What was on NBC’s mind last week? Ratings for the “Today” show must be down. It’s November sweeps time and I guess it was time for the obligatory, flashy gimmick destined to generate ad dollars and publicity. Let’s see. We send balding, prickly Matt Lauer around to some exotic locations and call it “Where in the World is Matt Lauer” while the equally queasy hosts back in Studio 1A try to mockingly guess where he is, whether it’s on a plaza dancing a tango in Buenos Aires, or the kingdom of Bhutan. Never one to be tired, Matt and NBC News crew go to five different places during that week. And for what?
Tell this to Ann Curry. She is possibly more earnest and more caffeinated than Matt, and she has managed to make a spectacle out of herself pretty often on the show, where she is the main news-reader. (She has none of the gravitas of Meredith Vieira, but she has more hair than Matt.) Ann Curry is somehow a star in the same way that jolly Al Roker is: for those precious 2-3 minutes that she is on screen, she is supposed to exude some kind of enthusiasm or camaraderie. Remember the whole crew is a team.
And that’s why NBC somehow decided to send everyone to different corners of the world in a laughable attempt to anoint itself as the Green Network. It was called “Ends of the Earth” because –oh, don’t you know?—Green is Universal. Wow. A TV network congratulating itself! What a concept. Meredith, who you can tell doesn’t love all these stunts, was sent to Sydney to get close to penguins. Matt got to go check our coral reefs in Belize. Yawn. Al Roker, in a red puffy down jacket so he could resemble a giant pillow, went to Iceland. Like we all have to be convinced 1) that NBC cares about the environment; 2) it needs to do classier stunts than shilling Britney Spears’s “Circus” CD that those publicity whores at “Good Morning America” are planning next week; 3) that we all need to be treated to natural wonders of ice caps and lively dolphins as we sip our morning coffee, bleary-eyed.
But Ann is a different breed, and her trek was altogether way over the top because she too, well, is just that much more into all this, more dogged, more enthusiastic, with the seeming energy of ten women, and talking so fast that she really could convince you she is a living superwoman. Ann wanted to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, all 19,000 feet of it, and schlep her news crew with her because she can, and because she needed to show the world that she could celebrate her 52nd birthday up near the heavens for all the mere mortals to see. What? Risk her life? What?Leave her husband and young children at home? It’s unclear who exactly put this tightwire act together and, worse, who decided that Curry would get the most dangerous assignment of all, taking her news crew and about 100 Masai porters –including a chef!—with her. Ratings ploy? Pat on the back for going out and seeing if global warming truly exists? Nah. I kinda think Ann Curry went for the jugular on this one. She couldn’t wait to get started on this one. She even –ugh—began penning a blog about this, the Kiliminjaro Journal.
Why aren’t we surprised? This is the same woman who feels she has to overcompensate for things. She is up at 4am to head into the studio but she is also one of the replacement anchors for Brian Williams on the NBC Evening News. She seemingly runs on adrenaline and she puts it all on display, as she did earlier this year when in one day she anchored “Today”, the Nightly News and “Dateline”. Watch as she dashes off to makeup, runs up and down stairs in heels, coffee cup in hand (no time for eating) and in infinite chatting drones, makes every normal woman feel like they too can be as awesomely energetic, thin, ravenous and annoying:
This expedition to Kilimanjaro was slated to provide maximum TV coverage of Curry’s daily progress up one of the world’s highest peaks. It was supposed to culminate on that Friday (the 21st) with her, wrapped up fashionably, atop the peak, and was intended, in the words of one blogger, to “slam home the idea that global warming induced rapid melting was ‘threatening the people of Tanzania’ with water shortages.” Not surprisingly, she would be taking the hardest route to the top of Kilimanjaro, the Western Breach. Why? Because she can. Because she has to show us she is no slouch. And neither is her crew. In her words, this would be a most memorable expedition:
Our mission is to report on Kilimanjaro’s vanishing glaciers, expected to disappear completely as soon as 2020. And if we are successful, we will reach millions of Americans with the story in an unprecedented way.
As luck would have it, she and the crew encountered some very mortal-like, normal human being problems, like the fact the air gets pretty thin as you’re hiking up so high up the mountains. Not just mere altitude sickness, but she and crew came down with severe headaches, fatigue and lethargy. Reporting from 15,700 feet at Arrow Glacier, where they had set up camp, they also looked pretty swollen –the effects, as it turned out, of cerebral edema: basically, the brain is getting swollen and it manifests itself in puffy faces and swollen limbs. And of course it’s deadly. In fact, in the medical specialty known as mountain sickness, it’s called HACE, High Altitude Cerebral Edema. According to the International Society for Mountain Medicine, HACE
can progress rapidly, and can be fatal in a matter of a few hours to one or two days. Immediate descent is the best treatment for HACE. This is of the utmost urgency, and cannot wait until morning (unfortunately, HACE often strikes at night). Delay may be fatal.
As Curry herself tried to explain to Matt and Al who were safe and warm back in the studio, she said she was in some pain:
Basically, your brain is swelling; it’s hitting up against your skull and it hurts. If it swells too much, you get disoriented and have trouble thinking.
If you take a look at the video footage of the interviews with Curry, you can clearly see how swollen her face is and how completely disoriented she is –speaking much slower than the spitfire routine she does, and with none of her patented salivating chirpiness we have all grown sick of. But she is there to get the proof of the ice melting! Hey, Ann, we believe you. Just climb back down and get some rest!
“Jumbo Bwana!” Look at how she reaches out and learns the natives’ language! Look at how she actually touches real Black people and tries to adjust her accent to let them know she’s just like them. “Hello, I’m Ahn-a!” So it’s like 6 hours on Stairmaster with 20 lbs on your back? Ha ha, Ann! That makes it so understandable for us plebes who are obsessively herding in to our gyms and climbing on to those Stairmasters and wiping our sweat just like you just in time to watch your dispatches. Cruel world with all those water shortages! Damn you, altitude sickness! Damn the brain swelling and the puffy faces! We would never have believed all this without Ann Curry “on the roof of Africa”.
I’m not quibbling with the fact that there are severe environmental disasters looming in Africa —the water shortages due to the ice peaks melting or the fact that a lot of the climate change may be because a lot of trees are being cut down. What I question is why NBC decided to put one of their top newspeople in this kind of danger, even if this adrenaline-rich superwoman may herself have endangered herself and her crew in the craven need to “get proof” of these man-made disasters. It’s not just the cynicism of NBC wanting more viewers during this ratings sweep period in November in hopes of convincing the public that it is now taking a more activistic stance on the environment, carbon footprint and all that. But when the person who is going to report this, who is known for her over-the-top reporting and personality, goes beyond what is safe, then something clearly is wrong.