Sunday, April 22, 2007

Can We Get Him to Shiloh?

Well, I need a tall, good-looking blonde, I guess.

Read on.

Did Somebody Say Indiana Jones?

A HUSH fell over the standing-room-only crowd at the Explorers Club in Manhattan on Feb. 5. In a room whose dark-paneled walls are hung with flags once planted in the far-flung precincts of Everest and Antarctica, the man at the lectern had just finished talking about his anthropological travels through almost 40 countries, across some 500,000 miles, where he recovered from food poisoning and chigger bites in Peru and swam through shark-infested waters off Easter Island.

Any questions?

“Do you want to have children?” asked a well-groomed youngish woman, who sat attentively with a few dozen of her peers and a smattering of schoolchildren and older people.

Not missing a beat, the lecturer, Josh Bernstein, the star of “Digging for the Truth” on the History Channel, flashed his square-toothed snow-white smile and assured the crowd — which included the most women ever to attend a lecture there, the club’s manager said — that, yes, he would like to be a father someday and, no, he’s not dating anyone right now.

Murmurs of approval and titters of laughter followed, with more questions: Does he intend to settle down?

“Someday, yes, absolutely,” Mr. Bernstein said.

Later, clutching Mr. Bernstein’s book, “Digging for the Truth” (Gotham), urban women with thousand-dollar handbags lined up for the autograph of a man who prefers an ice cave to a glassy penthouse. His car is a 1982 Toyota Land Cruiser that runs on vegetable oil. His jeans are made with organic cotton. In one program that tests the authenticity of the Holy Grail, he dons chain mail and jousts in Southern France. In another he chariots in Greece while shooting a bow and arrow.

“I feel like I should touch him to see if he’s real,” whispered Rosina Seydel, 40, a tall, youthful and blond real estate agent from Atlanta, who attended a second talk at the Explorers Club on March 28, a “fireside chat” for members.

Ms. Seydel was there as a guest of Tee Faircloth, an Explorers Club member who is a friend of Mr. Bernstein’s and the owner of F. M. Allen, the safari outfitter on Madison Avenue. “Could he be that good looking and that smart and charming?” she said, her eyes locked on Mr. Bernstein.

Yes, dear reader. Or at least his largely female fan base thinks so.

Mr. Bernstein, 36, is an anthropologist and Cornell graduate. He is the host of a program that explores mysteries like the lost cities of Atlantis and El Dorado. He travels to location by camel or paraglider or with oxygen tanks and flippers, sometimes braving natural disasters and parasites.

Last Monday, during his finale on the History Channel, Mr. Bernstein explored Aztec civilization and human sacrifice.

He is a member of both the Explorers, whose membership roster included Theodore Roosevelt, and the Royal Geographic Society in London, where Charles Darwin and Ernest Shackleton were members. His official fan club numbers 1,700.

For two of its three seasons, “Digging for the Truth” was the History Channel’s No. 1 series, said Lynn Gardner, the station’s publicity director. When his three-year contract was up, he was poached by the Discovery Channel, which has more viewers. His as-yet-unnamed program, to begin in January, will include Mr. Bernstein’s usual pursuits of anthropological and archaeological subjects, as well as another of his passions, the environment.

All in a day’s work, with no two days the same, he said.

On the air he says, with a serious look, “We’re digging for the truth, and we’re going to extremes to do it.”

His program, too, has a retro appeal: no shooting, no swearing and no provocative babes, unless you count wall paintings of Nefertiti. Mr. Bernstein said, “We’d get letters saying, ‘This is the only show we watch together as a family.’ ”

That’s not the only response to the swashbuckling, cowboy-hatted Mr. Bernstein.

“Some women send me nude photos of themselves, yeah, and I don’t mind that,” he said, grinning as he tucked into dim sum. “I also get the letters, some men write and tell me we’d be the perfect couple, and that’s O.K. But I just don’t play for that team.”

Before all the globetrotting, Mr. Bernstein was rooted on the Upper East Side, where he was raised in a fairly typical upper-middle-class Jewish household. But he long had a passion for nature.

At Cornell, he double-majored in anthropology and psychology and was the president of his fraternity (Pi Kappa Alpha). He spent a year in Jerusalem and considered rabbinical school but said the pull of the outdoor life was stronger.

Mr. Bernstein, who keeps an apartment in Manhattan for the few days a year when he is home, left on April 6 for the filming of the first episode of his Discovery Channel series. Under orders from his bosses, he was keeping the first location secret.

Yes, he does think about settling down sometime, which will influence whether or not he continues to be so far-flung.

“When you meet the right person, you make changes,” he said.

And the right person is?

“I’m attracted to tall blondes,” he said, laughing. “It isn’t easy to find a tall blond Jewish girl who is interested in the environment.”

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