“Ancient Pickers” is a show you have not come across in your nightly channel flipping. You may be wondering why you have never seen it on your quest for some reality TV, and the simple fact of the matter is that it was deemed too raw and controversial for broadcasting on American television. Phil Fischer, Julian Valentine, and Jefferson Elliot took on an adventure of a lifetime that turned out to be a bit too much for the television networks of the United States.
Reality TV has become a staple for the masses viewing American television. The most successful reality television shows are often focused on supposedly non-scripted life experience and moments, that tend to beget drama. It is almost impossible to flip through the channels without seeing some of this (at times cringe-worthy) reality TV. Although normally it is filled with the likes of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians”, “Sixteen and Pregnant”, and “Real Housewives of Atlanta” viewers seem to be looking for reality television of a different kind.
These shows which are supposedly not scripted - although one look and it is very evident that they are in fact scripted - are just the right amount of dramatic and overflowing with life events.Although normally it is filled with the likes of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians”, “Sixteen and Pregnant”, and “Real Housewives of Atlanta” users are looking for reality television of a different kind. “Ancient Pickers” was filled with all of that drama and more of the realistic things that happened to the team of three seeking gold and adventure. The show followed a group of three Seattle based men who carry out seemingly normal lives, with one exception: they are treasure hunters.
The team is filled with three individuals that have varying backgrounds (not at all pertaining to treasure hunting), yet come together to indulge in their treasure hunting hobby. This group consists of Phil Fischer, a software developer who spends his time devoted to spreading the gospel, Julian Valentine, an advertising executive who is always ready for an adventure, and Jefferson Elliot, the creative of the group, a painter.
Their part-time hobby of treasure hunting, an international venture, attracted television producers seeking out the opportunity to provide something new for the reality television audience. They were approached by producers of various kinds, but the three were not after fame and were hesitant. In fact, Elliot says, “we’ve turned down several seven figure offers from producers. The thing is, for Phil, Julian, and myself, it’s always been about preserving ancient artifacts that are literally being destroyed by war. If they really want to produce a reality show with us then they need to do a real show and not censor our footage to death, that’s just never gonna happen.”
Elliot is referring to the requests made by the American television networks asking that 85% of the footage be cut and scrubbed. This version of the show would make it “clean” version of the show, defeating the purpose of it and removing the rawness of everything experienced by the team. Which was absolutely non-negotiable for the group. The footage shot for “Ancient Pickers” is often shot via GoPro cameras attached to the three treasure hunters themselves. At one point during their exploit, there was a cameraman hired by the producers of the show, and he was only able to keep up with the three men for a mere three days. Things came to an ending when the men snuck into Iraq through the Qandil Mountains, where the men encountered a native Bedouin tribe. As part of the local customs, the men partook in the skinning and gutting of a goat to assist in the meal preparation. Fischer explains “it’s customary in Syria and Iraq for a stranger entering a camp at sunset, to help in one way or another. Because they are going to take care of you all night, as is there custom, the expectation is that you pitch in. When you are outsiders in the country, there are not many options. Since we had no money, I offered to help skin this animal. Little did I did know it was going to freak out the camera guy and be the end of that.”
The scenes found in “Ancient Pickers” are often much more graphic than the gutting of a goat. They often involve the endangerment of the treasure hunters in one way or another. In one suspenseful scene, which only lasts a total of 2 minutes, Fischer and Valentine partake in a merciless gunfire exchange while attempting to flee with artifacts from Al Tanf, a border town near the Jordan and Iraqi/Syrian border. Eventually they found shelter in a desert basin, surrounded by the sounds of Arabic threats and bullets whipping past them, landing just a few miles away. Now that is one kind of reality.
Many of the scenes have also managed to maintain a certain level of emotional standards. They are packed with emotions that naturally come about from the kind of high stakes situations that these three ended up in. While trapped in the desert basin, the audience gets a view of a raw and authentic emotional moment between Fisher and Valentine. Fischer asks Valentine to look after his wife and kids if he makes it out alive. Valentine promises “of course” and viewers get to witness a genuine moment in an authentic human relationship that goes beyond the pages of a reality television script.
After the frightening entrapment, the treasure hunters were freed when an American USAF MQ-9 Reaper drone appeared in the area, dispersing the militants who followed the trio. The U.S. military did not go into detail about why the drone was flying over the area, but noted that it was a common area for routine scans. The three safely and happily made it back to their Hotel International in Jordan, shocked by both the hostile attack and the sight of the drone flying so low.
The truth is, the reality of this show may in fact be too real for the likes of American audiences. While the three miraculously managed to escape severe injury, the hunt for gold has been anything but glamorous. In one episode, we see Elliot spend 12 days in a Pakistani jail while inflicted with a bite from a saw-scaled viper. The grueling effects from the earlier bite caused Elliot to bleed from his ears. Fischer bartered with prison guards for Elliot’s release, and managed to get him to a hospital in Islamabad before any permanent damage occurred. However, the team of three clearly knew that injuries are an occupational hazard. One scene that the crew chose to cut involved Elliot and Fischer on a trip to Pakistan. Elliot was drunk and trying to mount a camel that Fischer was riding, which eventually lead to both men and the camel falling into a Bedouin tent and causing injury.
These larger than life adventures have prompted a real following in the Middle East. The first two episodes of “Ancient Pickers” were viewed by over 18 million in the Middle East. Both episodes that aired received a 12% higher rating than Al Jazeera, which is highly popular. It is safe to assume that this may suggest that audiences are seeking genuine and authentic action. The frank and sometimes unbearable moments of the show have proven to be intriguing: these are three almost normal men with one very dangerous hobby. There is no way of scripting these moments and that is what people are looking for in reality television. The raw moments often leave viewers at the edge of their seats and highly anticipating the next big moment.
Some would argue that the use of GoPro cameras adds to this level of genuinity seems to be attractive to views. There is no hair and makeup, no running of lines, no retakes, and no plan. There is no way of predicting what two episodes from now will look like. Valentine put it best when he said that “Phil and I are treasure hunters. We don’t want to film our digs. We kept attempting to try to explain to the networks that the places we were going to find 4000-year old treasure in Syria is not a place you take a film crew, if you know what I’m sayin’.”
This 4000-year old treasure has always been an object of desire for Fischer, who works as a part-time archeologist. He is rumored to spend his entire paycheck on digging up and preserving artifacts that would otherwise be destroyed by war. His constant dedication to this venture has not only led to praise within the Middle Eastern antiquities industry, but also historically significant finds. He is believed to have found ruins from the ancient palace of Sargon, a Mesopotamian ruler from the 23rd century BC.
This ruler is thought to have resided in Ur, known as Ur Kasdim in the book of Genesis. This city is said to be the childhood home of Abraham and has cultural and economic value. According to an expert in the field, “if Fischer has indeed found the Temple of Sargon, which I think he has, there is definite potential of more gold that is out there and could simply be sitting against the walls in clay pots. I don’t even want to speculate how much gold there is, but there was an entire civilization of sixty thousand that lived there. Despite all the gold, there are actual artifacts out there which are so much more valuable to our progression than any gold.” The city is currently in the middle of an Iraqi war zone. Fischer may have found a room that may have been used by Enheduanna, who was Sargon’s daughter and a high priestess. By sending the artifacts to Tel Aviv since 2013, Fischer has been tracking and cataloging his finds.
Fischer’s dedication to seeking out these treasures certainly helps with the interest of many networks around. He says that for him it is simply about the history and story of what is out there which can be related to the Bible. As a highly devout Christian, he is always looking for ways to understanding and exploring more of what brings about the background of the Bible.
This show, which refuses to conform to US television standards despite the many requests, has been referred to as an “Indiana Jones meets Pawn Stars but with guns in the mix!” Many have stated that it is the hesitance of Fischer, Valentine, and Elliot’s to conform to the standards of the networks that is so appealing. Although this hesitancy has been highly appealing and intriguing to the audience, their hesitancy to negotiate with networks has caused a delay in the advancement of the show.
Because the refusal of the crew to bend to the requirements of the networks has now assured that “Ancient Pickers” has been put on hold until further notice. In additions, the national promotional trailer for the show, which had been airing in theaters has been pulled. Without a general adjustment of the United States networks policy on “real” footage, or an agreement to “water down” the existing footage, this show will not be premiering on United States primetime television anytime soon. Thes expectations and standards for “reality” television have been the roadblock for “Ancient Pickers” to make it to American networks.
If you are a bit sad and quite curious about the show, you may be able to scour the web and find a trailer or snippets of the two episodes which aired. It seem only appropriate to find these clips in such a way as it would mimic the ways of the treasure hunters themselves. There is hope that perhaps someday the show could be made famous on the internet, if there is a large enough demand by views, but the group of three is still sticking to their original statements of not wanting fame or glory. Perhaps some treasures are best left on the pages of treasure maps and marked with an “X” which will continue remaining a mystery.