Gates doesn’t mind the comparison to the Hollywood-created archaeologist and explorer played by Harrison Ford. “I am not going to argue with that,” Gates told Scroll.in over the phone from Los Angeles. “But so much of Expedition Unknown is really about taking our world to meet the real Indiana Joneses of the world and the people who are on the front line and doing this work.”
Gates’s next expedition is one of his most ambitious ones yet. Next week, Gates will open an Egyptian sarcophagus (a stone coffin) and explore a network of ancient tombs in a two-hour live television event. In Expedition Unknown: Egypt Live, Gates will be accompanied by Egyptologist Zahi Hawass and Mostafa Waziri, Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities of Egypt. The event will be premiered in India on Discovery Channel and Discovery HD World on April 8 at 11 am, with a repeat telecast at 6 pm.
The episode will highlight a new facet of Egypt, which is famed for its well-preserved pyramids, mummies and other artifacts from its ancient Pharaonic period, Gates claimed. “A lot of tourists don’t really know about a part of the country, which contains a network of burial chambers that has not been fully explored,” he explained. “It is an opportunity to go into new parts of the tomb and hopefully see a new mummy and sarcophagi that have not been seen before in the modern world.”
The live format will make viewers a part of the adventure, Gates said. “It is the next level because it is truly unpredictable,” he elaborated. “That is one of the great things about the live format. This makes the audience a part of our team because they are with us in real time.”
The format comes with its challenges, but for Gates, that only adds to the experience. “There are these chambers that are claustrophobic and so working there and trying to bring television cameras in there is going to be exciting,” Gates added. “It makes it all the more real to bring the viewers there in a very visceral way.”
The two-hour event kicks off the show’s fifth season, which will see Gates tour Israel, Jordan, North America and Scotland. “We are going to be searching for a famous shipwreck in North America, a boat called The Griffon, which was one of the very first to explore the Great Lakes, Gates said.
The vessel disappeared under mysterious circumstances in 1679 and many attempts have been made to find it since. “It is the holy grail of lost shipwrecks,” Gates observed. “We are also going to be looking for rock gold in Scotland. It’s a really exciting season.”
Gates started touring the world with Expedition Unknown in 2015 and is a co-producer on the series. Through the series, Gates seeks to show the smartphone generation that there’s a world beyond that which can be accessed through the click of a button.
“We kind of live in an age where a lot of people think that the whole world has been mapped in a smartphone on their maps,” Gates observed. “A lot of young viewers are surprised to know that there are places in the world that are still unmapped. I think it’s important to reinforce in especially young people that there is so much of the world that we still don’t know.”
Gates explored one such untouched location in Mayan settlement of El Mirador in Guatemala, which he described to be his fondest moment from the series. “We used wide-arc scanners to do some mapping of the jungle and we managed to image an entire temple complex that has never been visited by the modern world,” Gates added. “To be able to stand out on the jungle in a platform that nobody laid eyes on in 2,000 years was just the absolute thrill of a lifetime.”
Some adventures also lead to hospital visits. “We had a lot of difficult episodes in the rain-forests of Ecuador [in season four], where we were exploring a really difficult cave with lot of snakes and spiders,” Gates recalled. “Everybody in the crew including me got sick with a virus from the animals in the cave and we ended up in the hospital.”
Gates’s fascination for archaeology and adventure surfaced at a very young age. “When I was a kid, films like Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Goonies were huge inspirations to me,” Gates said. “I grew up in a very small town in Massachusetts and my father was a huge sea commercial diver. He had this very adventurous career. He would always come back from the North Sea or Africa and would tell me interesting stories.”
His credits also include the paranormal-themed reality exploration show Destination Truth (2007-12) and he was a recurring guest host on Ghost Hunters (2004-16)
Adventure to Gates is less about adrenaline rushes and more about unraveling new stories. “I loved the stories of ancient cultures and lost pieces of history,” he said. “That all kind of bubbled up inside of me and when I went to college, when I wanted to become a marine archaeologist. I always had a fascination with the history of it all.”