There are two kinds of episodes of 30 Days, the documentary series filmmaker Morgan Spurlock created for FX: those where he’s the subject of that month’s fish-out-of-water experiment and those where he’s not.
And because there are two types of episodes, there are two kinds of successful episodes, Spurlock says.
"There’s a successful 30 Days as a participant where I go in and I’m surprised and my eyes are opened, and I learn things and experience things that 99 percent of us will never get to," he says. "And I think that’s really what I love as a participant that I get out of the show."
When he’s not on camera — which will be the case in four of this summer’s six episodes — Spurlock likes to see the participants challenge one another’s beliefs. If they end up finding common ground, great. And if not, well, that’s great too.
"I love that every episode isn’t tied up into a nice little bow, that at the end of every episode people don’t always get along. Everything isn’t always resolved," Spurlock says. "Sometimes people find commonality; sometimes they agree to disagree. Sometimes their relationship is just as volatile at the end as when they started. And for me that’s what makes the show real."
That conflict will be in evidence later in the season, when a woman who doesn’t think same-sex parents should be allowed to adopt children lives with a gay couple and their four adopted sons, and when a hunter from North Carolina bunks with a PETA organizer in Los Angeles. Tuesday’s (June 3) premiere, however, will be of the "experience things most people don’t" variety, as Spurlock returns to his home state of West Virginia to work in a coal mine.
"For me it was just kind of eye-opening. … These are people that none of us think about. It’s a profession that none of us really know much about or know what goes on, and we really take it for granted," he says of coal mining. "These are people who are putting their lives on the line every single day to basically go underground and mine a resource that essentially enables you and I to turn on a light bulb every day. Fifty percent of our electricity comes from the work these guys do, and I don’t think anybody thinks about that. …
"It’s a group of people that really look out for one another; they really care about one another. And I just felt really honored just to get to be a part of that."
Spurlock also spent time on a Navajo reservation for the season finale, going from his New York apartment to a place where, as he puts it, he’d wake up to "see a sunrise looking off into this vast horizon of empty space."
"I would get up every morning and go for a run on the reservation before sunrise, trying to beat the sun — [that] was the whole idea that the Navajo warriors used to have," he says. "And so while I don’t beat the sun every day now, I still try and get up every morning and do that at least right around sunrise because it helps me focus. It helps me gain focus for the day."
When Spurlock sold 30 Days to FX following the success of his film Super Size Me, the idea was to have him take part in every episode. That idea soon fell by the wayside, however, in no small part due to the protestations of Spurlock’s then-girlfriend, now-wife Alex.
"I want to try and keep my marriage somewhat intact," he says with a laugh. "The original concept behind the whole show is I would go off and do every single episode, which essentially means I would be gone and in some sort of a different environment, a different experience every month for six months straight, essentially. And my wife said, ‘You’re not going to have a wife very long if you do that.’"
For most episodes, then, 30 Days turns to a careful casting process to find its participants, reaching out to groups that have a stake in the subject matter of a given episode and developing relationships through online communities. Not every feeler the casting staff puts out turns into an episode, but Spurlock is pretty satisfied with what the show does produce.
"It takes a lot of courage to be on a show like this," he says. "It takes a tremendous amount of courage and belief and strength to be put in an environment where you’re stripped of all your safety nets. … And I think that over the course of the show, at around week three … is when one of two things happens: You have a breakthrough or you have a breakdown. And that’s what this show’s really about, I think."
30 Days premieres at 10 p.m. ET Tuesday on FX.