Two of the 12 national semifinalists to become a “Wild Guide” have something in common — they grew up visiting the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium in Omaha.
Regina Busse, 29, of Omaha and Tim Davison, 25, of Wahoo haven't met. They are competing against each other and the 10 others — out of nearly 200 who submitted videos — to host an online version of “Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom” and bring it to new generations.
“Hi, I'm Reggie, your Nebraska-born child of the world, ready to take you with me!” the Omahan exclaims on an online video.
“My name is Tim,” says the Wahoo native, “and this is my wild kingdom!”
Online voting for the 12 extends through Thursday at midnight. To see all the videos and vote, go to wildkingdom.com/nextwildguide.
Three finalists will come to Omaha for interviews, and one will win $10,000 and be selected to host a new “webisode” series. It will premiere this fall on Mutual's Wild Kingdom TV YouTube channel, marking the 50th anniversary of the start of the original “Wild Kingdom” TV show.
Reggie and Tim are too young to have watched the TV show, but they have visited the Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom Pavilion at the zoo, and they know the legacy of hosts Marlin Perkins and Jim Fowler.
Both of the local semifinalists are engaging on-screen.
Reggie is shown swimming with alligators, riding a camel, handling a cobra and walking through a swamp, wearing boots that she kiddingly calls “the latest fashion in anaconda hunting.”
Tim's video shows him in the outdoors with nature and indoors with animals and children, saying he wants his grandchildren “to grow up in a better wild kingdom than we live in today.”
Reggie has backpacked through 50 countries and dispenses travel tips on her website, backpackerswanted.com. Earlier, the daughter of Jim and Cynthia Busse served as student body president and played volleyball at Omaha Roncalli High.
Tim, who grew up fishing, camping and hiking, has traveled the 48 contiguous states the past four years, speaking to schools and other groups as a wildlife educator. The son of Jana and the late Mike Davison played various sports at Wahoo High as well as guitar in a rock band.
At the Omaha zoo, Reggie remembers looking through glass walls at gorillas “up-close and personal.” Last fall in Uganda, an experience tracking wild gorillas became up-close and a little too personal.
“A silverback ran out of the bush about 10 feet from us and stood up, beating his chest,” she told me in Omaha last week. “The guide had told us that if a gorilla charges, don't look him in the eye. He outweighs you and you can't outrun him, so just plaster yourself to the ground.”
She did so. Once the gorilla saw that the group wasn't a threat, she said, he quietly returned to his family.
Reggie graduated from Kansas State University in 2006 with a degree in business marketing. During her college years, she studied abroad in Australia and, she says, was affected by wanderlust.
Upon graduation, she backpacked through Europe for 4½ months. She lived on a small budget, sometimes sleeping on floors.
People often ask how she affords traveling. “I don't have a mortgage or a family,” she said. “I pinch my pennies, and I budget well.”
That has included waitressing and bartending during her travels. And for the past five summers, she has worked in Switzerland selling adventure tours — for bungee-jumping, paragliding, river rafting and sky diving.
Reggie has traveled to Southeast Asia, South America and East Africa, often arriving without a plan. She taught English to children in Peru and took a safari on the Bolivian Amazon.
“I'm a pretty confident person,” she said. “I just have something that clicks in my brain. I arrive in a country not knowing where I'm going or where I will sleep, and a survival instinct kicks in. You just go.”
Tim was driving in North Carolina when I reached him Friday. After his 2006 graduation from high school, he said by phone, he changed his plan to attend art school and embraced the outdoors in Colorado, where he had started college.
“Being from Nebraska, I never got to see the mountains before that,” he said. “It blew my mind. I was more focused on the outdoors than on school.”
He returned to Nebraska and attended Metro Community College in Omaha, where a speech professor told Tim he might one day be able to make a living as a speaker.
Four years ago, he saw a job opening at the nonprofit Wildlife Encounters for a wildlife educator who must be willing to travel. He quips that he had no idea that he was about to encounter “a very wild life.”
He has enjoyed criss-crossing the country talking with students and showing animals. He doesn't have a college degree, he said, and has told children that working with animals doesn't necessarily require one.
Last year, he said, he started a fundraiser to save a rain forest. Educating kids about nature and animals is his passion, and he said the opportunity to do so for Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom would be “a dream come true.”
“I could reach so many more kids with my message to get out of the house and into the outdoors,” he said. “By doing that, they would appreciate it that much more.”
Mutual of Omaha says that by leveraging new technology, it hoped to introduce “Wild Kingdom” to younger viewers. The company also announced an iPhone app, called My Wild Kingdom, that enables users to add virtual animals to any photo or video and share it instantly with friends.
Webisodes, apps and virtual animals? It's a long way from Sunday-night television with Marlin Perkins.
Reggie and Tim, talented members of the millennial generation, meanwhile are asking friends, relatives and readers everywhere to check out their videos online and vote.
Yes, the world has changed. But Mutual of Omaha's 21st century kingdom is still wild enough to need a Wild Guide.
Contact the writer: 402-444-1132, firstname.lastname@example.org