Pierce: Utahns risk their lives mining 'Jungle Gold'
Scott Lomu and George Wright's families are eagerly anticipating the debut of their series "Jungle Gold" on the Discovery Channel. Lomu and Wright not so much.
"It's been weird because our families are so excited about it," Lomu said. "They're, like, 'Oh, this is going to be awesome.' I don't know how awesome it's going to be, especially because of all the things that our families have no idea about."
Things like the illegal miners with guns who jumped their claim in Ghana. Things like gold deals that play out like drug deals. Things like villagers setting up roadblocks, extorting money out of the men. Things like bad weather, broken equipment and constant danger in a country where the authorities aren't going to come to the rescue.
"We know of people who have gotten killed for trespassing," Wright said. "This is a cutthroat industry. There's a lot of treacherous waters."
"Jungle Gold" is truly tense, even if you know that the guys eventually make it home safely.
"If it can go bad, it will go bad in West Africa," Lomu said. "And even go worse." All of this is documented in the seven-episode series, which debuts Friday, Oct. 26, at 11 p.m. on Discovery and repeats throughout the week.
Lomu, who lives in Lehi, and Wright, a resident of Eagle Mountain, said they aren't adventurous guys, but "the opportunity in Ghana came along to solve all of our problems, which are huge," Lomu said.
Once successful real-estate investors, they went bankrupt when the housing bubble burst and found themselves deeply in debt. They turned to gold mining in West Africa as a way to support their families and pay off their debts. They're also trying to support the family of a third partner, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan who took his own life a year ago.
"We're not out there because it's a get-rich-quick scheme," Lomu said. "Nobody just walks in there and walks out with a bunch of gold easily. There's a lot of hard work that has to be done, but this is an environment like nothing we've ever been to. It's a difficult place to work. It is dangerous."
And they didn't get into this just to be on TV. Lomu and Wright spent two years mining in Ghana before Discovery got involved.
The camera crew didn't have to create drama, it was already there although filming in the vicinity of illegal miners added a few warning shots.
Which is going to surprise family members planning big viewing parties.
"We've tried to shield as much as we can from our wives," Wright said. "There will be a lot of things that they see that they've never been told about."
Lomu added: "It's going to make it a lot harder on George and me to convince our wives that we need to go back."
Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.