Most folks are willing to leave their love life up to chance. Travel plans, less so.
Not so is the case for Eli Newell. A travel junkie who just funded his Crowd-Sourced Travel Show, DON’T KILL ELI, which puts total strangers in charge of his future. What the people say goes. His first stop, as chosen by pal and Daily Show correspondent, Rob Coddry, is Beirut.
A little about Eli. He’s been traveling his whole life. Forty countries. Five continents. He says civilized is not his style. He’s into down and dirty. Us too!
So obviously, we wanted to talk to him just in case he never makes it home.
So, what’s the deal with Don’t Kill Eli? Did you read too many choose your own adventure books as a kid?
EN: I really like the idea of engaging the audience and making them a part of what happens on the show. It gives the audience ownership and a much deeper connection to what happens. I’ve traveled solo all over the world – this started as a fun way to take my friends with me.
Regarding Choose Your Own Adventure books; I read them all as a kid. I totally cheated too. I wanted to go on an adventure – not be torn apart by angry yetis or turned to stone by an evil witch. If I sensed anything bad, I’d go back a couple choices. With DON”T KILL ELI, the roles are reversed and I have to settle for whatever comes my way – no going back.
What’s the biggest travel risk you’ve taken prior to this?
EN: Who knows!!! I’ve been scared at times but I think my most dangerous situations and brushes with death have probably happened without me noticing. Hmmm… I jumped off a moving train in Bulgaria once – that was pretty risky… I probably should’ve broken a bone or two but survived with scrapes and bruises. I had another close shave in Cote d’Ivoire – I was in Abidjan and there were protests everywhere. The day after I split, the country erupted into civil war.
Anything that you are totally unwilling to do?
EN: I’m going to do my best to avoid anything stupidly dangerous or disrespectful… And anything that’ll get me shot. Other than that, I’m up for anything.
Seeing as you’re headed to Beirut, how do you feel about grape leaves?
EN: I’m glad you asked that question. I’m pro-grape leaf. I always have been. Nothing beats snuggling up in a nice cozy bed of grape leaves on a cold winter’s eve. I guess I’m just a small town boy at heart. I got mine from my daddy – and he got his from his daddy. When I have a boy, I’ll be proud to hand him… wait… what are grape leaves? Oooooh. Sure – they’re fine.
In all seriousness, the situation in Beirut is particularly vulnerable to threats from Al Qaeda offshoot, The Abdullah Azzam Brigades. Just last week a bomb killed (at least) five people. The group has said these types of attacks will continue until Hezbollah withdraws its forces from Syria. So, are you ready? Scared? Know where the Embassy is?
EN: I’m really not at all scared. Most of the violence is contained to the Southern suburbs of Beirut – I have as much reason to go there as I do to go to Compton or Watts here in LA. Beirut has a reputation of being a war zone but from what I can tell it’s an amazing city. When the first vote happened and Rob Corddry lobbied hard for Beirut and won, I was skeptical but now I’m excited to go.
Any last words, just in case you meet your maker?
EN: Ha! Sure… I’d love for everybody to follow along and send me advice or comments or tips. This is going to be a blast. I started it as a small Kickstarter project and it is taking off. I recently added a cameraman (and $5K in expenses) to the trip so if you guys like the concept, pledge a buck or two! Thanks! And please don’t kill me!