Exploring MTV’s ‘The Buried Life’ with Duncan and Dave (UPDATE)

When you are down and feel your life needs or should have more meaning, what do you do?  Indulge yourself by eating your favorite dessert hoping that amazing sugar high will somehow get you out of your doldrums?  Go for a long run to sort everything out (or at the very least burn those calories you gained from devouring that dessert)?

Well, if you are four friends and college students from the Great White North (a.k.a. Canada) you develop a list, a kind of “bucket list”  that addresses the question: “What do you want to do before you die?”

And if you’re really lucky, you get an MTV show out of the whole thing. The show is  The Buried Life (Mondays, 10 p.m. Eastern/Pacific) which follows the guys as they set out to do the items on their list. And as they complete one of their items, they help a perfect stranger in the town where they are visiting, asking him/her the question, “What do you want to do before you die?” and set about making his/her dream a reality.

So who are these guys?  Well, they are Duncan Penn, the “wildcard”, his younger brother, Jonnie Penn, “a blogger and philosopher, Dave Lingwood, “breakdancer” and “one man party” and Ben Nemtin, the “ringerleader”.

Recently, I got to talk to Duncan and Dave about the show and their journey.

According to Duncan and Dave, the guys were looking for purpose in their lives, “something to put their energy into”. Once they came up with the he idea/question,  they went off to their respective corners to create their individual lists. And what began as a list of 200 things was then narrowed to 100.  The order was arbitrary.

List prepared, the challenge now was to find a way to fund their adventure. Ben started cold-calling. Johnny and Duncan worked up north in oil fields.  Dave worked three jobs (yes, I said “three”) in Calgary. They raised enough money for a bus, a video camera and two weeks of shooting. Jonnie and Duncan grew up making movies in their backyard, so to them, videotaping the adventure was only natural.

"The Buried Life" (photo: Jamie Carey/MTV)

Although they never set out to make a television show (Well, sort of. I’ll get to that later), they were approached by a television company in 2007 to do just that and quickly realized they weren’t ready for such a undertaking. The production company wanted  a lot of control, so the guys passed on the opportunity.

So it was back to back to fundraising.  Money secured, they hired a film crew crew embarked on two month journey.

Eight months ago, they were contacted by MTV whose vision the guys said,”aligned with theirs”. The network was in the process of changing its perception among people who thought of network as only the home of programming that promotes drinking, hard-partying, oversexed 20-somethings.  MTV did not want the “typical show” and told them “to keep doing what they were doing”. What MTV liked was the “realness of of it all,” said Duncan and Dave.  By the way, the guys are exercising control as executive producers of the show.

As much as they like to tackle the fun things on their list, such as “date with Megan Fox” and “camping out at the Playboy mansion,” they derive equal if not greater pleasure in helping those strangers they meet along the way. It was clear when they started that it was something they wanted to do. The idea seemed like a natural fit because they themselves had received so much help.

According to the guys, when they approached perfect strangers with the question, some, defenses up, would give rather superficial answers such as skydiving or swimming with sharks. But if people they approached went off by themselves for 20 -30 minutes to really explore the answer to that question, the answers they would give would be more profound such as “become a painter” or “reconnect with family”.

"The Buried Life" (photo: Jamie Carey/MTV)

…Oh, by the way, “To Make a TV show” was #52 on the list…

So where did the name, “The Buried Life” come from?  Well, it came from Jonnie who was in English class one day studying the Matthew Arnold poem of the same name which speaks about losing sight of what one really wants to do and ultimately asks the question: Am I really want I want to be in life?

“But often, in the world’s most crowded streets,
But often, in the din of strife,
There rises an unspeakable desire
After the knowledge of our buried life;
A thirst to spend our fire and restless force
In tracking out our true, original course;” (“The Buried Life”, Matthew Arnold, 1852)

"The Buried Life" (photo: Jamie Carey/MTV)

So, what will happen when they have completed the list? Or will they ever complete it?  Duncan and Dave say the list is more about a “quest”. It is a living document that will change, evolve, as they change. Items can be added, others deleted.

In a few years, they see themselves settling down, having a family, as priorities change, so will the list.

“It’s important to find out what you want to do, then do it.”

The Buried Life on Twitter (@theburiedlife)  and The Buried Life web site (click here)


It was announced that The Buried Life will return for a second season.

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