Last year, Discovery Channel introduced us to an eclectic cast of adventurers in Treasure Quest: Snake Island. These adrenaline-fueled, adventure seekers were scouring one of the world’s most deadliest islands (apparently over 4,000 snakes inhabit this 110-acre island) in search of the legendary Treasure of the Trinity — an elusive Inca treasure of gold believed to be worth nearly $400 million. Well, they didn’t find the treasure there, but they did find a map (with a clue!). The map leads them deep into South America’s Atlantic Forest. And so begins Season 2 of Treasure Quest: Snake Island on Discovery Channel Friday, Nov. 4 at 10pmET.
We caught up with the expedition’s dive master — Mehgan Heaney-Grier — who survived three months in the extreme elements, diving into bacteria and piranha-infested waters. In addition to being a dive master, Heaney-Grier is known for setting freediving records (in 2009 she could hold her breath for over 4 ½ minutes!); she’s also a model, TV personality, stunt diver, marine conservationist and an extremely down-to-earth gal.
How satisfying do you think this season of Treasure Quest will be for fans who are really obsessed in the hunt for the actual treasure?
Mehgan Heaney-Grier: Plenty of sparks and explosions with the team and plenty of adventure and dangers but most importantly and most exciting for me, just having my background and studies in archaeology and anthropology are those elements that are brought into the expedition with — I can’t say a whole lot, but I can say that it was a very successful expedition. Although I can’t say how much or exactly what we uncover, it will blow your mind and it was very successful and very exciting from the standpoint of historical artifacts and putting these pieces together. We go in with a lot of questions and we get a lot of questions answered but of course, every time in this world, in this field, every time you get a question answered there’s five more that come out of what you don’t know that just push you on so it’s not hard to get obsessed about that stuff, I totally get it. It won’t disappoint, it is one twist after another and it kept us guessing the whole time. It was an epic expedition and it was a very successful mission in many ways.
In the premiere episode of Season 2, that river that you dived into was beyond scary and dangerous with the piranhas, the undercurrent and not being able to see a damn thing. What were you thinking?
Right, you’re telling me. That river is nasty and scary — and no joke. This is my chosen profession so my background and dive expertise is a big reason why I was brought onto this team. I’ve been dealing with working — literally and figuratively — under pressure for so long, whether it’s freediving or working with alligators underwater and documenting their behavior, and different things like that. In a way I’m drawn to adventure and to going right to the edge of my comfort zone and I will tell you, hands down, this river is definitely pushing my comfort zone. There are, as you mentioned, a lot of dangers in the river with piranha and stingray and caiman and wrapping it up in a nice little dangerous package is the fact that I can’t see anything. Even a tree hauling down the river can be a huge danger and in any case it is very dangerous with the debris.
… But what really scares her and pushes her comfort zone even more is …
The thing that almost scares me more than any of that stuff is the microorganisms in freshwater that thrive there. You can’t see them but I was dealing with stuff like eye infections and serious skin ailments and different things like that, but even in the South, in the United States, when you’re dealing with hot, stagnant, which luckily at least the river is moving in most cases, but you can have really scary things like brain-eating amoebas and that vampire catfish — It’s no joke, it’s scary. So what was I thinking? I guess I’d have to say — my disclaimer is that the river definitely pushed to the edge of my comfort zone but it goes along with the territory and I’m not one to shy away from dangerous or high-risk situations just because they are in themselves dangerous. I feel like a big part of my mental game and my preparation is thinking about every — or trying to think about every possible thing that could go wrong and preparing for that mentally, physically, whatever I pack with me and things like that. Then it becomes a calculated risk because the rest of it is out of my hands anyway. I could step off a curb without paying attention and get hit by a bus. I kind of look at it in those cases and I guess I will say that the adventure is always worth it, it makes me feel alive.
I was pretty mad when a few of your teammates started throwing the chum in the water after you had clearly indicated that’s not what you wanted done. How do you regain trust from teammates when you’re the one risking your life in a situation like that?
I guess to answer your question, you very cautiously rebuild that. The good thing in that scenario — well, two things really. One is that Brett [Tutor], the new guy, our safety guy, and also Cork [Graham]— both really were supporting me on that item in particular. The second thing is that Jeremy [Whalen, the expedition leader]— I know why he did what he did. Everybody kind of hit the panic button, it was an investigative dive. It’s kind of that thing where you prepare for everything. Although I had individually prepared and I think everybody else had, having something go down like that and having this new dynamic with our new safety guy and all of that it was not something we were necessarily anticipating on this first investigative dive, so Jeremy, in a way, hit the panic button. He was looking out for me — in his head he did what he thought was the best thing to do. He directly did a 180 from what I had set up as protocol, being the divemaster and the one in the water.
Jeremy and I throughout the expedition had to rebuild that [trust] and work on that quite a bit because the biggest thing with being part of a team is being able to maintain that team mentality and you cannot think individually in that sense, you have to work basically as one organism because if something happens to one person, that brings the whole team down.
Can you speak a little bit more of some of the obstacles and challenges this season of Treasure Quest?
Well the terrain that we’re dealing with this time is completely different so we’re needing to navigate. I don’t want to do any spoilers but the terrain that we’re encountering. Last year we had the island that we were on and you could stand up on the top of it and see both ends and so we were very concentrated down to this one spot geographically speaking. This time, we are dealing with a huge area, multiple countries and navigating the terrain that’s involved, whether it’s cliffs and waterfalls and different types of diving environments for myself as well.
The other obstacles like we touched on a little bit already of dealing with “Okay, how do we keep the piranhas away from me? What do we do if we encounter a caiman? How do we keep these communications open with the boat?” Dealing with the visibility and coming up with ways to try and solve that issue. Trying to figure out how do we get the clear water down to the bottom or how am I going to navigate that underwater terrain safely and still do what we’re there to do. Our mission — We’re there on search and discovery so if I can’t work because I’m worrying about all these other things we might as well not be there. Jeremy does come through. He definitely earns his keep.
So who causes the most drama— not necessarily in a bad way — this season and over what?
Oh boy. Well, there’s a lot of good synergy between the members of the team — I will say that. You know everybody has their moments. I lived through all of it there and I’m not sure what, if all of it, what they end up [using]. I mean, we’re there for months and we’re filming, they’re following us around filming for all of this time. I’m not sure what’s in and what’s out and that type of thing, but everybody’s got their moments of drama I would say.
What was yours?
I would have to say mine was dealing with, in particular, the water dangers and butting heads with Jeremy. I’m not really super-drawn to drama in its own right, so often times I’m trying to calm all that down, I tend to be a bit of a peacekeeper, which can be good in a team environment, but the guys, there’s a lot of strong personalities floating around so it’s bound to have some fireworks and explosions when you mix a big group of people together like that.
Then toss-in life-threatening situation on top of it repeatedly and tensions and emotions are running high. There is some really poignant stuff that happens during the season that was ebbing and flowing over the course of the expedition. This is the second time that most of us are working together and you really become kind of like a big weird family of sorts so in that sense we are a lot – As a team and just in interactions with each other and stuff, we’re a lot less guarded and you really see people’s personalities come through. At least that’s what I was seeing there when we were on the expedition. It was very real, it was very raw. You’re really getting to see people’s true character so that I think will definitely come through this season in the show as well.
Treasure Quest: Snake Island airs on Discovery Channel Fridays at 10pm ET/PT