Eugene Levy Is the Wrong Guy to Host the New Apple TV+ Travel Show — but He Told Us Why He's Doing It Anyway

Eugene Levy's show 'The Reluctant Traveler' premieres today on Apple TV+, and he told Travel + Leisure all about it in an exclusive interview.

Eugene Levy riding on a boat while in Venice in “The Reluctant Traveler With Eugene Levy”

Philippe Antonello/Courtesy of Apple TV+

Schitt’s Creek star Eugene Levy isn’t pretending to be the next Anthony Bourdain, and that’s what’s so refreshing about watching him trepidly travel the world in his new eight-episode show The Reluctant Traveler With Eugene Levy on Apple TV+, which premiered today. In Tokyo, Levy’s big culinary adventure is trying sushi for the first time and eating an egg salad sandwich at a place called American Sandwich. But like the late great Bourdain, Levy isn’t trying to be anyone else — at least in this show, he’s not. 

After five decades of taking comedic risks, Levy is making his most uncomfortable moves yet, which as he says is really going anywhere outside, a world he’s spent his entire life avoiding. “I’m more of the great indoors type of guy,” says the anti-travel host in the show’s trailer. 

Apple TV+ promo for “The Reluctant Traveler With Eugene Levy"

Courtesy of Apple TV+

Levy adamantly says he doesn’t like to travel nor does he have a sense of curiosity. He also doesn’t like heights, the cold, or when it’s too warm. The list goes on. So why exactly is he hosting a travel show, we ask him?

“'Why me?' was the big question,” Levy tells Travel + Leisure in an exclusive Zoom interview. Originally, the show was pitched to him to be about hotels and called “Room With a View.” The highlight of the eight episodes, beyond Levy’s hilarious discomfort, is definitely the hotels he stays at. Each episode features a unique place to stay, including Arctic Treehouse Hotel in Finnish Lapland; South Africa’s Kruger Shalati Train on the Bridge; celebrity-favorite Amangiri in Utah; Kudadoo Maldives Private Island; rainforest Nayara Tented Camp in Costa Rica, and Hoshinoya’s luxury ryokan in Tokyo (a missed opportunity, we think, for Levy not to awkwardly figure out onsen etiquette).

Eugene Levy an underwater sound bath while in the Maldives in “The Reluctant Traveler With Eugene Levy"

Ian Gavan/Courtesy of Apple TV+

“I've never been on camera as myself. Fifty years of doing characters, but the last thing I wanted to do was be on camera as myself,” Levy admits. “There are certain attributes you need to host a travel show. Like a sense of curiosity, and a sense of adventure.” And he has none of these, he shares. “I'm not an explorer. I like to be on terra firma.”

Levy told the Apple TV+ producers on that first call, “Honestly, I don't think I'm the guy.” But all his protesting about how anxious the thought of adventure makes him had the producers laughing. So they realized, no, this will make a great travel show: Watching a comedic icon do something he doesn’t want to do (which is anything that requires leaving home). So Levy agreed, he’d do the show and be himself. 

For the first time in his five-decade-long career, the multi-Emmy Award-winning actor isn’t playing Johnny Rose or any of his other cult favorite characters. Levy is again a fish-out-of-water, but this time as himself: the risk-averse, terribly awkward, flustered, rather-stay-at-home, 76-year-old that he is. 

Eugene Levy in his Teletubby drysuit while in Finland in “The Reluctant Traveler With Eugene Levy"

Ian Gavan/Courtesy of Apple TV+

From agreeing to go ice swimming in a Teletubby-looking drysuit in Finnish Lapland to extracting a stool sample with his bare hand from an elephant’s behind in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, Levy doesn’t pretend to be anything but extremely uncomfortable, which he often is. But he doesn’t let it stop him, and celebrates the small and big wins. “First time I’ve had my hand up an elephant's ass,” he laughs.

In a hilarious scene more cringe-worthy than anything in American Pie, Levy reaches into an elephant’s anus to find fecal matter. He’s helping Kruger’s head vet do a general health check on the animal after it's been immobilized with a tranquilizer. (Spot checks like this help monitor the elephant population in the park.) But at any moment the elephant could wake up — if you see the elephant urinating, start running, he’s warned.

It surely was a surprise, as Levy thought he was finished assisting the vet after taking blood from the animal. I don't even like when I'm getting blood taken. But I did it,” Levy says. So when he was then told they’d like him to take a stool sample from the elephant, he promptly said there’s no way he could do that. But from off camera, Levy heard his co-producer say, “Oh, I think you can.”

Eugene Levy in a helicopter over Utah in “The Reluctant Traveler With Eugene Levy,”

Courtesy of Apple TV+

The Reluctant Traveler star reminded himself he has to try things — because that’s part of the deal. So he eventually did put his hand up an elephant’s rear for the sake of science and adventure. “I would never want to do that again,” he says emphatically. ”I honestly felt bad enough for the elephant.”

It wasn’t only this intimate moment with the elephant that left a lasting impression on Levy.

“I never really had a desire to go on safari,” he says. “I didn't get the point of making a trip that long to see animals that, honestly, I already know what they look like.”

But once he got to Kruger National Park he found he was developing an affinity for the landscape, even right outside his window, at a hotel suspended on train tracks smack dab in the middle of the park called Kruger Shalati Train on the Bridge. ”You’d see an elephant wandering around, a crocodile in the shallows, water buffalo, a hippo … I actually found it very comforting.”

Eugene Levy meets with Bonga Njajula while visiting South Africa in “The Reluctant Traveler With Eugene Levy,”

Courtesy of Apple TV+

“And the serious nature of how much danger these animals are in hit me in a big way when I was there,” he says. “Before I went over there, it's a headline, right? The rhinos are becoming extinct. So you say, oh my god, that's terrible. But anyway, what else is on the agenda?” But South Africa surprised him, especially visiting a rhino conservancy that takes in orphaned and injured rhinos. “Before I got there, I thought they were just the ugliest animals in the world,” he shares. “But now I love these animals. So South Africa was such an eye opener for me.”

Filming the Utah episode also stuck out for Levy. “In just about every country that I've been, it's been the people that I've met and the families that I spent time with that certainly carry the most memories for me.” Spending an evening with his Navajo nation guides and their family on their reservation was quite meaningful, he shares. “There was a spirituality that kind of took over me,” as he listened to his Navajo nation guide share stories under the stars. 

Eugene Levy dog sledding when in Finland in “The Reluctant Traveler With Eugene Levy”

Courtesy of Apple TV+

After filming in some of the most incredible places in the world, including the Arctic Circle and the Maldives, is Levy any less reluctant to travel now? Slightly, but not to a great degree, he shares. “On the meter of loving to travel, on a scale from one to 10, the needle is nosing over to three. I still don't get a kick out of traveling, but the good news is the needle is moving.”

But even as travel still doesn’t move the needle much for Levy, he would love to do a second season. “Do I love everything in it? Maybe not, but I love doing it. And quite honestly, I'm lucky to have this show because I think it's making me a slightly more enlightened person.”

Kathleen Rellihan is a travel journalist and editor covering adventure, culture and sustainability. Formerly Newsweek‘s travel editor, she contributes to AFAROutsideTimeTravel + Leisure, and more.

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