Jeff Schroeder’s web series starts: I’ll “be myself and show what I know, which is not a lot”

Almost three years after Amazing Race 2 winner Alex Boylan traveled around the world with no money, Big Brother 11 and Amazing Race 16 cast member Jeff Schroeder will do the same thing on Around the World for Free. He left after appearing on The Early Show this morning, and his journey will unfold on CBS.com. You can e.mail Jeff or annotate an interactive map to give him advice about where to go next, and offer your support, perhaps suggesting that he stay with you.

I talked to Jeff a few weeks ago before the trip began, and asked the inevitable question first: Why is he doing this solo and without his reality TV partner and girlfriend Jordan Lloyd? “I don’t think this show is for Jordan,” he said, adding that “Jordan is right next to me” but she’s “busy with school” to become a dental hygienist, so “she’s going to let me do this one solo.” “Everything’s going good,” he said, adding that they “see each other, on average, every two to three weeks.”

Why take on this new series? “Traveling period I’m interested in; I want to see everything,” Jeff said, and contrasted it with Travel Channel-style shows. “It’s actually on the ground level, seeing it through the eyes of the locals, visiting places that might have not have ever have visited or get the chance to speak their voice or their opinion and show their culture, so this is a whole new aspect of traveling and to me, it’s exciting, and I’m lucky to be part of it.”

Instead of traveling 160 days, like the first season, Jeff and his camera operator will travel for 100 days. Also different: Social media is a lot more prevalent, which should make their journey easier. “We’re lucky enough now to have Twitter and more of an online community, and Facebook; people are more interactive online, so we have that much more power to travel around the world,” Jeff said. “We have a little bit more power at our back with the online audience, so it’s going to be amazing. I don’t know what to expect, but I just expect amazing things.”

He’s traveling with camera operator, producer, and series co-creator Zsolt Luka, who was also with Alex during the show’s first season. “We’re together all the time,” Zsolt told me, and that means it’s “just like two guys backpacking” so they can go “where traditional crews wouldn’t have access.” He and Jeff will look at ideas and offers and “weigh them and decide and go there,” and said that “sometimes complete strangers will help us” if there’s no help from the online audience. “Jeff is completely without a penny,” he said, but as the producer, “I can have money, [but] it’s not like Jeff is going to sleep on the street and I’m going to sleep in a hotel, because I’d miss the story.” Zsolt added that “there is no contingency plan, there is no security detail, no one is getting our backs. If he can’t move somewhere, he is going to be stuck. I cannot suddenly whip out a credit card and facilitate the trip for him.” During the first season, Alex and Zsolt were stuck in Dominica for 14 days.

Most people, Zsolt said, “can’t really grasp how interactive it is and how much power and control it gives to the audience,” adding that the improvement in technology and access to the Internet will mean they can spend more time on human stories. “It was unprecedented in 2007, and still unprecedented now.”

I asked Jeff if he was worried Big Brother fans would be too distracted by watching the hamsters to help him out, and he laughed and said, “I hope not! I hope not. Big Brother’s definitely distracting and takes up a lot of time, as I’ve learned, but hopefully they can check back in while they’re online … While there’s that downtime, hopefully they can click over to my show and help me out.” (Of course, that was before we knew this season of Big Brother would be so painfully boring.)

His time on the two previous CBS reality shows, Jeff said, both “taught me something. Just the patience being of being in Big Brother … hopefully the patience that I learned on that show, if we are stuck somewhere, hopefully some of those patience will kick in that I learned on the show.” From Amazing Race, he has the experience of “just traveling” and related things like going through customs, but he pointed out that here, “it’s not a race; I get to enjoy the moment. There’s a lot of times on the race where we ran past a great monument or landmark, and you don’t get the time to enjoy it.”

Jeff is obviously excited and passionate, but as you can see, he is still Jeff Schroeder, so sometimes he’s not always able to express that as clearly as he might like. For example, I asked if he was concerned about the open-ended nature of the trip, and he said, “With no risk, there’s no reward. So I’m kinda going in with open eyes and focusing on the positive aspect of things, you know, rather than, is this going to go wrong or is that gonna happen—not focusing on any of that, because I know there’s going to be bad times, but the times that I’m going to have are good are definitely going to outweigh the bad, so I’m just focusing on those right now, and take each day as it comes and just enjoy every moment that I have,” he said.

Jeff had been selling radio advertising and expects he might have to go back after Around the World for Free concludes, but he told me, “I would like to continue in the industry.” However, he pointed out that “I was doing things before Big Brother,” including modeling and commercials, and he said “it was just a hobby to me,” but now this has “become more real to me.” Then again, he re-emphasized that “to me this isn’t show business” because “I’m not playing a character.”

It seems like Jeff’s heart is in the right place, but sometimes he’s not the best actually expressing that, which should make his hosting interesting, to say the least. I asked how he viewed his role as a host, and he said, “I wasn’t playing a character on either show. I was just being me; luckily, the audience just picked up on me and they got my jokes and they got my humor. … I’m just gonna naturally put myself into a situation and I think that just the situation itself is going to speak for itself. I don’t really have to do much. If I’m in India or some other weird country, or whatever, wherever I’m at, the situation is going to speak for itself, and I’ll have plenty of jokes for everybody, but more than anything, I just want to show what lives are like in those countries, and in those different places, and the story’s going to tell itself. I’m in a situation luckily that there really is nothing that I have to do other than be myself and show what I know, which is not a lot, and I’m sure a lot of other people don’t know a lot about different cultures. If I’m learning, hoping the audience learns with me, and hopefully the natural humor comes out of the show, and great experiences, and good times. That’s what I think we’re trying to capture here.”

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