“Gone” But Not Forgotten: Exploring the Myth of the Lost Carmen Sandiego, Part 1
“I suspect there are more interesting topics than one unscheduled episode. Not being critical, but it’s an odd area for focused energy.”
I had been engaged in conversation with Howard J. Blumenthal via email for the better part of the afternoon. Mr. Blumenthal was the creator and producer of the PBS edu-tainment game show “Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?”, a program that I happened to be a huge fan of as a child, and still remember fondly today.
Based on the computer game series by the same name, each episode of the TV version of Carmen Sandiego featured three middle school-aged contestants competing to answer geography-centric questions in an effort to catch Carmen Sandiego, who in each edition had sent one of her goons to steal an iconic landmark or cultural icon. In the episode “Cheetahs Never Win,” players tried to stop The Contessa from plundering the cheetahs of Namibia. The season 2 episode “I Lost Lucy” concerned the kidnapping of Lucy, the three-million-year-old hominid skeleton. The bonus round of each episode involved the winning “gumshoe” running around an oversized map of a continent and identifying cities and countries by placing large, lighted markers in their proper spots on the map. The theme song was sung by an a cappella group. Everyone wore colorful jackets.
It was the 90s. It was fun.
“That may be true,” I responded to Mr. Blumenthal’s message. “But to many people who grew up watching and enjoying your show, there is considerable interest. The concept of a ‘lost’ episode of a beloved series is no less fascinating than an unreleased recording by your favorite band, or an unfinished novel by your favorite author.”
“In any event, your point has been duly noted. Thanks all the same.”
Feeling slightly discouraged, I hit Send.
I had spent the previous week reaching out to sources around the country. Multi-million dollar organizations were devoting their precious time to my inquiries. Tape stock that hadn’t been viewed in ages was being exhumed at my request. I had been researching, running, asking, writing, questioning, doubting. If the creator of the show didn’t see the point, though, why should I? Why would anyone else? I was drained.
But then I remembered the rumors. The whispers. Talk of the lost episode had persisted on more TV and game show message boards and online fan groups than I could count. The show’s IMDB page recounts details of the episode that were just too precise, too on-point to ignore. Every episode guide of the series includes this one, and almost always with an asterisk or some kind of mark indicating it’s a special case. For over a decade, discussion of the episode’s existence has crept through the fandom like a wisp of smoke.
I truly, finally, perhaps even obsessively, wanted to know: where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?