'Crocodile Hunter' Steve Irwin launches zoo reality show for Discovery Channel
By Wade Paulsen, 11/11/2003
He may not have appeared as a special guest on Survivor: The Australian Outback, as was rumored at the time, but Steve Irwin, better known as the star of The Crocodile Hunter on the Discovery Channel, will finally get his chance on reality TV, albeit three years later.
According to News Corp. (the parent company of Fox in the U.S. and Sky News in the U.K.), Irwin, the owner of the Australia Zoo on the "Sunshine Coast" of Queensland, Australia, is launching his own reality show, entitled Croc Hunter Challenge. Ten participants selected from the U.S. will compete at the Australia Zoo, performing some of the most difficult chores as part of the competition, and the winner will get a trip around Australia.
Among the tasks planned for the Croc Hunter-wannabes are mowing crocodile enclosures, raiding crocodile and alligator nests, rescuing snakes and feeding the animals. (One of the things for which Australia Zoo is famous is its croc feedings by the rangers - as the crocs snatch steaks directly out of the rangers' hands.) During the show, the contestants will all live in the zoo's bunkhouse and will be filmed around the clock. Irwin, his wife Terri and reptile expert Wes Mannion will help guide contestants through the challenges -- but the real challenge will be not giving in to panic as a croc prepares to lunge at your hand.
Each week, the judges will eliminate a contestant. The ultimate winner will receive a tour that takes in everything from the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree to climbing Sydney Harbour Bridge (all of which will probably be filmed for use in future episodes of The Crocodile Hunter).
As part of the contestant search, Irwin left Beerwah (home of the Australia Zoo) and appeared at an audition in L.A. on Nov. 8. He will also appear at one in New York City on Nov. 15. His company, The Best Picture Show Company, and Discovery Communications will co-produce Croc Hunter Challenge, which will appear on the Discovery Channel in the US.
Irwin leaves no doubt that the focus market for the show is the US -- and the US tourist market that might be attracted to visit Australia (and Australia Zoo). He said, "I can't think of a greater opportunity than this to showcase Australia Zoo and the Australian way of life. To be able to reach America and the world in a reality show as different as this is exciting."
However, the Croc Hunter hopes to sell the show to an Australian network as well. Said John Stainton, Irwin's longtime TV show director (and partner in the production company), "There's great interest because these American contestants are going to be fish out of water. There are the crocs and snakes, but also the mozzies and the heat of summer and living in the bunker."
Personally, we have the greatest respect for Steve Irwin. We've seen him take chances that we wouldn't dream of taking, such as sticking a camera in the face of a spitting cobra and crawling among Komodo dragons. We've also seen a croc grab his forearm but fail to drag him under for the "death roll" when he managed to twist free in time. We've seen some of the precautions he takes, such as icing venomous snakes down before working with them, so they won't be angry enough to strike until after he's done filming (if he's lucky). We know that he wouldn't have contestants engage in any stunts like that. Nevertheless, we think we'd rather watch this show than participate in it....