Sep 042010
 

Hold me down! I’m big-time digging Jeff Schroeder’s Around the World for Free on CBS.com. Some of it has been slightly canned, like the plugs for American Airlines (a sponsor), but the majority of it is killer stuff. Anyone who backpacks will recognize what he’s going through right now as he tries to make it around the world without spending any money, instead relying on the generosity of the people who are following the trip online, like an open-palmed version of the Travel Channel’s dearly departed 5 Takes. Although the series’ conceit seems like a stunt, it takes a special traveler not to make an actual stunt out of it.

Jeff on 'Big Brother'

As a not-so-closet fan of Big Brother, I watched Schroeder last summer, and I grew to appreciate his demeanor, his almost childlike joy for seemingly trivial stuff, and the respect he has for other people.  Reality television players can be unabashedly self-serving, but Jeff wasn’t. He was the frat boy who cared. I watched the Big Brother live feeds, which expose players every minute of the day, and his character held up — when he had momentary lapses, he instantly recognized his failings and made up for them.

This summer, as he does this trip, I have grown to appreciate him even more. He’s bushy-tailed and peppy, and what he lacks in eloquence (most stuff is either “amazing” or “awesome”) he makes up for in enthusiasm and empathy. He’s unfailingly polite, hungry to learn, and is good at anticipating his audience’s questions. Two weeks ago, Schroeder served for a day with a People for Care and Learning, a humanitarian group that delivers water purification devices to floating villages in one of the poorest provinces in Cambodia.

In this segment, from a week ago, he’s stranded in Pakse, Laos. He’s not allowed to spend money, but he needs $18 for a bus fare. Begging for cash in a poor place like Laos would be highly unsavory. I seem to remember another show from about 10 years ago that was built on just such a premise — strand the players, see how they get home — and it turned me off. But that’s not how Schroeder is handling things. He’d rather go thirsty than be a burden on the locals.

This clip brings me a flood of powerful travel memories: the heat of a Southeast Asian village’s streets, the benign language barrier, that unique feeling of wandering aimlessness paired with the traveler’s faith that everything will turn out just fine. And what backpacker hasn’t found himself struggling to find a Wi-Fi signal, peering in the windows of the fancy hotels?

“I don’t want to mooch off anybody. That’s not why I signed up,” Schroeder says.

He doesn’t have a production team to put words like that in his mouth.

He made it out. Today, he’s in Bangkok battling some tummy trouble, and he appears to have been reunited with the prodigiously talented videographer and editor named Zsolt Luka (I wouldn’t give Luka’s daily edit-and-recharge demands to a monkey on a rock) who accompanies him much of the time and whom I have to assume is equally responsible for the spirit of this endeavor.

Schroeder is making this odyssey not about himself, but about the people he meets, and that’s clearly by design and not by accident. So many other mass-media travel diary projects are about the ego of the traveler, but against the odds and the currents of the genre, Schroeder always puts the spotlight on the people he meets. He’s both amazing and awesome. You can follow Schroeder’s adventure (videos, photos, tweets), throw him tips, or offer him help on his next leg by going to CBSAroundtheWorld.com. There are also videos on YouTube.

Major praise to CBS for accomplishing this series with so much sensitivity. And since it’s the sponsor, I guess I should tip my hat to American Airlines, too.

  14 Responses to “Jeff Schroeder’s ‘Around the World for Free’: World class”

  1. I totally agree with you. I am enjoying this journey as well!

  2. Thank you Mr Cochran for your recognition of the host of ATWFF. Those are all the reasons Jeff has so many followers and fans who struggle daily with their personal needs, but still because he is so good and such a wonderful person, love helping him with his goal. It is nothing for me to help him and do without. He encouraged me from a distance to contribute to PCL When I see him or hear him especially with his girlfriend, I get a smile on my face, tears in my eyes and a full heart. I have prayed for the world to open its arms and welcome him and his two partners on his special journey ATWFF. Thank you again.

  3. Jason, wonderful article. I’m sure Jeff, Z, Josh and the entire Around the World for Free crew will appreciate your kind words. You captured Jeff’s character, spirit and motivation perfectly. So, glad he was chosen, for ATWFF. Can we hope CBS will turn it into a special series, like WGN did for the first season?

  4. What a great write up about a truly great show. Jeff is doing an amazing job, he is made for this type of show.

  5. I couldn’t agree more Mr. Cocharan. I am a fan of Jeff’s from BB11 & TAR 16. I have watched reality these reality shows from their beginning, but in all that time I have never been touched by a houseguest as I was with Jeff last year. Just as you mentioned he was himself throughout and that is the person we all grew to love and are gladly following him and helping him throughout his journey. He is the perfect person to do this. The PCL episode touched me very much and I thought what these people do with out that we take for granted daily and they always had a smile on their face & a welcoming heart. Seeing how Jeff approached his ordeal when he was stuck in Paske, Laos was telling & showed what time of person let alone human being Jeff is. I wish him nothing but success in this endeavor. He is doing an amazing job.

  6. Your blog was right on. Jeff is one of the most humble guys we’ve seen. I agree his focus is on the people and countries he sees. We are following him all the way.

  7. Awesome and amazing blog ;-)
    You’re spot on with this, Jeff has been a pleasure to watch on this journey so far. He’s as real as it gets in reality circles. Thank you for spotlighting this series and Jeff.

  8. Wonderfully written about a really, really genuinly good guy! Jeff was the perfect choise for this show and I hope it propels him forward in his chosen career. He and Jordan are the best to come out of Big Brother and I wish them every success!

  9. Mr. Cochran – thank you so much for a wonderful write up about ATWFF and host Jeff Schroeder. You really did capture what his fans already realize he is all about – a truly genuine and caring human being. CBS really knew what they were doing when they chose him as host of this very innovative web based series. He is really giving followers a unique glimpse into parts of the world that many of us will never see. His kindness and empathetic nature comes through with everyone he meets along the way. He and his girlfriend Jordan, whom he fell in love with on Big Brother 11, are a breath of fresh air in the world of reality TV. So glad to see the positive recognition they both so deserve!

  10. CBS chose the right person to host ATWFF. Jeff’s genuineness and warm heart really shine through. To team Jeff up with Zsolt Luka was pure gold. This is just the beginning of Jeff’s journey and their webisodes, pictures, and blogs have been incredible, inspiring, and motivational. The clips which include his girlfriend, Jordan Lloyd, bring out Jeff’s soft side which is endearing. Jeff and Jordan are the meaning of the word real. Jeff gives 100% in everything he does. His sense of humor is priceless. We are glued to the web, waiting to see what each day brings…not just once a week, but each and every day. There is so much more story to tell. I would love to see CBS turn ATWFF in to a series. Mr. Cochran, thank you for your blog. It made the day for many Jeff Schroeder fans.

  11. What a great blog Jason you are right on regarding Jeff. He is so real and genuine and has been such a pleasure to watch. Thanks for giving him the props he deserves.

  12. Mr. Cochran – looking forward to reading your interview with Jeff Schroeder – it has been an awesome 106+ days as he has taken us around the world through his eyes, his heart and his companion Zsolt’s camera lens and talent. I’m sure you have some great questions all ready for him! He probably can’t answer some of the burning questions we fans have…such as if CBS plans to air any of his journey on CBS network as a mini-series or one-time special perhaps. I figure if he knows any of these types of plans it will be up to CBS to allow him to say….but it would certainly make for great TV!

  13. Mr. Cochran – I too am looking forward to reading your interview with Jeff. From the beginning with BB11 he has shown us qualities that I believe most of us strive to have. He is kind, considerate, funny, protective, loyal, curious, emotional, sexy, and so genuine. I think he represents the son every mom and father want, the man every woman wants, the brother every sibling would want and the type of friend we’d all like to have in our lives. I’d like you to ask him what were his “highest” and “lowest” moments of this incredible journey.

  14. Hi! Do you know if they make any plugins to protect against hackers? I’m kinda paranoid about losing everything I’ve worked hard on. Any recommendations?

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