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Digging Josh

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Josh Bernstein practicing archery in Koki, Papua New Guinea.   

Well, fine. But he does allow that his mom, like any self-respecting Jewish mother, is pestering him for grandchildren. And at 37, he plans to settle down, sooner rather than later. “I do want a girlfriend at some point,” he says.

Romantic stability may be put on the back burner, though, if Into the Unknown takes off the way Bernstein and the Discovery Channel hope. After fulfilling his three-year contract at the History Channel, Bernstein was snatched away to be Discovery’s playboy, and they’ve expanded his milieu from archaeology to encompass all the world’s mysteries.

Into the Unknown is basically a sexed-up version of Digging in which Bernstein travels through exotic countries, dresses up like a gladiator, and frolics with killer elephants. Bernstein, who double-majored in anthropology and psychology at Cornell but has no advanced degree, attributes his success to innate curiosity and an ability to retain enormous amounts of information. Growing up in New York, he was always a bit of an outsider. He read at least two newspapers a day. He “hated the kids” at Horace Mann, his alma mater, who “were more interested in getting into a bar like Dorrian’s than anything else.” He started eating organic food when he was 16 and says he took his own lunch to school every day.

At Cornell, he joined a frat, Pike, and he’s careful to tell me that his brothers “give me so much shit about being on a dorky TV show.” But he seems to enjoy straddling two worlds. As the biggest star on the History Channel, he explains, he felt like “the cool kid in the nerdy fraternity.” Now at Discovery he is embracing his higher profile. “People I know watch the Discovery Channel,” he says.

We reach the Arthur Ross Hall of Meteorites. Bernstein, who just finished filming an Into the Unknown episode about possible life on Mars, has a newfound interest in outer space. He stands in front of a massive meteorite, caresses it, and begins a monologue about the origin of the space rock. “More than 30 tons of meteorites enter the Earth’s atmosphere each year, though most are obliterated before they reach the ground,” he says. An older woman approaches us, hands clasped behind her back. She’s wearing a museum name tag, and Bernstein demurs politely when he sees her. “Oh, I’m sorry, do you want to tell us about it instead”—Bernstein pauses and glances down at her tag—“Vivian?” he purrs. A faint blush creeps up Vivian’s cheeks. “No, no,” she replies, smiling. “I’m happy to hear you talk about it.”


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