Did Captain Kirk meet a tiger shark? For 2021 ‘Shark Week’ on Discovery, Josh Gates and ‘Star Trek’ actor William Shatner take a dive into open waters of the Bahamas to learn more about this intimidating apex predator
Over the phone from his East Coast home in the U.S, Josh Gates admits that it is not best to meet your childhood heroes. “But I have to say William Shatner was so fun to work with,” he laughs heartily, “He was everything I could have hoped for and more.”
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The producer and host of the long-running Expedition Unknown recalls a 2020 virtual interview he did for Josh Gates Tonight: Totally Jaw-some. “Shatner was talking about how he was fascinated by and afraid of sharks — and he’s also a scuba diver.” So as 2021 Shark Week kicks off this week, Gates is ready for audiences around the world to sink their teeth into the aptly-named hour-long special Expedition Unknown: Shark Trek.
While Totally Jaw-some was exciting and insightful, it was not enough for Gates who wanted to bring Shatner on board for this year’s physical Shark Week. When he pitched a diving experience for Shark Week to Shatner, the 90-year-old veteran actor impressed Gates once again with his “insatiable curiosity for the world. He is so genuinely curious about everything that when you are around him, you can’t help, but become curious too.”
While the special is bound to be exhilarating, Shark Week is known for its edutainment-take on the conservation of these creatures
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A slight embarrassment is audible in Gates’ voice as he admits, “As a kid, I just devoured Star Trek, so to me, William Shatner is Captain Kirk. You can’t separate those two things. When I first met him over a video chat before our diving trip, I had to swallow that and say, ‘okay, you just can’t geek out on this guy this whole trip. You have to just act like you are hanging out with just a regular person and not Captain Kirk.’ (laughs) Once that happened and we just went out there like two guys who were going on this diving adventure trip, we became friends — which was gratifying. Part of it was putting aside my fanboyness and embracing the experience. But the other part was all about facing fear and doing some intense diving with sharks. For both Bill and me, it was a big lesson in conquering fear.”
Out of one’s comfort zone
Gates’ curiosity about fear comes from, as he jokingly says, “(a) because I am stupid and (b) because I do a lot of dangerous things for a living.” On a more serious note, he loves to encourage people to step outside of their comfort zones without being reckless.
The earliest memory the 43-year-old has of stepping out of his comfort zone is his childhood trips to the U.K. His mother being British led to many of these travels, where the English was different and driving on the other side of the road was a thing. With this in mind, he insists that it is important to expose kids to things that are different from what they know . “I was shaped by those experiences of going abroad as a kid because I was in another country and culture, having a language barrier. A lot of the trips that I take now, I’m in places where I can’t speak the language. That stuff becomes less intimidating because you’re used to it and you’re exposed to it.”
He adds, “One of America’s big challenges is that, we are in some ways as big a country as we are, are weirdly an isolated and we tend to travel domestically. I think that so many folks just haven’t had the experience of just being dropped in a foreign country.”
And who knows, all these experiences would lead lead Gates and William Shatner in some open waters with sharks. Gates chuckles, “Nobody knew! I mean the entire time that we were in the Bahamas, I just kept looking at Shatner and going, ‘this is impossible’. Shatner is next level. I think my episode with him is a great opportunity for viewers to see William Shatner in a whole new life. He is such a natural adventurer and a natural explorer. He is so curious. If you are a Star Trek fan, you will really love it because I geek out on him a lot during the show.”
Then again, Gates himself is no small name with eight seasons of Expedition Unknown under his belt so far, a series that has taken him to the Himalayas, the Kalahari Desert, the the Ayasofya in Constantinople, and more historic landmarks. Gates also is known for Destination Truth, Stranded and Ghost Hunters.
Stars and sharks
Dedicated to the beady-eyed apex predator, Shark Week is television’s longest-running summer event, returning for its 33rd year with bigger sharks, record-breaking breaches and 45 hours of shark programming.
The 2021 edition of Shark Week has some big pop culture names getting up close and personal with some beady-eyed sharks: comedian-actor Tiffany Haddish, rapper Snoop Dogg, Sharknado stars Ian Ziering and Tara Reid, Stranger Things actor Noah Schnapp, the cast of Jackass and Dr Sandra Lee aka Dr Pimple Popper.
Gates points out that while celebrities are involved, Mother Nature is the great equaliser. “It doesn’t matter if you are Tiffany Haddish or William Shatner,” he explains, “That is still an intimidating proposition. One of the fun things about Shark Week is seeing these people who you have a relationship with as a viewer; but you are going to see them not in a position that we usually see these folks in. Right? It also lets you, the viewer, a kind of experience along with them because suddenly they are really relatable.”
Expedition Unknown: Shark Trek streams exclusively on July 12 on Discovery+, and will air on the Discovery Channel on August 23 at 7 pm.
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