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THAT Ricky Gervais, renowned for his risqué jokes (cough… Golden Globes) and Stephen Merchant had a whale of a time blindsiding Karl Pilkington with challenges in the first season of ‘An Idiot Abroad’, was obvious from the “virgin traveller’s” bewildered expressions.
Nevertheless, he soldiered on with his travels to the ‘Seven Wonders of the World’ – not that he was terribly bowled over by the man-made structures that stood before him.
So why did he agree to have Gervais and Merchant playing the puppeteers once again?
“I’m not even sure I’ve signed a contract,” he reveals. “I’ve got to get money in to pay the bills and, at the end of the day, it’s because of Ricky and Steve. They sort of said, ‘Oh it will be better this time, we’ll let you do what you want’. That’s how the bucket list idea came about… the great things to do before you die. I soon found out that these weren’t great things to do.”
Wiser after the first season, Pilkington safeguarded himself from his “tormentors” by outlining a few conditions. Given Gervais and Merchant’s penchant for tomfoolery, it was futile as they found loopholes in their deal.
Pilkington shares: “I went through the list and picked what I wanted to do, but had no idea where I was going, so whale-watching turned out to be in Alaska. I chose swimming with dolphins as well, but when I got there, it was sharks.”
In season two of ‘An Idiot Abroad’ – a title that doesn’t sit well with Pilkington – he is used as a social experiment-cum-guinea pig. Bungee jumping on a desert island in the South Pacific; visiting a dwarf village and being buried alive during his travels from Russia to China; entering a blindfolded Thai kickboxing contest; diving with great white sharks in Australia; whale-watching aboard a deep sea fishing trawler in Alaska; coming face-to-face with a gorilla in Uganda; meeting a group of Amish people while travelling the iconic Route 66; and climbing Mount Fuji in Japan, are among Pilkington’s daring exploits/challenges.
The 39-year-old, an actor, comedy and former radio producer, admits: “The title of the programme, I’m still annoyed with. But I suppose it worked. So what can I do? I did want to change it for series two but the channel wanted to keep it as it was already established. When I’m walking down the street, you get people who go, ‘Oh, there’s the idiot’.”
On being funny, albeit unintentionally so, he says: “I don’t understand the funny thing because I never set out to be funny. It’s just an honest thing that happens when I’m away. It’s not like some travel presenters who have to go to these places and pretend it’s all nice. I can literally go somewhere and just say what is going on in my head, and they film it and then make a programme out of it. I think a lot of people, if put in the same situation, would say the same things.”
So does he like his job?
“I never think it’s a waste of time… but I do enjoy getting back home. I’m not that adventurous when it comes to it. That’s part of why Ricky and Steve sent me away in the first place. The funny thing is, Ricky – I don’t know about Steve – wouldn’t do it.”
Expanding on the experience, he says: “Things were always messed with and changed. The worst thing about the job is not knowing what is happening the next day. That is what wears me out a lot. There are some people who say that’s exciting. But, to me, I don’t like surprises. I like to know what I’m having for my tea the day I get up. I’m very set in my ways.
“When I look at the photographs, I can’t believe I’ve been in the middle of nowhere with a tribe, ate certain food… though, I did find it amazing meeting Siamese twins in India and going to the Barrow in Alaska.”
Enlightening on how his life has changed, Pilkington laughs. “I’ve got more air miles. I got more money than I did on the last job. But, in terms of my life, nothing’s changed. I don’t have a showbiz lifestyle. People say fame changes their lives but, like the bucket list, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.”
While it is easy to peg Pilkington as a misanthropic traveller, his blunt responses, oscillating from joyful to astonished and apprehensive, are refreshing and endearing.
He may be an idiot abroad, but he is no fool. And that is the genius of this series.
‘An Idiot Abroad 2’ airs on Discovery Channel (DStv Channel 121) on October 1 at 10.20pm.