Amazing Nomads: Tim and PJ - Their "Extreme Engagement"

In this episode, meet Tim and PJ, an Australian couple who spent a year exploring marriage customs in diverse cultures around the world, to help them decide if they should marry. Did their relationship survive?


Photo © Jimmy Hamilton - Tim and PJ post ritual in the Southern highlands of Papua New Guinea living with the Hewa people

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Amazing Nomads: Tim and PJ – Their “Extreme Engagement”

Would your relationship survive a year-long journey to the toughest places on the planet? Netflix hit Extreme Engagement features Australian couple Tim and PJ who traveled around the world for a year, exploring marriage customs in diverse cultures to decide if they should marry.

What’s in the episode

00:39 Netflix trailer

02:14 Are Tim and PJ still together

04:11 Forced to work things out

07:04 Carrying baggage into a relationship

09:52 The show’s audience

18:57 Where are they now?

21:20 Reaction to the show

22:10 What’s next?

Quotes from the episode

“There are a couple of moments, really dark moments where, I mean we're quite open about it, but we were like right, ‘I hate you, I hate you too. Let's just get out of here’.” - PJ

“I think both of us had our separate issues. I mean we went away, and we were filming a series for Netflix, but it was real. We never went away with a shooting script, we had a wish list and a plan of the sort of things we might like to do. But the theme of every episode surfaced as soon as we got to a place.” – Tim

“One of the funniest reactions we get is people instantly relate to the show through their own eyes and through their own relationship that they're currently in.” – PJ

Who is in the episode

Tim Noonan is a world-traveling filmmaker, multi-award-winning cameraman, journalist & television presenter, his partner PJ Madam is a United Nations award-winning reporter, producer, writer and news anchor. They put their relationship to the test to find out if they should marry, in the Netflix series Extreme Engagement.

En route to seek medical help in Cameroon after Tim fell ill with Malaria (Photo: PJ Madam)

Together in 2016, they launched Wildman Films, a film and television production company creating content the ‘Tim and PJ’ way – from both sides of the lens.”

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Resources & Links

Check out the trailer to the Netflix hit Extreme Engagement. The 8-part docuseries launched globally in July 2019.

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About World Nomads & the Podcast

Explore your boundaries and discover your next adventure with The World Nomads Podcast. Hosted by Podcast Producer Kim Napier and World Nomads Phil Sylvester, each episode will take you around the world with insights into destinations from travelers and experts. They’ll share the latest in travel news, answer your travel questions and fill you in on what World Nomads is up to, including the latest scholarships and guides.

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Phil: Would your relationships survive a year long journey to the toughest places on the planet?

Tim: The moment I saw PJ I was head over heels, so I proposed to her.

PJ: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

Tim: And that moment was everything I dreamed of.

Tim: We want to find out if we're really ready for marriage. So we'll spend the next year in eight of the world's toughest places.

PJ: Finding out how men and women in the most remote tribes get the relationships to work.

Tim: I'm going to christen that pot.

PJ: Not like that. You're disgusting. I think Tim is going to discover I'm my own girl. [crosstalk] Can you stop faffing about because I'm ready to go.

Tim: Am I an adrenaline junkie? I suppose yes, you could call me that. My God it's so scary.

PJ: You're not a pubescent teenager anymore. I don't think you need to keep proving yourself. If this is the Tim that I'm expected to live with on the road for the next year, we are in big trouble.

Tim: What should a marriage be PJ?

PJ: Oh God, guess what Tim, not this.

Tim: If you've got that many doubts then why are we together?

PJ: We've been through better and worse and sickness.

PJ: He's withering with pain.

PJ: And in health, till death do us part.

PJ: Tim!

PJ: I feel like we're dying almost every time we go on one of these bloody adventures. [inaudible] Is that not enough.

Kim: That is the trailer to the Netflix hit Extreme Engagement featuring an Australian couple who traveled around the world for a year, exploring marriage customs in diverse cultures.

Podcast : The World Nomads Podcast bonus episode, hear amazing nomads sharing their knowledge, stories and experience of world travel.

Phil: Hi, it's Phil and Kim with you and thanks for tuning into this episode from wherever you get your favorite podcast, featuring this week around Tim Noonan and PJ Madam.

Kim: Tim is a world traveling filmmaker, a multi award-winning cameraman, journalist and television presenter. PJ is a United nations award-winning reporter, producer, writer and news anchor. High achieving couple.

Phil: Can you share some of that around? Stop hogging it?

Kim: They put their relationship to the test to find out if they should get married or not.

Phil: So did filming Extreme Engagement, tear them apart or bring them closer together?

PJ: You can't go through something as crazy and as extraordinary as those 14 months and not be together. I don't know.

Tim: Well you can, I mean that's quite easy actually.

PJ: Well, but we could have broken up a long time ago - I mean you would have just bailed, and trust me we tried. There are a couple of moments, really dark moments where, I mean we're quite open about it but we were like right, "I hate you, I hate you too. Let's just get out of here." So in a way what you see on extreme engagement was-

Tim: Mostly watered down version.

PJ: Yeah a watered down version cause it was so hard and of course travel changes you in so many ways. And it challenges you and brings out the best and the worst and maybe all the sickness on top as well. Cause we were quite sick throughout that year. But when it all is said and done, to go through that and come out the other end, you're bonded in a way that I think... I don't know, it's hard to describe but I just think-

Tim: What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

PJ: Yeah. Since then, we've barely spent a day apart, which is a lot of people find quite odd. There've been a couple of times where we thought, "Oh, we should have total breaks after the show, after the experience and just regroup on our own individually and then come back together." But we just haven't done it. It's just been we haven't want to. So yeah.

Tim: I mean were soul mates in that sense.

PJ: Ahh.

Tim: So I mean we figured, or at least I figured that we would be able to survive this crazy adventure and that our love was strong enough to make it through almost anything. I think the biggest shock to me was just how close we did come to breaking up. There was a time sitting in the Amazon and we were five days from any sense of civilization. And PJ and I were looking at each other just going, "Well, how do we, how do we do this? How do we break up?" And I'm like, okay. I think if we hadn't we been so remote and so isolated, we might've probably given it a shot.

PJ: We tried.

Tim: But we were forced to work our shit out. You know, we put ourselves straight into the fire as fools in love and I think we sort of blindly went into our own self-designed experiment to be stronger at the end of it. And thankfully it works.

PJ: Hmm. That fantasy got smashed for us. I mean, for anyone who thinks, "Oh, this is just an Instagram couple wanting to travel the world and take lovely selfies," it was not that.

Kim: No, it was a really, really strong woman and a very needy man. [crosstalk] He was doing my head in, in the first episode when you're in Cameroon and you had to do that women's ritual thing that was going to take hours and hours and hours. Tim was so worried about you he kept sort of sneaking into the tent.

Tim: I mean, we're very different people now to what we were. It's almost cringe-worthy looking back at those original episodes because we... Because yeah, travel does change you, right? So we're very different now. But wind the clock back and put us back into that scenario, I was absolutely petrified that PJ would hate being out in the wild so much and I equated that moment to being the end. For her wanting to go home before we've even begun. So in my mind it was all over.

Phil: Okay. Can I just recap to this point so far you've. A) You've got Stockholm syndrome, right?

Tim: Exactly.

Kim: No, that's terrible. I get where you're coming from now.

Tim: My dad for example, my brothers, they were like, "Oh PJ, call Tim. You're doing are head-in. God, he's just wanting... Look at his outlook and he's just trying to embrace everything and give it a go." It's just worrying for you. We really divided opinion, which I think is what relationships do. You know, you see a couple that you know and you might have an insight into what their life is like behind closed doors. I'm sure everyone has those friends or the relatives or even their mum and dad where they might inject in and go, "Oh well actually kind of she's right and kind of he's right, but I can totally see how he's pissing her off and I can totally see how she's a pain in the ass and it works both ways." So it's a funny thing. It's a funny, yeah.

Tim: And very much it was an adventure to go through all of the, I don't know, the hang-ups that each of us have and be forced into a position of extreme therapy? Maybe to confront the darkest little corners of yourself to have a relationship that isn't codependent.

Phil: What sort of hang-ups do you mean?

Tim: Ah look, I think both of us had our separate issues. I mean we went away and we were filming a series for Netflix, but it was real. We never went away with a shooting script, we had a wishlist and a plan of the sort of things we might like to do. But the theme of every episode surfaced as soon as we got to a place. We used to laugh to ourselves thinking whatever we start arguing about will be what the episode becomes about. You can guess what you might be filming, but it was so fluid. A lot of the times people thought, "Oh God wasn't that so scripted?"

Tim: The funny thing was our whole mission in making this show was to try to be as authentic as we possibly could. Of course you put yourself in some gnarly situations for the sake of the adventure and filming it. But you can't fake the reactions that you're going through as they're happening because there was no stunt doubles, we were in the middle of nowhere with very little access to mobile phones. We had a scratchy satellite phone that could call in back to our friends and family if we really needed or get a helicopter out if we were in a dangerous situation. But the dangers were real. And it pushes any couple... some couples think it's a testing-time to go on a wine tour in the South of France and they can't survive that.

Tim: Well we were pushed to the absolute limits in the most extreme places on the planet. So yeah, you confront everything from co-dependence to jealousy. You get forced to communicate properly. We had to deal with aspects of both of our pasts that haunt virtually everyone on earth right into their adulthood. A lot of people don't get that opportunity to go there and to actually make peace with all that stuff. I think we tried to squeeze like 10 years of marriage into one year and it certainly worked.

Kim: Well you'd only, you've been engaged for four years hadn't you and only spend about four months together before you embarked on this experiment.

PJ: Yeah, yeah. No the stars were us, but then at the same time, we couldn't have gone into this without that kind of blind optimism that everything will work out. And there was still a bit of that fools in love, as Tim put it, attitude. Otherwise, I think we would've just fallen flat on our faces. But yeah, a couple of times people have said, "Oh you know, but surely things were scripted," you know, the lamb being born in Mongolia or the chick in the egg in Papua New Guinea, moments like... We didn't have an army of producers on set with us. People forget, and I think that there's kind of being a wall broken into a lot of, particularly in Australia, Australian reality TV shows.

PJ: Like if you look at Married At First Sight or The Bachelor or Bachelorette, there's quite a lot of intel that comes through from the behind the scenes and the making of those shows to then the public domain where people are kind of aware that things are very, very heavily produced. The audience in a way comes to expect a bit of that and they know that what they're dining on. Whereas with us, we didn't have that. We didn't have that help, in a way it strangely would have helped, but we had no assistance in that style. Everything that you saw were one shots. Like you know those moments, those pivotal moments, there's no way we're going to go back and do that rapid ride. It was dangerous. I mean these things were... Really, really pushed us, but that's also where we discovered a lot about ourselves and each other.

Phil: And speaking of production staff and what have you, did Jimmy Hamilton tried to get any Star Wars characters into the documentary?

Tim: Jimmy, we had one person on that traveled with us and he's my best, greatest mate. He was my editor for many, many years and then he came with me on another show called Boy to Man and we traveled the world while I put myself through all these crazy manhood initiations.

PJ: He's got him for life though, I think. [crosstalk] on this one.

Tim: He's a joint friend of both of ours and we couldn't-

PJ: Yeah, he's amazing.

Tim: I mean probably he was more like a counselor.

Kim: Now you learned a lot about yourselves, but you also learned a lot about how people treat the institute of marriage in different countries around the world, which is the premise for the series. What was one that stood out to you most?

PJ: Oh God. I think through all of them, a massive common thread for me was that they didn't need to officiate it. So it was this belief that you were married, but there was no certificate in sight. There was no priest who had both their hands. There was no... the ceremony was a bit different, they had different takes on that definition. But there was nothing that kind of went, "Oh, here you go, there's a ring and now you're married to Tim," or, "Here's the certificate and that makes it legal." Concepts of what made it go from a relationship to a marriage was very gray and loose probably from our eyes. [crosstalk 00:12:16].

PJ: Yeah. And it was this interesting thing where it was like, "No, no, no, if I say I'm married to this person, I'm married to them." And you know that that concept for us, you can just imagine. Just sit with that for a sec and just go, "But hang on a minute." I've come from an upbringing where you have a white wedding or there's some sort of proposal, the wedding and then there's obviously a ring and a certificate, It's legalized. That's what I always thought was the start of the definition of marriage. But there... Out there it doesn't translate. That was kind of beautiful for me because then you really had to look at, "Well what is marriage?" Like, a lot of people want the wedding but don't understand what they really want from the marriage. A lot of people want a baby, but don't really think about parenthood. You know? It's kind of those big moments of transition in your life where you kind of think too much of the milestones and not so much about what it means. So that for me was my takeaway.

Tim: Oh, I mean, I totally agree. We went away with different fantasies about what married life should be and the biggest question we get asked is, "Are you actually married now?" And PJ and I sort of look at each other and go, "Well, did you see the show?" Did you watch to the... because that's not what we were trying to do by going on this adventure. We were trying to, in our own minds, redefine what marriage meant to us. It took both of us individually to different journeys to get there, and that were very real. But when we did have that revelation, it was like, "Wait, why do we need to officiate it for the state? We already consider ourselves married." It's a personal thing. It's a commitment to each other and it's agreement the, we live out every single day.

PJ: Yeah. But that's really controversial. Like a lot of my friends still don't buy it. All of them are like, "Yeah, but you're not really married."

Tim: But what does that mean?

PJ: It's their definition of what they're placing onto us. Right?

Tim: One really pivotal story in this, which nobody knows, is that we were in a really dark place between the two last countries. Papua New Guinea was our final destination but before that we're in Brazil. We were in a really dark place and we did want to break up. Getting out of there without killing each other was extraordinarily difficult. We came back and we did a counseling session with a guy that we've been seeing for a while, and sat there determined to sit down and work out how we could break up. Then we had this amazing session where we had our own revelations about what "married" meant, why I proposed, and why PJ said yes. He made us write down separately our answers to those questions. And when we read them back out, our answers, they came back as vows.

Tim: And the vows were like totally in sync. And it was to keep growing for as long as we possibly could together. It was a commitment to do that. That's what marriage is. And he said, "Well that's what marriage is." And we were like, "Yes, of course." That's what it means to us. It doesn't mean that we have to officiate it through a religion. It means that we initiate it through ourselves.

Phil: You often hear when people break up they say, "Well, we just grew apart." Do you think that's just as valid as that personal commitment?

Tim: Yeah, 100% that's as valid. I mean I think the thing is you've got to be open to growing spiritually together. I mean that's why we wanted to-

PJ: Alongside, side by side.

Tim: Alongside each other and that's why we wanted to do this I guess experiment, if you like, because we were forced... We both made a commitment to dealing with our own baggage and we continue to do that, or at least try to remember to do that every day. I guess as long as you're growing at the same rate as the other person and be both dedicated to sort of that amount of self inquiry and self-discovery, then you're going to be okay. I think a problem comes in with some couples where one person wants to look deeper into themselves or has bigger aspirations or whatever than the other person, and then you start to fall out of sync.

PJ: Sync, yeah.

Tim: And very much so, that first initial love-lust stage, we'd far pushed past all of that and we just go straight into the meat and potatoes of the relationship.

PJ: Well, the ugly side to the relationship where you're like, "Oh wow, that's also you," or, "That's also me." There are parts to I guess your partner where you think, "Oh, I didn't see that or I overlooked that or I didn't, I just brushed over it, I didn't care about it. But now I'm seeing you for who you are." And undoubtedly you're revealing very much more about yourself, your fears, your insecurities, your perceptions and projections, your baggage. As Tim was talking about before about everyone having some kind of past, everyone's got baggage whether or not they like to admit it or not. Particularly for the people who say, "I've got no baggage," I instantly think you must be loaded with it because everyone does, everyone comes with preconceptions into a new relationship. Often, sometimes you don't even realize when you're self-sabotaging. I know that the show was kind of entertaining and we were able to take a [inaudible] out of ourselves and make fool of ourselves and all the rest of it. But deep down they were fairly big messages because we were genuinely going through them.

Tim: You were one of those people that said you didn't have baggage.

PJ: Actually I did! That was me! Yes. If we rewind, press pause, I was one of those people who said, "Oh, I'm fine. I've got nothing to worry about." You see one of the episodes very clearly... see, I'm talking from experience here. But yes. I just don't want to be a preacher right now.

Tim: It's hard for us not to sound like we're preaching, but we did really feel like we had major epiphanies along the way. One of those was, the only way to be truly free is to deal with your thoughts and your perceptions, which are always caused from lack of reflection back onto your past that you're scared about something happening in the future, if that makes sense? So the only way to overcome that is to find love for things that you perceived to be traumatic in your past. If you can do that, and it's really confronting to do that, but if you can do that and find love in traumatic situations, then you're free. And that's why we do what we did.

PJ: That's not for everyone. Look, basically, we've moved from Sydney to Hobart, we now hug trees, and we sing Kumbaya [crosstalk] This is what it sounds like, right? Life is short. It's tough, it doesn't always go well, but hell... You've got to have some tools in the shed to be able to cope with it and that's our.

Kim: But can travel help because listening to you guys, we have interviewed a lot of couples that have traveled and not about the them specifically traveling together, but they are just having the same experience and we chat to them about that experience. But then there were this other couple, Sarah and Tim, from A 21st Century Odyssey, and they were heading off on a 21 month honeymoon. We would catch up with them routinely. The opening question every time was have you guys had a fight yet? "No. No. We're having a really good time."

Tim: Oh my God.

Phil: I don't think that had any baggage though.

Kim: I was finding it hard to believe. So traveling and traveling as a couple-

Phil: Yes, but then... I bet the third time he spoke to them, they fessed up and they'd had one hadn't they.

Kim: Oh, they'd had a fight over who was going to watch the iPad or [crosstalk 00:20:12]. It was something really trivial. It was nothing like being in Cameroon.

Tim: I think that's the key. The thing was PJ and I had actually fought about nothing until we embarked on this adventure. We didn't fight at all.

PJ: Very boring before that.

Tim: And then all of a sudden... It wasn't just that we were traveling on this adventure, but it was also our production company. We all of a sudden had a dozen people working for us. We were navigating everything in a business sense with Netflix. To employees to managing the editing and everything-

PJ: Payroll, [inaudible] tax-

Tim: All the boring stuff. It wasn't like it's enough for a couple to go into business together and navigate that world. But we were also putting ourselves in such extreme scenarios that we're dangerous. I think it did push us. I challenge another couple to be put through that and not have an argument. I think it'd be impossible.

PJ: One of the funniest reactions we get is that a lot of people instantly go, "Ah, I wouldn't have worked out with blah, my partner," or "Oh, she would have driven me bonkers," and they're referring to their wife. One of the funniest reactions we get is people instantly relate to the show through their own eyes and through their own relationship that they're currently in. We did have one person say to us that actually they had such a big fight throughout one of the episodes with their partner, sitting on the couch I presume, that they'd kind of broken up. They had this weird moment, so that, "Yeah let's press pause on it." They had this fight and then things cooled and then eventually like months down the track they thought, "Oh let's just stop watching Extreme Engagement again," [crosstalk] Cause last time it didn't go well.

Kim: I really enjoyed it. You're settled for the moment. What is next for PJ and Tim?

Tim: Well we really want to show other people how to do the same thing. So we're planning some tours at the moment that other people can go on to have similar profound experiences. Not as extreme but certainly as profound. We've very excited about that and we're also planning to teach people online how to film their own adventures as well because I think behind it all, when you realize that actually... For those people that want to have that adventurous spirit and want some sort of extreme self discovery, then when you can realize that sometimes events in your life that you think there's obstacles or challenges in front of you, if you embrace them almost like the plot of your own movie, it becomes okay.

PJ: It's a form of therapy in a strange way. That's how we found it anyway. A lot of people will often say to us, "How on earth could you film yourselves going through all of this?" But actually there's something so therapeutic about it, I know it's a weird sell. But again, it's not like the Instagram where everything's happy-happy and #couplegoals, kind of a designed story. It's actually, it was very much like, "Oh God, we're in this shit right now," but it felt cathartic to have a bit of a process where we were able to go through it. And I don't know, just almost like self analyze. It's a funny feeling, one which hopefully I'll better explain one day. But, we want to help others do the same.

Kim: Love it! All the links you need to Tim and PJ and the series Extreme Engagement in show notes and to share your tales of fun or fury on the road with your better-half. Do you travel well with yours?

Phil: Yeah, we do. We great. Yeah. Yes. Never, never crosswords. What about you?

Kim: Yes.

Phil: Well you just bought a van haven't you?

Kim: yes. We're going to kick that out and that'll be close confines. Actually we do, we fight to the death at home, but when we travel we travel well because we're very like-minded.

Phil: Oh yeah. I think that's it. So you've got to have the same sort of goals in mind. And my wife we're sort of big beach people. So once we get anywhere near a beach, we're pretty happy, I'll think.

Kim: Nice. And you just let Jo make the decision on what destination you're going to.

Phil: Yeah. Well, I'm not unusual in that. Eight out of 10 women make the travel decisions.

Kim: Really.

Phil: Yeah.

Kim: Why? Control?

Phil: No, you're better organized, that's all.

Kim: You said it.

Phil: Well, I made bloke's would just chuck the bags in the car and go to the airport and get on the first plane that they found. You know?

Kim: Have you not traveled with me? Haven't we been to Melbourne together? Well, if you've got any tales you want to share email

Phil: Hey, next week is our 100th episode and we've got a very special guest, so we'll see you the. Bye!

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