While some might run in fear from mysterious, strange and unexplainable phenomena, Josh Gates and his crew run towards it on "Destination Truth," which returns for its third season tonight on Syfy. Traveling around the globe to remote areas often gives Gates a chance to expose viewers of the reality series to a variety of cultures and mysteries that are sometimes explained but always explored. Gates took a break from investigating to chat with our Jim Halterman about some of the big stories coming in the new season, how an airplane mishap on the season premiere had him thinking his days were numbered and what truly scares the hell out of him.
Jim Halterman: I'm so glad I watched the season premiere in the daytime because this show is creepy! What's new with this new crop of episodes?
Josh Gates: I think that we really try to raise the bar every season in terms of the locations that we go to and the stories that we approach so I do think this season has a lot of great marquee investigations. Obviously in the first episode, there's this really dramatic investigation in Romania but you'll be seeing stories like the first overnight investigation of King Tut's tomb, we do the world's first paranormal investigation of the ruins of Chernobyl, a Bermuda Triangle story... so there are these big marquee stories that you'll be seeing this season. In terms of the actual structure of the show, it's very much still a real rough shot adventure.
JH: How do you go about getting your stories? Is it partly research and also people coming to you?
JG: The first thing we do is scour local news from around the world to find stories that are current. We really want to go after stories where people are having current experiences because that's what really makes a great story on the show. When you can actually meet people and hear their story that really gives us something to go after. We don't want to go look for a story of a creature that nobody has seen in a hundred years. So the first thing we do is we really say 'Where are really interesting, strange stories happening around the world?' Then we rely on local fixtures in different countries help us with those stories and sometimes it's just about places that we want to go to. I think a big part of this show is trying to take our viewers to countries that they've never seen before. This season there's a great episode, which is a continuation of our Yeti investigation, which takes place in the Kingdom of Bhutan, which is this very tiny nation that is nestled up in the Himalayas and it's a place that not a lot of folks have had a chance to see. For us, we're really looking for great stories in really dynamic locations.
JH: Because you get to explore cultures from all over the world, are other countries more open to the paranormal than the United States?
JG: I think it depends on where you go. Certainly there are cultures in the world that are much more invested in their folklore and their mythology than we are here in the U.S. and that's also a big part of the show is trying to pick apart if people are having legitimate experiences of some sort or whether or not this is somehow tied to their own culture and folklore. I think there are places where that's the case and we've been to countries where most of the population are very skeptical and we've met eyewitnesses who've had some sort of strange experience but say 'I'm embarrassed to tell my parents about this and getting laughed at about it.' I think many of the places we go to we do meet these eyewitnesses who have had some sort of profound experience but the culture around them is not necessarily open to it.
JH: Is your bullshit meter always ready so you're not just dealing with kooks?
JG: We try to make sure that the show meets the threshold of some sort of legitimate experience before we ever leave the home office. A big part of that is relying on local support in the country. We definitely don't want to show up somewhere and just feel like we're seeing smoke and there's really no story there. Whether or not we ultimately believe there is some unknown, uncatalogued creature on the prowl, as long as there are people who have real legitimate encounters with something whether it's paranormal or biological, then it's a good story no matter what it ends up being because it's a mystery and that's what the show is about is going on an adventure, hearing these stories and then trying to figure out what is going on.
JH: You have a degree in archeology as well as drama. I can guess how archeology plays into things but how about the drama background?
JG: Well, it's a pretty dramatic show. I had an interest in theater and theater history as well as archeology and what's really amazing is I can't imagine another show that would sort of blend all those things together. We are making a television production and we're always mindful of telling a good story but then at the same time we're trotting across the globe going to some really wild places and interesting cultures so for me it's been a great marriage of interests.
JH: With what you're doing in your investigations there are always naysayers who think it is all just created for television. What do you say to those types?
JG: I think that, first of all, sometimes I'm a naysayer in terms of the material and I think that's what makes the show work. I think what you don't want is someone out there who just has this boilerplate attitude where they just believe in everything. I think that makes a show that a lot of people who are skeptical are not going to respond to. I think what makes 'Destination Truth' work is I approach all these stories with a grain of salt and I want to meet these people and hear what they have to say and we really want to get our hands dirty. I think the show can work for people who are skeptical about these stories and the reason it has worked so well is that, at the end of the day, it's about a great adventure and everybody loves that. Everyone loves seeing a group of people up to their necks in it in a really dynamic and dangerous environment trying to get the job done and that's where the show really succeeds in that you can clearly see [that] we really leave it all on screen, that we're getting out butts kicked some of the time trying to get to these places that are difficult to get to and we're giving it our best shot to see if there's anything to these stories. That silences a lot of the notions that we're out there looking for something that doesn't exist because at the end of the day it's the looking that counts.
JH: Is your crew made up of people with similar backgrounds and attitudes?
JG: No, it's a real 'Oceans 11' lineup where we try to assemble people with different disciplines and different interests. I think the nature of television is such that a lot of the people who work the camera and audio, they go out and take another job but we've been lucky since we've been able to bring them back again and again. We also feel like it's great that we are able to introduce new people each season as well but we try to bring people that have disparate interests. Our medic this season is a terrific paramedic but he's not very well traveled internationally so, for him, a lot of the show has been this wide-eyed experience since he's never been outside of the country. Then, on the other hand, our director of photography is a real road warrior and he's shot in war zones and he's done a lot of different realty shows around the world and he's very seasoned. We have people who love being out in the jungle in the middle of the night and other people who are really scared being out in the jungle in the middle of the night so I think it's really an eclectic and interesting mix of folks.
JH: In the first episode, there's a frightening plane mishap that just comes out of nowhere. Did you see your life flash before your eyes when that happened?
JG: It was a different experience depending on where you were sitting on the plane. In the back, they knew something was wrong because they felt this big gust of wind kind of came through the cabin and out the back door, which was open because we were filming out of it. You don't really see it in the show but our cameraman who was shooting out the back was harnessed into the interior, which was lucky because he would've been just pulled out the door. For me, up in the front, it was such an explosive pressure change that it wasn't really clear what had happened. Something clearly had gone wrong and when you're on a plane and then you suddenly feel like you're outdoors something has clearly gone wrong.
JH: You seem so fearless in things you do on the show but what really scares the hell out of you?
JG: It's funny, I used to be really scared of flying and I think being on this show and being in these old charter planes, somehow this show has driven a lot of that out of me. For me, it's the episodes where we're really in dynamic, jungle environments like the Amazon or in Asia where you really know there is really a lot of dangerous wildlife and we really are just running around in the dark. We're trying to conduct an investigation but at the same time there are things that we know are living in these environments and we've been very lucky up to this point - knock on wood - and will continue to be lucky but it's always something in the back of our all of our minds. What happens if an anaconda shows up? What happens if a tiger comes out of the woods?
JH: Why do you think viewers generally respond favorable to these paranormal-type shows?
JG: I think in terms of 'Destination Truth' there's something old fashioned about it in a very good way. There's something pulpy and fun and we try to fire on a lot of different cylinders. It's a travel show, sometimes it's a food show and it's definitely an investigation show with mysteries. We try to pack a lot into each hour and it's a show about a lot of different things. I think at the end of the day people like it because it's a good old-fashioned adventure and it's one of those where crazy things happen and it stays up on the screen. It's not glossy; it's not over produced. It's a rough shot ride.
"Destination Truth" airs every Wednesday at 10:00/9:00c on Syfy.