LOS ANGELES — “Survivor” producer Mark Burnett has found yet another way to toy with gung-ho contestants in his new ABC series, “Expedition Impossible,” which sends 13 three-person teams on a trek across daunting Moroccan terrain.
Burnett contends he’s doing the folks a favor.
“I have an obligation to the contestants to give them a real adventure and not a pretend adventure. If it wasn’t a real adventure they would have been cheated,” says Burnett, himself a thrill-seeker who joined the British military at age 17 and served as a paratrooper.
In “Expedition Impossible,” debuting 9 p.m. EDT tonight, the teams struggle to be the first to conquer sun-baked dunes, snowy mountains and fast-moving rivers to win bragging rights, a car and $50,000 each.
Among them: “Grandpa’s Warriors,” with a 69-year-old Illinois man, his son and granddaughter; “Latin Persuasion,” three New York women; “The Country Boys,” longtime friends from Mississippi; “No Limits,” including a blind motivational speaker and writer; and a team of three former NFL players.
Burnett, whose early series included “Eco Challenge” and its variations and who has created 22 editions of “Survivor” — as well as the corporate jungle scrum “The Apprentice” — said he’s confident in his production team’s ability to maximize both thrills and safety.
“Expedition Impossible” employed 400 crew and cameramen along with experienced mountain guides and others to protect the contestants, who were required to demonstrate basic skills in river-rafting, mountain climbing and horsemanship before filming, Burnett said.
No Arabian stallions, camels or people (aside from minor scrapes and scratches) were hurt during filming of the 10 episodes, ABC said.
The show’s host is Dave Salmoni (“adventurer, zoologist, big cat trainer and all around risk-taker,” according to a network release).
Among other tests, the teams face extreme weather, balky animals and the bemused, culture-clash observation of Moroccans.
“Why are their socks so high?” a puzzled Berber tribesman asks, eyeing a fashion-conscious trio’s brightly colored knee-highs, worn despite a sizzling day.
In another scene, a team of female contestants bicker at a watering hole as a group of Berber men watch, and one is asked for his thoughts. His translated response, according to Burnett: “I wouldn’t have them for my wife.”
For contestants, he wanted to provide a shot at derring-do as well as a chance to realize the power of camaraderie. For viewers, Burnett’s goal was to create an “Indiana Jones experience” with vicarious thrills. Or better yet, prompt couch potatoes to try making a real-world splash.
“My dream is this takes off and inspires millions of Americans to get out and do something,” he said.
He has a track record at home. Before he and actress Roma Downey (“Touched by an Angel”) married in 2007, her idea of adventure was “opening the window at the Four Seasons hotel,” Burnett said — and he didn’t make it sound like a punch line.
Downey, whose honeymoon with Burnett was a desert camping trip, is now preparing to climb Africa’s highest mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.