, and to be a conduit to the viewers at home watching the show.

We will all be in a part of the country called Middle Egypt, and the name of the region is Minya. That’s the name of the region, but this is a part of the country that most people don’t visit. It’s an area that has not historically been a huge tourist magnet, and what they’re realizing now is that there are a lot of burials here. This may be part of a huge necropolis in Minya that they’re just scratching the surface on.

M&C: We are really excited for you, and we’ll be tuning in for sure…

Josh Gates: Absolutely. Yes, we’re really excited for the live show. For me it’s definitely a high wire act, and it’s definitely like anything could happen, and it is just the ultimate opportunity to do what we’ve always talked about doing, which is trying to actually take the viewer with us. And for me, I think it’s just going to be such a fun night for everybody.

Expedition Unknown: Egypt Live is a 2-Hour Live Event premiering this Sunday, April 7, at 9 PM ET/PT on Discovery. The epic live event will also simulcast on Travel Channel and Science Channel and air in nearly 100 markets around the world on Discovery. Viewers can follow the chatter on Twitter using hashtag #ExpeditionUnknown for a chance to be featured on-air.

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April is an accredited entertainment writer, interviewer and television critic. She is a current member of the Television Critics Association (TCA), Gay and Lesbian Entertainment... read more
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