• Sophie Becker

Gullible’s Travels: Getting Down and Dirty in the Earth with Zac Efron

Zac Efron is shirtless, half-submerged in a hot pool in Iceland
Down To Earth With Zac Efron, Netflix 2020
Wow. Awesome. Wow. Cool, bro.

- Zac Efron

Now, why would I, a straight 22-year-old woman, who grew up under Troy Bolton’s five-year reign over the tender pre-teen hearts of the Disney-watching world, decide to watch a show like Down to Earth? It must be something to do with my penchant for environmentalism.

A quick glance at the Netflix synopsis promises an exploration of ‘healthy, sustainable ways to live’, following Zac as he travels the world with wellness expert Darin Olien. You may be hard pressed to reach this conclusion after watching it for yourself: the series hops inconsequentially from one location to the next, claiming a range of key themes to each episode, ranging from Energy, to Water to Longevity to… Bio-Piracy, Cryopreservation and Genetic Engineering...? It seems the energy for conjuring up catchy titles was lost by Episode Five. As the themes become more obscure and the travelling pair jump the continents, eating beautifully crafted food, hanging out and partaking in exciting physical adventures, it begins to feel a little less like an environmental travel show, and a little more like Zac decided to do a late-stage gap yah to get baked with his gym buddy and somehow convinced Netflix to fund it. More often than not, it’s as if the show itself is not entirely sure what it’s supposed to be about.

The first episode takes place in Iceland and tracks the vast possibilities of harnessing renewable energy across the small nation. Here, we are introduced to Darin Olien, Zac’s oddly-handsome-for-a-50-year-old co-host, a so-called guru of healthy living and superfoods, who is also, quite frankly, one of the most boring men on Earth. His hair may be luscious from all those antioxidants, but those bouncy curls still don’t hide the fact that his main personality trait is chia seeds. Channeling the rough-and-ready style of YouTube travel vlogs with a series of jolty handheld shots, nauseating zooms and a distinct over-use of drone footage, the following 60 minutes teaches us about the toasty earth of this otherwise chilly country, the all-green power stations, the dazzling waterfalls, and finally – oh finally – the steamy blue lagoons. Now don’t get me wrong, I was close to switching off at this point - both figuratively and literally - but things started looking up when Zac’s 8-pack lowered slowly into an ice bath, his sparkling eyes as deep blue as the hot hot springs… but ultimately, and I’m sorry, this show is naive and soulless. I suppose the burning question on my lips is: ‘why would this old Icelandic bloke’s well-exercised tale of his pools’ magical healing powers be given any airtime precedence over Zac’s bare torso?’ Zac and his Goji Daddy nod enthusiastically: a cacophony of ‘wow’, ‘bro, awesome’, ‘super cool’ ensues – the main extent of Zac’s vocabulary, and boy does he make use of it. Somehow, despite my disdain for the first, I find myself watching the second episode. I decide to drink every time Zac says ‘Wow.’ By minute 13, I’m off my face.

Zac Efron peers into the window of a water tank, wearing construction PPE, pulling a fish face
Zac assuming his final evolution, one more in line with his IQ (Netflix 2020)

The two hosts begin their next journey with a ‘water sommelier’ in LA, who teaches them the wonders of water tasting, and, despite the show’s eco-friendly intentions, seems to want to foster an appreciation of the bottled variety, conveniently shipped across the continents for your thirsty pleasure. Leaving the sunny, indulgent glamour of California, they fly to the UK and move onto France. It is here where Darin’s true nature begins to emerge, as he leaps from the car (note: no carbon efficient train travel perhaps?) and insists upon resetting his circadian rhythm by digging his bare feet into the magnetic fields of the Earth. It’s also here in France where it becomes increasingly clear that Zac can do nothing but bastardise every foreign word presented to him, clunkily fumbling through the syllables with a grating nasal twang: enough to make the linguists among us physically shudder.

Zac Efron emerges from an ice-cold plunge pool in Iceland, muscles rippling
It's not like there's *nothing* good about this show... (Netflix 2020)

Their next move is to Costa Rica before they zig-zag back and forth across the Atlantic for their subsequent episodes: from Sardinia to Lima and Puerto Rico, then back to London before finishing in the Amazon rainforest. It’s unclear whether this series follows their actual travel chronology or is simply oddly ordered - we can only hope it’s the latter, because that’s a lot of air miles for a show about saving the planet, Zac. Actually, while we’re here, what does this show really want to say about living sustainably? The carbon footprint of those flights isn’t neutralised because Zac learnt something cool about living in the rainforest, and Olien’s encouragement of veganism through exotic ‘superfood’ granola toppings doesn’t do much good for the local communities whose lives and livelihoods depend upon them. In his third episode, Efron’s voice-over ponders leaving the unsustainable LA lifestyle behind, before slapping a great big, painfully literal ‘JK’ on the idea of sacrificing a couple of vices for the sake of the entire planet: “Just kidding, I could never leave Hollywood”. And though in Episode Five he hints at a possible existential epiphany, in a rare moment of poignance and clarity: ‘success without purpose is a pretty meaningless life’, he somehow manages to end the episode with the slightly-less-impactful ‘...and no one should ever live in a world without french fries’. All this tomfoolery amongst some incredibly serious and dangerously pressing issues, begs the question, if Zac isn’t even convinced to live sustainably by his own show, how could we be?

Zac Efron and two Italian men sit on a wall outside a typical Italian house
Zac chats to an old Italian man, who wonders who this stupider Tom Cruise is supposed to be (Netflix 2020)

Whether you were drawn to this series for its sustainable living tips or for it’s hunky host, you will leave it with a distinctly white-washed, selective and low-effort view of what it means to be an environmentalist, one which allows you to ‘take care of the planet’ whilst sporting your sweatshop-produced clothing brands, indulging your travel with a private hire car wherever you go (plus a couple of others for your crew), and living in a $3.9million dollar LA home with several pools, and a spa with its own waterfall - or at least that’s Zac’s reality. The series finale wraps on Olien’s own experience of devastation as he loses his home to Californian wildfires, almost ironically demonstrating what a cruel mistress climate change can really be to those wealthy west-coasters and their impressive insurance contracts. Despite my cynicism, it does pull on the heartstrings to see Olien attempt to reject the importance of material goods, moved to tears instead by his reinvigorated concern for our slow destruction of the planet. But nonetheless, the climax of the series is utterly tarnished by Efron’s unbearable lack of emotional intelligence, as he offers nothing but a simple, ‘I feel you… man.’ An emotional, slow-motion montage closes the final episode, while Zac narrates an almost laughable list of half-arsed attempts to question the broken system that has led to climate change, reminding us not only to turn off the lights but also to think about the treatment of the workers whose food we consume - it couldn’t have been less radical than if he had donned his Wildcats kit and burst out into a rendition of ‘We’re All In This Together’. Zac promises to use his platform to make some change, but if he really wants to talk about sustainability there’s a lot more work to be done.


Sophie Becker is the Founder of Blister. Sophie is a self-confessed project-aholic and tends to keep her fingers in [too] many pies. In her spare time Sophie is frequently found scraping the barrel of her boyfriend’s mum’s Netflix account to hate-watch a new series she believes is unrepresentative and unfeminist, and is much less often found on any of the platforms that produce the European art films she actually does like: corporate VOD monopolies are a bitch.