In 2011, Scott Lomu saw the Discovery channel TV show Gold Rush and was perplexed that it was a hit. He and his friend George Wright had gone to Ghana the previous summer to mine gold, and what he was watching on TV was ho-hum compared to the most uneventful day in Ghana. Could their adventures be a reality TV show? It sure could. Lomu learned what he needed to know about reality TV, put together a treatment, and sold the idea to Raw TV, the company that produces Gold Rush. The result was Jungle Gold, which premiered in October 2012. There were a couple of problems going into the production. Although Lomu and Wright had mined in Ghana before, they didn’t make any money. And the story of two white guys exploiting natural resources in Africa wasn’t a popular vision in Ghana. Or in America.
These controversies presented possible PR problems. But Raw believed they could meet the challenges of filming a gold-mining operation in Ghana; in the Season 1 synopsis, they noted that their contributors would be “paragons of responsible mining.” Discovery, which had green-lit the show in March, had insisted Wright and Lomu hire locals, replant cocoa crops on mined land, and abide by the rules of Ghana’s Environmental Protection Agency. “We came to realize this was a perfect opportunity to show how foreigners can do business the right way in Ghana,” Lomu told me. Should they find enough gold, they intended to build a Ghanaian schoolhouse in Macias’s name. (Both Discovery Channel and Raw, which was acquired by Discovery in 2014, declined to comment for this story.)
Ghana challenged their intentions from the start. Months before the shoot, Lomu had paid a village chief $12,500 of his Utah investors’ money to secure a 25-acre plot of land an hour outside the town of Dunkwa, the epicenter of Ghana’s gold rush. When the cast and crew arrived on the first day of filming, however, they found it crawling with Chinese miners. Furious, Wright and Lomu gathered a dozen local chiefs and tribal elders to solve the dispute. A heated argument ensued. When Lomu suggested removing the miners by force, a chief replied: “If you attempt it, they will kill you!” The crew captured everything on film — and loved it. Discovery was so impressed by the clips they upped the season from 10 episodes to 16. “That’s when we realized our tragedy was good for the show,” Lomu said.
Tragedy may be good for the show, but the conflicts were real and had real-world consequences. The first season was both a hit and an outrage. The outrage only grew worse when Jungle Gold was shown in Ghanian TV. Production on the second season was even more chaotic than the first, and ended up with Wright being accused of murder. Read the entire story of Jungle Gold at Buzzfeed.