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The Two Worlds Of Josh Bernstein

The globe-trotter who hosted The History Channel's "Digging for the Truth" and now stars in a new series for the Discovery Channel is as comfortable in modern culture as he is among primitive societies. And he finds room to smoke in both.
Michael Marsh
From the Print Edition:
Tom Selleck, Nov/Dec 2007

(continued from page 1)

When he returned to the States, Bernstein briefly considered rabbinical school. Instead, he returned to a place he credits with having a huge impact on his personal growth: the Boulder Outdoor Survival School, known as BOSS. As Bernstein describes it and as its name suggests, BOSS is about learning to do more with less in the natural world. Without tents or stoves, backpacks or sleeping bags, matches or flashlights, the experience becomes a catalyst for self-reliance and self-discovery. Bernstein, who had taken the course in 1988 when he was a senior in high school, returned during his summers off from college, first as a student, then as an apprentice and finally as an instructor. This time, he was interested in making the outdoors, and BOSS, his career.

He wrote a business plan and asked BOSS owner David Westcott to hire him as the school's marketing director, a position he would hold from 1994 to 1996. In 1997, Bernstein, confident that BOSS had the potential to grow internationally, took over as president and chief executive officer. "BOSS is about turning the clock back to a pre-industrial world where native cultures lived in harmony with the Earth," he says of the company's underlying philosophy. "If you look back far enough in our collective past, each of us was breaking rocks to make fire. We've just forgotten some of those skills. BOSS is a reawakening of that skill set and the soul that is associated with that lifestyle. It's about unplugging from the stresses that are ever pervasive in today's society."

Bernstein practices disconnection from the modern world to maintain balance. While he keeps a residence in Manhattan, he also has a yurt in a town of less than 200 people in Utah. Bernstein sees power in a paradox that allows him to have a foot in two very different worlds and still maintain a balance between the two. "If I just had one life, or one style of life, I think I would be like a tree with just leaves and no roots," he muses. "Trees need leaves and roots to balance the two. The real question is, are my roots in New York or are my roots in Utah? That one I haven't figured out yet."

But Bernstein is clearly comfortable crossing between both places. "Choosing one lifestyle and committing to it makes more sense than living in both worlds," he admits. "But for me, I appreciate the simplicity and beauty of nature, and yet I still am comfortable with modernity and technology.

"There's more to our modern world than meets the eye," he adds, "and I've always been drawn to the deeper levels. There's nothing to be ashamed about when it comes to a life of creature comforts and conveniences. Technology does have things to offer us. But if you can get into the deeper meaning of life, then you'll find the world is a much richer place.

As much as Bernstein appreciates the quest for knowledge, he understands that passing that knowledge on to others is equally important. So, when The History Channel approached him in 2004 about a new series it was developing, Bernstein saw a tremendous opportunity. Titled "Digging for the Truth," the show's concept revolved around historical events that were misunderstood and sometimes controversial in nature. It was about taking stories that were somewhat familiar and exposing them through extreme exploration, anthropology and archaeology.

At the time that Bernstein and The History Channel crossed paths, a pilot episode for the series had already been shot with another host. After seeing the skills and talents that Bernstein offered, however, the producers were determined to somehow work him into the program. In the end, it was decided that Bernstein would serve as host and the show would be customized around his physical and intellectual strengths.

Over the next three years Bernstein filmed 38 episodes for The History Channel. He explored everything from the pyramids of Egypt and the Lost Tribes of Israel to Stonehenge and the bloodlines written about in The Da Vinci Code. He considered the mystery of the Nazca lines in Peru, the giant stone statues on Easter Island, the lost cities of the Amazon and the Holy Grail. The episodes often featured Bernstein scuba diving or rappelling a mountain face, riding horseback or paragliding. "We did whatever it took to bring a physical component to perhaps what could be a dry topic," he says, "and it helped the show. It made me come alive and it made the topics come alive for a lot of people."

The concept worked. After "Digging for the Truth" premiered in January 2005, it rose to become The History Channel's highest-rated series ever, and its Season Three premiere in January 2007 attracted 2.1 million viewers, another record for the cable channel.

In February, Bernstein announced that he was leaving The History Channel to work on a new series for the Discovery Channel, "Josh Bernstein's Expeditions." While the show is similar in concept to "Digging for the Truth," Bernstein says it is more ambitious in that the goal of each episode is for viewers to learn something completely new and truly groundbreaking. "We didn't want it to be a regurgitation of history books," he says. "Nor did we want it to be limited to just history, archaeology or science. The topics are much broader and have a slight environmental streak. There will be paragliding and scuba diving, but there will also be the additional component of actually trying to break news."

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