Wanderlusting alumna takes on new adventure: ‘Wild Kingdom’

By Katherine Wartell

For four months each summer, Reggie Busse lives in Switzerland in a house with 11 other people while she works for an adventure tourist company. 

For the remaining eight, Busse, a K-State alum, travels the world, living as cheaply as she can to stretch those wages.

In less than 10 years, she has traveled to 50 countries—staying in hostels and couch-surfing—to learn the life of the locals and interact with wildlife in their own domain.

Now Busse has the opportunity to share her interests with the world by hosting a re-vamped version of the travel and nature show Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.

Busse is one of three finalists in a national competition to find a new “Wild Guide” for an online reboot of the series.

Billed as a “backpacking explorer,” Busse is up against a wildlife educator from Hawaii and an amateur outdoor filmmaker living in Texas—a friend, Busse says, who first told her about the opportunity.

The contest, which was announced in March, asked wannabes to submit a short video explaining why they should be the next Wild Guide. By the end of April, 200 people had applied.

That number was culled to 12, and then to three in May following an online voting period based on videos.

Busse, who said she made her entry video on “good, old” iMovie, had two weeks to promote it before the top three finalists were announced.

“I hit the pavement hard,” she said, passing out fliers and business cards and tapping into her worldwide network of friends through social media. Busse even enlisted the help of her parents who would mention their daughter at any chance—including in fast-food drive-thrus.

Her video, which can be found on Wild Kingdom’s website (http://www.wildkingdom.com), has now been viewed more than 10,000 times.

When she got the call that she was a finalist, Busse said she started “bawling,” but had to keep it to herself until it was officially announced online.

The next step, she said, is to audition for producers in Omaha in mid-June. First, she’ll sit through formal interviews. Then they’ll put her in front of a camera at the zoo. Though daunting, Busse said the audition doesn’t scare her. “All you can do is be yourself,” she said.

Busse, who graduated with a degree in marketing from K-State in 2006, discovered her love for travelling as a sophomore in college when she studied abroad in southern Australia. During that stay, she also travelled to New Zealand and several countries throughout southern Asia, including Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.

After college, Busse worked odd jobs including bartending and waitressing to save up for more travels. The longest stint she has spent at a job is eight months, Busse said. That was at a commercial production company in Omaha, where she was born.

Busse said the job married her love for travel with production, but she turned down a promotion from the company eight months in to go back to her first love. “My heart wanted to be on the road,” she said.

Busse met her boyfriend of seven years in Switzerland, though, she said, they’ve only been in the same place for about four.

She can tell you about riding on the back of her boyfriend’s motorcycle for two months in India (“painful!”), riding a bus for 54 hours while travelling from Bolivia to Ecuador, backpacking from Kenya to South Africa and getting caught up in a protest between farmers and the government in Guatemala. And that’s only the start.

Busse recounts her adventures in her personal blog, Backpacker’s Wanted (http://www.backpackerswan-ted.com), and gives other would-be travelers tips she’s learned through the years. One is, “Pull up a stool at a non-English speaking bar and tell the bartender to pour you a shot every time you break from their language… it only takes one bad hangover to stop using English altogether!”

Personable and energetic, Busse has made friends all over the world, but she says, travelling has also opened her up to wildlife most people only see in zoos, informing her interest in conservation efforts.

Busse said an early visit to an orangutan sanctuary in Borneo set the stage for wanting to incorporate wildlife, conservation and awareness into her travels.

Busse has dived with great white sharks in South Africa, seen silverback gorillas in Uganda and watched rhinos in Zambia.

And she believes hosting Wild Kingdom will be a perfect confluence of her interests. “(We) have to tap the younger market,” she said. “We have to make wildlife cool again.”

The next Wild Guide will follow in the footsteps of original host Marlin Perkins and sidekick Jim Fowler.

The series premiered in January 1963 and remained in production through 1986, earning four Emmys.  From 2002 to 2011, new episodes of the show were run on the Animal Planet in weekly, hour-long documentary formats.

The online reboot will bring back an interactive host, and Busse said she’s excited at the chance to be a part of it. “I’m ready,” she said. “I just hope they’re ready for me.”

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