by Lou Mancinelli
Even if you’ve never been camping, and the biggest adventure on a plane you’ve had was to your mom’s in Florida, when Animal Planet puts out applications for a reality show offering a chance to get rich digging and prospecting for gold in Greenland, you go.
Even if you know nothing about mining or panning for precious metals and nothing about camping and hiking for months through a vast arctic landscape among glaciers, massive icebergs and total isolation, one of the most inhospitable places on earth, you still go. It’s definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Such was the philosophy of area resident Americo DiSantis, 32, who is one of eight men, including seven grizzled miners, one a geologist with more than 35 years of experience, plus the average blue collar man (DiSantis), who all leave their families behind for a four-month trek in harsh conditions to compose a team in search of gold and other precious metals. The search is featured on the Animal Planet reality show called “Ice Cold Gold.”
If the miners find enough of what they are looking for, kind of like California in 1849, they might get rich. At the conclusion of the one previous season, the team found a ruby deposit called The Red Zone, potentially worth millions of dollars. In season two they are revisiting the site, and they break off in teams looking for new areas to mine.
But the dangers are unimaginable. “I’m going to tell you this about Greenland,” said Josh Feldman, one of the miners, to another newspaper. “We were absolutely outside our element. The dangers are different. Even my years as a wilderness guide in the mountains of Arizona did me no good.”
So if wilderness guides were in trouble, imagine what it was like for DiSantis, who had never even been camping before. Now he had to carry around heavy drilling equipment, a 40-pound backpack and whatever food he was planning to eat in the harshest possible climate for months.
“There’s just something so primal and awesome about living off the land and taking care of yourself, and using what’s around you to survive,” said DiSantis during a recent telephone interview. “It makes you feel like you’re almost invincible, like you could survive anything.”
DiSantis was raised in Penndel and works now for AmeriDrill in Levittown. He dropped out of Pennsbury High School in his junior year. A few years later he tried out for the Las Vegas Gladiators in the Arena Football League. That didn’t pan out. So he came home and worked. After all, he had two little girls, Julianna, 15, and Gabrielle, 13, whom he had with his high school sweetheart, to provide for. At one point in season two, DiSantis proposes marriage to his new girlfriend on film.
It doesn’t bother him that the show’s executive producers casted DiSantis, with a name like Americo, and his personal story of trials and shortcomings, to be the guy on the cast viewers could most relate to. He’s the guy who reminds you of that nice and jolly, hardworking friend you know.
According to Tahli Kouperstein, Senior Director, Communications, for Animal Planet, “Americo is the newbie in the group of miners, so in many cases his opinions are discounted, but perseverance, determination and pure grit make him refuse to fail.”
DiSantis’ first great expectations were getting rich playing football. He was the kid with the natural gift who skipped practice, showed up to games and excelled. But he never really had any guidance or a coach to lead him. As a kid he went to nine different elementary schools. “I never really had a spot I could call home when I was younger,” he said.
When he didn’t make the team he went home and worked. “It was gut-check time,” he said.
His second great expectation is the chance to make a whole lot of money, but maybe none, mining and prospecting for gold in Greenland. “I’m an average everyday guy,” said DiSantis. “I’m a driller. I work hard for the paycheck I get. To see yourself on TV is the weirdest thing.”
DiSantis first heard about the show two years ago when an announcement was sent to various mining, machinery and other companies that Animal Planet was looking for people for a show in Greenland mining for gold. He filled out his basic info, and soon thereafter he was offered to fly to Portland, Maine, with 20-plus others for a sort of audition. The next thing he knew he was off to Greenland.
When Americo found out he had been chosen, he was driving a 1,000-gallon water truck at the bottom of a quarry and had to drive to the top to take the call. He wondered if this was something he would be able to handle.
DiSantis knew Animal Planet brought him out there as the character who would either struggle or rise, to be either the hero or the tragic one. They needed a greenhorn, a fish out of water, and they got one. DiSantis is proving so far, however, that he has been up to the challenge.
“When it comes to putting your body through things, endurance and making it through things,” he said, “I’m not the newbie; I strive. You’d be surprised when you really, really want something, what your body will do.”
This season in episode six, Eric Drummond, one of the eight men and a professional geologist, assembles a team to venture 450 miles north of the zone where the precious metals are thought to be, above the Arctic Circle near the most destructive glacier in Greenland, called Eqi. He has no choice but to force the team into Greenland’s treacherous remote areas to search for gold and keep the company alive. But before Eric can leave, some members of the team turn rogue, possibly threatening to create a mutiny on the whole operation.
“We’re all men,” DiSantis said, about how they come to resolve different issues.
While the team has found a Red Zone, its value still remains only potential. First it must be mined. In upcoming episodes the team hauls heavy machinery to the site. But other companies and miners descend on the area, tightening and creating a true race. Before anything can be mined, mining permits and rights must be obtained. So while the action is on the ground, the story of how the rubies come from the ground and in turn eventually land on the market is another story.
The whole expedition started with luck. The first time DiSantis ever dipped a pan into a stream, after another member had broken up the bank of the stream, where gold often becomes trapped in clay deposits, he found a few nuggets of gold in his pan.
“I felt like I was washing a bowl,” DiSantis said about the motion of panning.
Since then, DiSantis has learned a lot more than how to pan for gold. In the off-season, team members researched mining and continued to learn more about Greenland so when they returned they were better equipped.
“For me it was monumental,” he said about the first gold pan. “That was my first step. For me it was breaking into panning and prospecting.”
Americo, who was already tattooed, got a new tattoo in Greenland. It reads “Silarsuaq kisimi nalaagavaaloq.” The translation is “Nature always prevails.”
“Ice Cold Gold” started March 6 and continues every Thursday, 10 p.m., on Animal Planet through April 24. Check it out if you want to find out if DiSantis strikes it rich.