Ken Woo is glad he's not lost anymore.
After trudging around the world for more than two weeks, carrying survival gear and camera equipment, the former Augustan is relieved to be back on American soil.
Mr. Woo was one of three cameramen for the NBC reality series Lost, which debuts Wednesday night.
Six strangers were divided into three teams, blindfolded and dropped off in a remote, unknown location with no maps and little money. The first pair to reach the Statue of Liberty won $200,000. Each group's odyssey was chronicled by a cameraman.
"I was part of the team in that I was under the same conditions they were under," Mr. Woo said. "I had to carry everything that they did. Actually more, because I had to carry all my equipment as well as survival gear."
Mr. Woo had a satellite telephone so he could call the show's producers with progress reports.
"One thing I had to impress upon them was that this wasn't the romantic adventure that they thought it was," Mr. Woo said. "We're fighting for our lives every day. When you keep a knife in your hand all the time, it's not a good feeling."
No one on his team got hurt, but there were lots of tense moments.
"We really found our religion out there," Mr. Woo said. "We had so many group prayers, ... We literally had an angel put down in our path every day."
The dropoff point was as far away from the middle of the United States as geographically possible, Mr. Woo said. The location was concealed from the camera operators as well as the contestants.
"I knew where we were within 500 miles because I had been to that part of the world before," he said.
Mr. Woo, who lives in Washington, D.C., has made a career out of adventure-oriented camera work. The Westside High School graduate has been exposed to countries and cultures around the world.
"I've been pretty much everywhere. I love China, but I really fell in love with Australia, too," he said.
He has been a cameraman for sporting events, including the Tour de France, the IronMan Championship, NBC's Gravity Games, and the Olympics.
But he says Lost was his biggest challenge to date.
Each team was allotted $300 to get home. Mr. Woo had an extra $100 so that if his team ran out of money he could continue to eat and work. But that didn't keep him from losing 10 pounds in less than three weeks.
"I had such a rapport with my team, when they weren't eating I wouldn't eat either," said Mr. Woo, who maintained that solidarity until late the game when his team began to frustrate him. "At the end ... I ... would sneak off and get a hamburger," he said with a laugh.
The difficulty of the job was one of the most appealing things about Lost.
"It seems like the best things come out of the most work," Mr. Woo said. "When things are really hard because of conditions or environment or whatever, it just seems that much more rewarding to pull it off."
In addition to being cameraman, he also acted as his team's reporter and producer, a difficult assignment for someone who's used to staying behind the camera.
"I was just drawn to it. It was a personal challenge. Some people would do the Ironman; this was my challenge. I wanted to go out and see just how well I could do," he said.
Normally not a fan of reality television, Mr. Woo said the drama made this show stand apart from the rest.
"My one concern on this show was that it would be kind of hokey," he said. "But because of all the stress and the environment that these people were in, that went out the window the first day."
There were no food challenges, no clues left every few days, no direction of any kind.
"The first three or four days all they were worried about was surviving," Mr. Woo said of his teammates. "There was no way they could be ready for any of it. It was true drama."
Mr. Woo had to sign a confidentiality agreement not to discuss any specifics about his team, the countries they were in or how they finished until after the show airs.
But he has discussed Lost with the show's other producers and finds such conversations therapeutic.
"It's very cathartic for me to talk about Lost as I've had to be silent for so long," he said. He finished taping in early August.
Mr. Woo has won 10 Emmys for his work on documentary and sports events.
He has taped video for Discovery Channel's Opening the Lost Tombs of Egypt, an Alaska documentary and white-water-rafting and mountaineering events in various locations. He also has shot the Ryder Cup golf tournament in England and the Masters Tournament, which is where his career as a cameraman began.
As a child, Mr. Woo loved two things - taking pictures and going to the Masters.
"I would always sit at the 15th green and watch the cameraman all day," Mr. Woo said. "One of the reasons I got into television was because I thought this guy had a really cool job."
After he put in years working at small stations, including WSPA-TV in Spartanburg, S.C., Mr. Woo scored an assignment shooting the Masters for CBS. He listened in disbelief as they told him he would be shooting from the tower on the 15th green.
"I couldn't believe it," he said. "I thought, 'Oh my God. I have been watching this guy my whole life, and now I'm the guy that's replacing him."'
Mr. Woo said his parents didn't really think that he would make a successful career with his camera until they saw him at the Masters. His parents, Madison and Lessie Jo Woo, and sister Cindy Pollard still live in the Augusta area. Mr. Woo is eager for them to see his role in the prime-time TV series so they'll know his career is still progressing.
Reach Lisa M. Lohr at (706) 823-3332 or email@example.com.
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