Friday, July 16, 2010

Zahi Hawass: Reality Show Star


When I first saw an advertisement for the History channel's new show Chasing Mummies, a reality show following the life of the Secretary General of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities Zahi Hawass, my first thought was, "Are you serious?"

Hawass is no stranger to television though, he's appeared in many documentaries about ancient Egyptian history.  I'm not sure if he just likes being on TV, or if he just wants to make sure his version of Egyptian history gets presented (as opposed to alternative versions proposed by people like John Anthony West and Graham Hancock).  So I'm never surprised to see him in documentaries about ancient Egypt.  But I wasn't expecting to see him a reality show setting that includes a couple of cute college girl interns.

I was intrigued enough to set my DVR to record the premier.  The first episode starts out intensely.  One of the cute interns and a cameraman accidently get locked in Djoser's step pyramid at Saqqara, and the show's producer frantically contacts Hawass.  Hawass was at a book signing in Cairo, and angrily storms out of the signing so he can head back to Saqqara to open the pyramid.  Apparently the intern and cameraman had been locked in there for hours and no one had heard from them.

We find out early on that Hawass is cantankerous, impatient, and has a short fuse (but, according to one guy, has a heart of gold).  He is grumpy throughout the whole episode.  Later in the episode, the crew visits a new site Hawass is excavating and discover an intact tomb that has not been robbed.  Hawass is excited and proceeds to excavate the site.  He may be a little cantakerous, but he does seem to have genuine passion and desire for Egyptology.  He's devoted his life to studying ancient Egypt and he still gets excited when he finds something new.

I thought a lot of the 'reality' seemed like it might be staged.  It seemed overly dramatic, particularly the beginning.  I'm not sure why Hawass himself had to hurry back to Saqqara to open the step pyramid; it seems to me that he could have easily just called someone and given permission to let the crew in the look for the intern and cameraman.  Maybe he just didn't want the crew going in if he wasn't present?  Maybe he just didn't want to bother one of his colleagues so late at night?  Or maybe that just wouldn't have made for good reality TV?  I don't know, but they really hyped it up.  They eventually found the intern and cameraman, and fortunately, they were ok.

I wasn't overly impressed with the first episode.  It seemed like the show was more focused on drama and Hawass' attitude than it was on Egyptology.  The excavation of the intact tomb was interesting, but that was only part of the episode.  Since some of it seemed like it might be staged, I thought the show in general seemed a little cheesy.  For now, I've set my DVR to record the next episode, but I'm not sure if I'll watch the whole series.  I'll have to see if the next episode can keep me interested first.  The highlights for the upcoming episodes showed a lot of Hawass being cantankerous though.  I'd rather see more Egyptology and less drama on the show.  But if you like Egyptology mixed with drama and 'reality', Chasing Mummies might be the show for you.

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