Alumnus Branndon Bargo takes television to new heights
This summer, as households across the country search for their next binge-worthy TV show, local PBS stations will air the first season of The Highpointers with the Bargo Brothers, a travel show created by and starring Texas State alumnus Branndon Bargo (B.A. 1999) and his brother, Greg Bargo.
The show has been a long time coming, says Branndon, who has dreamed of creating a travel show since he was studying broadcast journalism. He fondly remembers a class he took with senior lecturer Larry Carlson in which a guest speaker discussed his experience making documentaries. “I thought, oh man, that would be cool,” he recalls.
Following graduation, Branndon, a lifelong athlete, took four years to travel the world and grow his outdoor skills. He moved to Park City, Utah, with his brother and they trained with the U.S. Elite Skeleton Development Team with the goal of making the 2006 Olympic Games. The Bargo brothers trained in skeleton (an ice sled sport similar to luge) in the winter months, and Branndon joined a mountaineering club to fill his time in the summer. Through this club, he developed an interest in highpointing, the sport of ascending to the highest elevation in a given area. That’s when he realized that every time he would visit a new country (he’s been to 53), he would always seek out the highest point. For him, it’s about the journey and the experience. “It just gives you a reason to go do something in a place that you probably wouldn’t go,” he says, adding that filming his adventures allows others to experience the excitement.
Branndon's first foray into making documentaries came when the brothers retired from skeleton and he began looking for a way to combine his interests in adventure and broadcast journalism. He wanted to do something no one had done before, so in 2006 he set out to film a documentary about an excursion he and Greg dubbed the Summit to Sea Expedition. Over the course of three weeks, the pair climbed Denali in Alaska (the highest peak in North America), then spent another three months bicycling 4,000 miles to Baja, Mexico. Along the way, they made a pit stop to swim with great white sharks. Branndon filmed the entire journey and compiled it into a 20-minute documentary, which is available on YouTube.
After that venture, the thought at the top of Branndon’s mind was “how do we keep doing this?” So, the brothers started an outdoor leadership company that allowed them to begin running large expeditions and filming them. As they became more experienced, they began getting asked to film other people’s expeditions. Branndon started helping Chet Garner with the PBS show The Daytripper, because, as he puts it, Garner needed someone who could hang off a cliff and film him. Inspired by Garner’s show, Branndon eventually pitched his own show, The Highpointers, to PBS with the premise that he and his brother would climb to the high points of every state in the United States.
Although Branndon is the older brother, he says he is usually the one with the extravagant episode ideas and Greg is the one who reins him in and handles logistics, which is key when filming a show with the lengthy production time of The Highpointers. The first season will air with five episodes, the first of which was shot three years ago. “I picked a really hard show to shoot,” Branndon jokingly remarks. In each episode, the brothers try to showcase the entire state. They start in a big city and travel to the high point from there, stopping at restaurants and landmarks along the way. In addition to the logistics involved in traveling across each state, acquiring permits, and monitoring weather conditions for the climb, each episode also features an accomplished special guest adventurer from that state (so far, that includes an astronaut, a SEAL Team Six instructor, and a marathon runner) whose availability also needs to be taken into account.
The first season will premiere in July and features high points in Texas, Virginia, New Hampshire, Louisiana, and Colorado. Branndon, who likes the most challenging experiences, says Mount Elbert in Colorado has been his favorite ascent so far. He and Greg summited the mountain in the winter in 40 below temperatures and 60 to 70 mph winds. The climb took them around 15 hours to complete.
At the heart of the show is Branndon and Greg's relationship. The brothers have a seven-year age difference, which Branndon recalls made it difficult for them to bond growing up. After they moved to Utah together, they realized that they enjoyed many of the same things, which allowed them to grow closer together. Their adventures have forced them to navigate scenarios that many siblings would never be faced with. For instance, when the brothers were climbing Mount Kenya in Africa, Branndon began to get extremely hypothermic to the point where he feared for his life. Due to the technicality of the climb, the brothers could not access a tent or extra layers, so Branndon’s only chance of survival was to clip into the side of the mountain and hug his brother for eight hours until the sun came up and they could repel down the rock.
“We have our disagreements, or our arguments, or our fights or whatever like any family member does,” Branndon says, “but when you have these deep experiences, you don’t have to talk about how much you care about each other or love each other – it's known.”