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Meet Mariana van Zeller who’s uncovering the world’s black markets in her National Geographic show

You often dismiss black market transactions that happen in movies and television shows, but when a reality TV show like the one Mariana van Zeller is hosting shows the real ones, you, like many audiences will shudder.

Season 3 of “Trafficked with Mariana van Zeller” is now airing on National Geographic and Disney+, and it consistently proves van Zeller’s unique look at what happens in these illegal dealings and the people behind them.

“These are real people who are doing real things,” van Zeller told us during the TCA Winter Press tour in Pasadena, California. “But beyond it all, there are reasons why these markets exist- and it often is the people and their unique situations. That’s what we wanted to capture.”

Like the previous two seasons of her show, van Zeller takes a journalistic approach to her reporting as she always has in her career as a journalist whose first reports included being embedded with a terrorist group in the Middle East. “I think those first few years [reporting] really informed everything that this show embodies,” says van Zeller who is once again embedded often with the world’s most dangerous gangs and individuals who operate these black markets.

The danger she experiences usually comes from the illegality of the dealers’ products and services. In Season 1, you’ll see an episode that goes into the trafficking of tigers worldwide (with a special appearance by the now-incarcerated Netflix Tiger King himself, Joe Exotic). Season 2 features an episode on the multi-million dollar black market that exists in California for Marijuana. Now with Season 3, van Zeller arguably comes across some of the most dangerous dealers and black markets to date.

One of those episodes is the season premiere where van Zeller tells the stories of those who deal in black market organ transactions. She told us that it was probably one of the more disturbing markets she’s covered on the show because of the “grotesque” nature of harvesting organs from human beings. “They were just alive maybe just minutes before they started cutting hearts and livers out without any respect,” she told us.

While many of the dealers and markets might make van Zeller or even audiences who watch the show wince, the journalist in her hopes the show does more of a job than just shock people at what is really happening in the world.

“These types of transactions are illegal for a reason, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned covering this beat is that they exist for a reason. And more often than not, they exist because the people who deal in them are often desperate and were ignored by society,” van Zeller said, hoping that while we may not agree with the illegal activities themselves, we can see and get to know the people and have empathy.

She continued, “If we can’t see or accept these people as people, these black markets will continue to happen.”

“Trafficked with Mariana van Zeller” is streaming exclusively on National Geographic channel, as well as on Disney+ and Hulu.

Our very special thanks to Mariana van Zeller for contributing to this story!


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