Right, this is an interesting one. Our episode comes without titles or credits, and there’s not an awful lot of literature regarding the show floating about, but I’ll try and describe as best as possible. La Piste de Xapatan (The Trail of Xapatan) was a Jacques Antoine invented jaunt through the jungles of Mexico that appeared on French television in 1992. It is hosted by Sophie Davant (who guides the contestants and drives them round in a jeep) and Gregory Franck who plays The Professor. The show is based around the legend of Xapatan, involving a young girl, a cave with jewel encrusted statues and angry Gods.
Basically, whilst many of Antoine’s production company’s shows had their hands firmly in Indiana Jones waters, if Fort Boyard is the actual Temple of Doom, then La Piste de Xapatan is the elephant ride to Pankot Palace made grim reality.
To begin, eight contestants meet the Professor in Xapatan, seven of them are male and one is female. The female is sent off to the grotto to look for the twenty statues. The seven males take to the trail of Xapatan in Sophie Davant’s jeep having each been given a pictographic riddle by the Professor. This is kept in a quiver that is attached to each contestant’s back. Along the trail are many traps and pitfalls and the guardians of Xapatan will try and steal the quivers from the unwary contestants. Losing the quiver means elimination for the contestant.
The contestants are up against the clock, the Professor’s got a train to catch, and the train from Xapatan always leaves on time. If the contestants can bring the correct statue to the Professor before the train leaves, he will reward them handsomely.
This is a celebrity special. There were 20 episodes made, of 75 minutes each.
There is a voiceover providing narrative.
Our episode seems to start at some sort of river crossing, it looks like it’s towards the end of a task so I’ll move on…
They’ve all made it across, so they’re on their way.
Meanwhile, watch out for the Mexicans! They’ll often come running through, ready to lasso the unwary. They can’t seem to take any of the quivers themselves, only the lurking Guardians seem to be able to do that, but if they get you in their lasso then you’re pretty much done for.
Between challenges we catch up with the female trying to find statues in the grotto. Her aim is to find all twenty, she’ll have until the train arrives in Xapatan (ten minutes before it leaves) to try and find as many as she can.
At various points along the trail are these stones. Sophie gets her key out and lays it on. The papyrus shows the riddle, it is up to the contestants to commit to memory what the relevant symbols mean.
Like so. One of the words pertains to the statue, it is up to the contestants to use the other clues to work out which one it is.
The trail of Xapatan itself. Each of those yellow dots represent a challenge. You may notice there are points where the trail splits and coverges – in each case, the team first undertake a team challenge. If they succeed at that then great, but if it’s too tough or they take too long, Sophie will instruct them to get back in the jeep and take the second route. The second route guarantees they get through, but one of the team will have to put themself at risk to open a clear path.
There’s no way around this challenge. The jeep needs to pass through that gated channel on the left. To clear the path, the contestants must shepherd all the cows into the large pen. When all the gates are shut, they can drive on through.
Back with the girl, as you can see she’s rescued two statues. Her guide here is Antoine, Fort Boyard‘s multi-talented safety man.
Meanwhile back on the trail, they’ve hit another snag, there’s a large bit of bridge missing and just floating in the middle of the water. Would the team be so kind as to retreive it and fix the bridge?
Well they make a bit of a hash of it (they’ve managed to sink their boat here), not helped by lurking guardians there to make life more difficult, but they get there in the end.
We’ve reached a fork in the road and the way is blocked by these guardians, trying to hold a wooden spiked block across the trail in place so that the jeep cannot pass without ruining the tires.
The contestants must try and pull the block away, tug of war fashion.
But they’re not terribly good. After a couple of attempts, it’s time to go the other way.
Action replays appear often. The music accompanying these (and indeed most of the action) is rather panpipe-y.
You can see on the map where they’ve had to back-up and go around.
And so they must go around the other direction, and one must face an eliminatory individual challenge. How they decide who gets to go and play I don’t know. Here there is a large rope across the trail, it’s up to one of the contestants to go into the clearing and release the rope. But this is made more difficult by (da-da-daaaa!) the Black Knight and his Guardian friend who lie in wait to try and eliminate the contestant.
The contestant must untie the rope without getting lassoed – if he does, he can’t defend his quiver. By using the clever tactics of staying quite close to the horse, hiding behind the tree and keeping to the ground he actually succeeds here and so is allowed to continue on the quest. At one point he did get caught, but managed to slip out of the noose before the Black Knight tightened his grip!
Another blockage. Here the team must make like American Gladiators by climbing atop pedestals, jumping on a rope and attempting to knock the guardians of their perches.
Once a perch is cleared, a contestant must try and land atop each one. From there they can lower the net that’s blocking the trail.
The next trial involves the team clearing the path of large poles which are forming a blockage.
But it’s all a trap! Here come the cavalry! Lassoers on one side, grabbing guardians on the other. Keep your back away from the guardians! I wonder if this is Jacques Antoine recycling the idea from Interceptor.
And there’s no escape for this contestant, he has to give up his quiver and he’s out of the quest. In fact two people get eliminated here, and a third almost got eliminated when a lasso knocked off his quiver whilst he was on the jeep, but managed to run ans get it back before any of the guardians collected it!
Another fork in the road, and here the trail is blocked by three guardians inside a rolling steel cage. The object is for the team to push them up the hill and out of the way.
But it’s too difficult for them, so it’s on to Plan B…
One must go into the enclosure risking their life on the quest and release the ropes holding that drawbridge up. All the while being attacked by the Black Knight.
He gets part of the task done…
… but the Black Knight catches his arm, and he’s no longer in the game once the guardian takes away his quiver. The target taken down, the Black Knight rides away quiver in hand, allowing the contestant to at least finish the job. Comically he manages to drop the bridge on Gerard Holtz’s foot.
Meanwhile, the girl’s got about ten minutes to find the remaining 11 statues. If she doesn’t, she had better hope that one of them’s the one that the Professor’s after, otherwise they can only win a much smaller prize.
The final fork in the trail, and a large angry man refuses to let the team pass whilst shouting at them comically.
Team must push up, the angry man is trying to push down. Predictably, the team fail whilst the man taunts them.
So it’s more rope untying in a clearing, unfortunately broadcasting legend Patrice Laffont is caught and dragged several metres before being let go and eliminated from the quest.
Here’s the train coming into the station.
The final bit of code breaking. One of the statues fits one bit of each of the six parts.
Professor Gregory looking apprehensive at the station. Where are they?
The remaining contestants reach the end of the trail, and must now race to find the awaiting female.
This bit consists of a rather baffling montage of the three remaining contestants running through jungle through their headcams.
But Gerald Holtz is the first to find her and is our worthy winner. Now they much select the correct statue and then catch the train, and all in five-and-a-half minutes!
The girl found twelve statues in total. He correctly remembers what each of the symbols mean, they together they decide to take the owl statue.
But they have to hurry as the train’s about to leave. To get them on their way, the contestants get to ride a very spectacular rope slide, lasting a good thirty seconds.
But it’s taken them far too long just to get off the slide platform.
The professor boards the train, he can’t wait for them…
After a swim to shore, the contestants face a lengthy climb to the train station…
But they’re too late, the train always leaves on time.
An idea of the scale of only some of the climb. They keep going, but don’t get to the station until three minutes after the train had left. I wonder how much of an effect not managing to complete any of the team challenges had on this, as it seems a rather big ask otherwise. The climb is punctuated by slo-mo action replays of some of the highlights of the adventure.
They arrive, exhausted and late.
But hold! It’s the celebrity charity special so of course they can’t leave it there. The Professor is driven back on some sort of truck thing.
They produce the statue of the owl.
And it’s correct! The Professor hands them a case filled with a large amount of pesos. Now, according to my research, if they get there on time and the statue is correct then the prise is worth FFr 100,000. If they get there on time but the statue is wrong, they win FFr 20,000 (for the jewel). The voiceover here, unless I’ve misunderstood and misheard, seems to suggest these two will win FFr 5,000 as a consolation.
Professor Gregory gets on the walkie-talkie to give Sophie and the rest of the reunited team the good news.
Here they are, look.
Whilst a Mexican marching band comes along to serenade the winners.
And that’s it. When I saw the show I was surprised that although I like the overall idea behind the show, the challenges are actually visually dull to watch (there’s not much variation in the scenery across the whole show, and not all the challenges seem to involve a level of risk) and themeatically not that interesting (either quite samey tests of strength, or trying to loosen ropes whilst avoiding being lassoed in a slightly different setting each time). A British version using the same format, The Legend of Xapatan was piloted but apparently was considered so poor the producers got laughed out of the office!
If anyone can add important bits I’ve missed or have got wrong, do please comment below.