LEWISTON — “Did you know that millions of Americans have never traveled? Many have dreamed of traveling, but lacked the time or opportunity to do it.” This is the opening line of Andrew Zimmern’s new series, “Big Country.”

Andrew Zimmern is a well-known and celebrated chef, writer, teacher and television personality. He is most well recognized for his show, “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern,” on the Travel Channel.

With the help of U.S. Cellular and the Travel Channel, five deserving people across the U.S. were chosen to go on an all-expenses paid trip with Zimmern to different cities across the country. The only requirement to be chosen: never flying on a plane before, and being a U.S. Cellular customer.

Michael Roy, a single dad from Lewiston, was the last person selected for this once-in-a-lifetime experience. With the help of his sons, Aidan, 11, and Dacyn, 9, Roy submitted a 350-word essay about why he deserved to win. It explained how important he is to his kids and to the community. 

Roy said he has a lot of experience helping people; it’s his real passion in life. 

He works for Preble Street Veteran Housing Services as a case manager. He helps veterans find housing, employment and support. He is also pursuing a degree in mental health and human services, which he wants to link with his addiction counseling certification to open his own practice. He wants to be able to help people dealing with low incomes and addiction for an affordable price. 


Before helping veterans, he worked for New Beginnings, a homeless youth center in Lewiston. He dedicated so much of his time and energy to helping other people, that his sons believe it was time for him to get something back. 

When he isn’t been helping other people in the Lewiston-Auburn area, Roy is taking care of his kids, making sure they are provided for and looked after. He said they especially like to eat meals together and go to pirate festivals.

“I try to be a good dad,” Roy said. “We have a lot of fun, we are a family.”

Roy said one of the most important things he focuses on is separating work from home.

“I encourage them to have their own opinion,” Roy said. “I believe in natural consequences.”

He said his kids are his biggest support, both in this experience and every day.


“They were the ones who pushed me to do this. I wouldn’t have been able to do any of it without them,” he said.

According to Roy, the fifth round of submissions was by far the largest pool. The first four rounds had only 50-100 submissions, but his had about 2,600. When it came down to picking a winner, there were four or five finalists. Roy was told to have video clips ready, to test how he acted on camera. Just a few days later, he was notified that he would go on the last leg. 

The trip itself was quick and exciting, Roy said. He left from Portland International Jetport on a hot July Tuesday and flew back that Thursday. Wednesday was a 13-hour day of filming, eating different foods and traveling on the Mississippi River. 

The most nerve-wracking part of the trip was the first plane ride, he said. It was his first time flying, and he switched seats so he could have the aisle seat.

“I know if I look out the window, I’ll just freak out,” he said. By the end of the trip, though, he was feeling a little more confident. “I felt adventurous. I even looked out the window a few times!” he said, laughing. 

Roy said he is thankful for that push to finally fly, though. He said not being able to held him back in his professional and everyday life.


“Getting on a plane has finally opened so many opportunities for me,” he said.

Roy explained that his favorite part of the trip was “the horse-and-carriage ride. The stories (the tour guide) was telling us about the ghosts and stuff, that was really cool.”

He said he though that his favorite part of the experience was the people.

“The crew that I hung with…they were amazing. Andrew was amazing. Everyone just treated me really well. That was my favorite part,” Roy said.

When asked what it was like to spend time with Zimmern, Roy’s face lit up.

“He’s such a cool guy, so down to Earth, smart, funny. He’s really cool. And also calm under pressure.” Roy said that throughout the whole day of filming, fans kept coming up asking for autographs and pictures and Zimmern never got flustered or upset, even through 13 hours of filming in 90 degree weather with 100 percent humidity. 


One of the most memorable parts of the day was the food, Roy said. He isn’t a big fan of seafood, which made eating a gourmet seafood meal interesting. But he said the food was amazing, anyway. His favorite? The stuffed oysters.

John Besh, the chef, introduced him to a whole new array of food and culture of eating. Zimmern and Roy took a behind-the-scenes look at Besh’s New Orleans seafood-based restaurant, trying almost everything on the menu.

The thing Roy said he was most curious about was the difference in culture, especially from the point of view of someone who had never been outside of New England. 

“I was definitely amazed to find out New Orleans is a lot like Lewiston in a sense. There’s a lot of poverty. Except for the balconies and the rustic buildings. But when you look at the people, they’re really struggling.” he said. “As far as culture shock, though, I almost felt right at home. Except for the palm trees and the heat.” 

At the end of the trip, Zimmern, with the help of U.S. Cellular, offered a stipend for Roy and his sons to come back to New Orleans next year. Roy is hoping to go in the fall, to avoid the boisterous heat. 

Roy said seeing himself on TV made it feel even more real. “Sharing the screen with a big star like Andrew Zimmern, it just felt incredible.”


When asked why he hasn’t travelled before, he said, “I don’t make a whole lot of money. I don’t have a lot of free time.”

Roy also said that Zimmern is paying for him to go to the Veteran’s Convention in New York in May. Roy began to tear up a little, getting emotional from all of the support he received from his family and from Zimmern.

“Talk about a humbling experience. At the end of our footage, I had tears coming down. It was such an emotional day,” he said. “It means a lot, because I’m so used to giving everything of myself to everybody. I don’t take time for myself. Between the kids and school and my work, there’s just not enough time in the day for myself.

“If I don’t earn it, I don’t want it.” he said.

One of the U.S. Cellular representatives of the trip with him told him, “You gotta find time to allow people to give you stuff, because you give everyone so much.”

Roy said that hit him really close to home and allowed him to fully accept all of the support and gifts from the trip and from all of the companies involved. 


“Big Country” was made possible by the Travel Channel, Andrew Zimmern, U.S. Cellular and Crazy Legs Productions. 


You can watch Michael Roy’s full episode at www.foodnetwork.com/sponsored/packages/big-country/main.html.

“I was definitely amazed to find out New Orleans is a lot like Lewiston in a sense.”

— Michael Roy

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