Bob and Mack Woodruff Talk About ‘Rogue Trip,’ Their New Adventure-Filled NatGeo Series
When my husband announced that he’d be shooting a new TV show exploring remote areas of “rogue” countries, my first response was to take a deep breath. When he told me that the show’s producers wanted to include our son, Mack, to create a father-son adventure, I took a deeper breath, trying to corral the varying thoughts pinging around my brain.
Bob’s career as an international correspondent had included many wars and conflict zones. I had learned to let him walk out the door and believe that he would eventually walk back in, whether it was weeks or months. I had imagined death for my husband but never traumatic and devastating injury. And while covering the Iraq War in 2006, as the co-anchor of ABC’s World News, a roadside bomb blast brought that reality home. Bob’s five-week coma and uncertain outcome forced me to live in a world of blind faith, hope, and lots of prayers. He was not expected to make it, but he would become our miracle man; the result of great doctors and nurses, lots of luck, a will to live, and a strong determination to drive his recovery. As a wife who had been there for all of it, the deal was no more dangerous places.
But how could I say no? This was what Bob was born to do as a journalist. I’d married a man who was intensely curious about the world and interested in people’s stories. Moreover, he wanted to show our son the world through his eyes, to approach it without an agenda or a specific news story, but with the idea of simply allowing the stories to unfold. The goal was to visit countries that have experienced their share of strife, war, or bad reputation and find the beauty in not just the place but in the people and culture.
During the end of last year, long before the pandemic would prohibit global travel, before the escalation of polarization, division and angry discourse, Bob and Mack set off to visit six nations. The result is a show, “Rogue Trip,” that feels particularly relevant and poignant for all of us forced to cancel plans and vacations and stick close to home.
As a wife and mother and an excited viewer, I sat down with both men to ask what the experience was like.
1. How do you describe the show Rogue Trip?
Mack: “Rogue Trip” is a father-son adventure to countries that probably aren’t on most people’s vacation bucket lists. They’re countries that have “rogue nation” reputations for the sad and violent things that have happened in places off the beaten paths. Our goal was to uncover the wonder and beauty in the people, places and culture that don’t get reported in the news. We wanted to celebrate people going about their daily lives, creating art and music, trying to save a river, making delicious meals, playing music or even getting married.
Bob: As a reporter, I’ve covered stories in many of these countries that have usually centered around crises, famine, conflict, or war. The goal with this show was not to take the extreme side of story-telling. We wanted to report on the balance of good and bad, beautiful and ugly, safe and dangerous.
2. How did the concept for the show come about?
Bob: The show concept was originally pitched to National Geographic and when Disney Plus was in the works, they had the idea of adding Mack to make it a father-son adventure. Mack is a talented photographer and videographer, so I was very excited about the idea of taking my son along and looking at the world in a different way.
Mack: I think it’s one thing to see Bob Woodruff the journalist in these countries, but it’s a different and more personal aspect to see someone with their son. The show is a reminder that there are still adventures to be had. Although it may feel sometimes like the world is falling apart, this show is a nice reminder it’s not all doom and gloom.
3. How did the rest of the Woodruffs feel about you both going to dangerous places?
Bob: Our family loved the idea of us going to these places together. They were happy for us, although I know you tried to hide the nervous parts as my wife. I know you too well.
Mack: I think my sisters were jealous. Cathryn, who is 26, joined us for the Ukraine episode. My twin sisters were in college, so they couldn’t get away.
4. Bob, you almost lost your life covering a story, and Mack, you almost lost your father. How did that traumatic event color this experience?
Mack: My Dad should not be alive by all accounts, and his near-death experience made this time on the road with him very special. Most people might not have been ready to go back and put themselves in potentially dangerous situations, and I respect my father for wanting to live life and do his job on his terms. As his son, I’ve definitely inherited some of his same interests. But a day doesn’t pass when I don’t feel incredibly lucky to have had this second chance with my Dad.
5. What is the overall message of the show for families?
Bob: “Rogue Trip” is an optimistic series that sets out to show that people and places can overcome a dark past and history. We all get a shot at new beginnings, especially now, with a global pandemic, a more politically polarized world, ethnic strife and environmental devastation. We need to remain focused on our ability to create a better future. The countries we chose to visit reflect that; Colombia was formerly riddled with drug lords; Pakistan was war-torn; Ethiopia survived famine. And yet crises can bring out the best in people and hope and optimism can rise out of tough times.
6. Did this travel change anything about you?
Bob: Shooting this series was a reminder of the importance of family, community, and human connection. Our lives, especially in tech-driven America, are so much more isolated today than they used to be. Part of the charm of “Rogue Trip” is the chance to witness what it means to part of a “tribe,” however you define that. Human beings were built to bond and connect. So many of us are missing that right now during the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mack: I learned how important it is to take yourself out of your comfort zone as often as you can. That’s where the growth happens. Places like Papau New Guinea or Ethiopia were 110 degrees, or in other countries we got food poisoning, were attacked by bugs, sun burned, exhausted. There is a simplicity and a satisfaction in learning what you are capable of handling.
7. What was hard about the trip?
Mack: Being away from home for almost six months.
Bob: It was an incredibly demanding production schedule. We shot and travelled intensely for 14 days in each place and then had to travel to the next country. We worked even in the car rides, narrating what we were doing and why we were there.
8. Would you do it again?
Bob & Mack: In a second
9. Mack, what did you learn about your father?
Mack: Growing up, I always saw his work only through the TV. “Rogue Trip” allowed me to see behind the scenes for the first time, and I could see why he’s been so successful because he is tireless. I learned he is endlessly curious, a super hard worker, and is always thinking about and doing what is needed to tell the story in the right ways and make it stronger.
10. Bob, what did you learn about Mack?
Bob: That he has the best parts of both of us. He has an intense work ethic, a great eye for the best shot or a good story and a big heart. What more could a father ask for?
11. Mack, how did this experience change your perspective on the world and your own sense of having been raised with “more than enough?”
Mack: People and communities are more resilient than I’d understood. Happiness has so little to do with the exterior things we surround ourselves with and everything to do with what’s inside; relationships, people, family and love. What I witnessed in places that survived warfare, conflict or oppression is that there is always a reason for hope. It’s pretty hard to break the human spirit, no matter where you live in this world. I saw that in my own Dad and the way that he worked to recover and rebuild his career after his injury. It’s a total privilege to bring that experience to everyone else in Rogue Trip.
This Q&A was featured in the July 19th edition of The Sunday Paper. The Sunday Paper inspires hearts and minds to rise above the noise. To get The Sunday Paper delivered to your inbox each Sunday morning for free, click here to subscribe.