Last night I shouted “they’re coyotes you dumbfucks” at my television more than I normally do. In my grips of trying to stay awake before it is socially acceptable for a person of my age and demographic to go to sleep, I watched Syfy’s Haunted Highways starring Jack Osbourne, the D-List of celebrity stardom. That was a little harsh, he really doesn’t seem like such a bad guy. The problem is, he is no Josh Gates. While I previously have lamented about the fact that Syfy is no longer television, but paranormal reality shows on repeat Destination Truth has to be my guilty pleasure and for good reason, it doesn’t really suck as much as the rest. In fact, it is pretty goddamn entertaining for a reality show that has the audience staring at night-vision scenery as a crew fumbles around a remote jungle in Africa or South America. And they understand the fun of it.
For those of you who don’t know, Destination Truth is a reality investigation show that began back in the summer of 2007 hosted by possibly one of the most attractive gingers in television Josh Gates. What sets the show apart from Ghost Hunters and many other paranormal reality shows is the fact that they started out not looking for ghosts but cryptozoological creatures that have been reported in the remote parts of the globe. They set out to search for urban legends such as Bigfoot, Bigfoot’s colder and whiter cousin the Yeti, mermaids, and even reports of dragons and dinosaurs that manage to survive whatever killed off their scaly brethren. When it first aired it was the first show of its caliber because it was not about a group of people looking for paranormal ghosts, demons, and scary poltergesits poking you as you make dinner. They were like the Blair Witch project, but with more biology, a bigger budget, warmer weather, and less crying. And the kicker is, they seemingly do not take themselves all too seriously, unlike some other “professionals” in their field.
Gates himself holds a degree in archaeology and is an avid adventurer, having summitted Mt. Kiliminjaro, qualified in being a SCUBA diver, and having worked at the excavations in Caesarea Maritima in Israel he has an incredible amount of experience under his belt in the outdoor adventurers club while the rest of us stay home and browse the internet for the hundreth time in our pajamas and run away at a spider the size of a penny. Unlike a lot of other reality show personalities, he has the qualifications to go out into the Papua New Guinea jungle and look for some strange dinosaur in the middle of the night. As well, in addition to this he has a a degree in drama as well, so he at least was taught to be entertaining as well in addition to at least finding some evidence out there. Notice I said some, because no reality show is ever for the purposes of exploration– they are to entertain and Gates and his team do just that.
Unlike a lot of other paranormal reality television their focus is not to necessarily help people experiencing any scary phenomena, but to investigate claims that some creature is out living in the jungle making some weird ass noises as they’re trying to sleep or wash down by the river. And while they are at, they’ll hopefully make you laugh and keep you on the edge of your seat in the ten minutes they are running around the jungle, desert, underwater cave or any other place they might be. But the best part about the show is the amount of lightheartedness and personality that comes from this. The team jokes around while they are out on expeditions, they have a running gag of no transportation ever working for them and for as much as they can they enjoy the city or country that they are in before making their way out to set up thermal imaging cameras around a camp. Gates does investigate, but he is not making it the exact focus of the show. If he finds something, that is great and if he doesn’t…well they’ll have a laugh and move on to the next one. Which is why Destination Truth has been criticized of not being professional. Because Ghost Hunters, Paranormal Witness, and Haunted Highways are filled with experts in their fields following cold hard science.
The issue with any paranormal or cryptozoological reality show is the fact that the people investigating should have some background in a related field, such as biology, anthropology, history, even paleontology or psychology for those focusing on the undead. But no scientist is going to devote their time on a Syfy original series spending one night in a location to look for a mysterious creature. No scientist is ever going to spend time out in the jungle looking without heavy inklings that something could be out there. All Destination Truth, and any reality program dealing with the investigation of mysterious happenstances can do is see what they find and then defer to experts in those fields. Gates has found multiple bones and skull fragments through the series’ run and interviews experts on those. Blood samples are sent to labs. Hair samples are given to geneticists. And how often are these people, who are hopefully devoting their time on finding a cure for AIDS or a way to form a serum that will give everyone six pack abs without lifting a finger and no consequences to the user, going to spend that time looking at a mysterious hair found in the Borneo or Acapulco or Nepal. They’re making me thin, so they shouldn’t have any silly distractions. As well, aside from Josh no one on his team, which is just his production production staff, has any authority with these claims. Give them a camera, a mic, some budgets and they can film a television show. Give them a cast of what may be a Yeti foot, and they are going to have to call in the experts.
So really, the reason Destination Truth is probably one of the better paranormal reality shows is because they do not have any misinterpretations as to why they are there. It is about entertainment. No one in the scientific field is ever going to take them as serious as an actual investigative team with biologists and naturalists, so why are they going to have the pressure of that on them. They go to have fun and film a television show. If they do find something, that is great food for them, they’ll go out and send it some curator to get the details. But they won’t ignore the obvious facts like if they are hearing strange noises at night in the desert, and those strange noises sound a bit like howling, and they see three tiny movements on their flir that Occam’s Razor says that they are goddamn coyotes motherfucker.
In short, Jack Osbourne could learn a thing or too about paranormal reality television from Josh Gates. Or he could just not be on television.
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