By GUY D’ASTOLFO
Zack Yankush is combing the world in search of the most dangerous, peculiar and even disgusting things to try, and he’s documenting it for all to see.
The Youngstown native is a co-host of “Strangers In Danger,” a new weekly television series that premieres Tuesday on the FUEL channel.
On the show, Yankush, aka “Catfish,” crisscrosses the globe with fellow BMX pro Eric “Rooftop” Escamilla.
It’s a wild travelogue show, aimed squarely at FUEL’s extreme-sports and adrenaline-rush crowd. FUEL is part of the Fox Sports family.
Yankush and Escamilla visit seldom-seen places and jump right into the fray. They are adventurers who are up for anything.
The globe-trotting show mixes in some familiar elements: the comic recklessness of “Jackass”; the quest for what’s unique in every culture of “Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations”; even the gross-out factor of “Bizarre Foods.”
But Yankush and Escamilla put their own spin on it with their athleticism and youthful spirit.
In one episode, the two find themselves in Vietnam, where they drink the blood of a snake that is decapitated in front of them in one of several cringe-worthy scenes. They run through war-era subterranean tunnels, chased by bats. And in a monumental display of guts, they traipse through a minefield to find unexploded shells, and then blow one up.
And of course, they find some BMXers to hang out with.
It’s highly watchable and vicarious fun.
Yankush grew up on the North Side of Youngstown, where he went to St. Anthony’s Middle School and Ursuline High. He graduated from Mount Union College in 1998.
He was a regular on the stage at the Youngstown Playhouse, performing in more than 20 productions.
“I’m pretty sure that’s where I learned a lot of my comedic-timing skills,” he told The Vindicator in an email interview from somewhere in Colombia. “I loved telling a joke and watching the audience’s response.”
Yankush starting riding BMX bikes at age 11 and began competing at 12. “I knew even at that age that BMX was my passion and that I would continue as long as my body would hold out,” he said.
Yankush would win BMX competitions all over Ohio, Indiana, Florida, New York, Oklahoma and Illinois. He turned pro after graduating college, and was sponsored by DK Bicycle Co. of Dayton.
That stint turned into a full-time job in which Yankush traveled the world with DK, doing demonstrations and emceeing events.
In 2005, he was hired by ESPN to emcee the BMX events at the X-Games in Los Angeles. “After that, my phone would not stop ringing with BMX jobs,” he said. His travels took him to Europe, Asia and everywhere in between to ride BMX and announce events.
“I’ve been called ‘the Voice of BMX’ by many in the industry because my passion carries over into my commentating,” he said.
So how did Yankush get the “Strangers in Danger” gig?
A friend of his heard about the show and suggested that he go to Hollywood to audition for it. “It was my first real television audition ever, and I got the part,” he said.
For the past several months, Yankush, Escamilla and a camera crew have been traveling around the world to seek out dangerous activities and native customs that most Americans likely would find interesting — or even insane.
In episodes that will air this season, the duo:
Climb into an active sulfur volcano in Indonesia.
Fight professional Muay Thai fighters in Thailand.
Ride on the roof of a moving train in Bangladesh.
Eat live octopus in Korea.
Go on a narcotics raid with the Colombian military in Bogota.
Fly MiG fighter jets in Ukraine.
“It’s been an amazing summer,” he said. “We’ve seen some of the most beautiful places on earth. We have encountered so many amazing people from all walks of life.”
Yankush — who said he is getting a tattoo in every country he visits — hopes the adventure continues. If season one of “Strangers in Danger” is a hit, filming will begin early next year on season two, he said.
“It’s wild; prior to the show, my life was amazing. I was traveling all over the place and enjoying adventures,” he said. “This show just multiplied my adventures 100-fold.”