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Josh Gates: Team Truth Investigates

Josh Gates is a world traveling explorer. He is also a scuba diver and a photographer. These have taken him to over 75 countries spanning the globe. Gates holds degrees in both archaeology and drama, and has been inducted into The Explorers Club, a global organization for the advancement of exploration and field research.

Gates is currently the lead investigator and producer of Destination Truth, where he gets to put is expertise to the test. The show follows him around the globe as he investigates stories of the unexplained. Destination Truth, now in its fourth season, airs Thursdays at 9/8 central on Syfy.

Gates sat down for an interview on September 2nd with the online media, which both Sci-Fi Vision and Media Blvd. attended.

Question > You’re one of the people who I know is American who travels, you know, all over the world. And I just wondered, when you go to some of these, I don’t know if you want to say backwoods places or places that are kind of off the beaten path, how are the Americans treated there...in general in your travels?

Josh Gates > I think it’s a great question and I think it’s one of the great misconceptions that many Americans have is that a lot of foreigners are sort of suspicious against Americans, or anti-American, and I think nothing could be further from the truth.

And I think any career traveler, if there’s a common cord that any career traveler can strike, it’s this. It’s that almost anywhere you go, people are really lovely and they love America. I think that there’s a real distinction that’s made between sort of political issues between American and other countries, and the idea of America.

And I think people all over the world, certainly everywhere that I’ve been, they just are really excited about the idea of what America is and the liberties that it affords. And so, I think when you travel it’s sometimes surprising to realize how - in what high esteem people really do hold this country.

Question > I noticed in some of the press stuff that you’re going to be doing an underwater paranormal investigation. I was wondering if you could just talk about some of the instruments, or is it all just cameras, or - I know like the Ghost Hunters have all kinds of EM field detectors and things like that, do you have any...

Josh Gates > Yeah. Well, look it was a really challenging episode for us to shoot, and a challenging investigation for us to do because it’s never really been done before.

And it’s something that we had wanted to get into because we really try on Destination Truth to approach stories of the paranormal in a really unique way, whether it’s by going to a very exotic location, and just the types of places that we go.

And there are lots of stories around the world of paranormal instances that are, you know, involving water; shipwrecks and things like that. And we found this great site in the Pacific in Micronesia, which was the site of a huge battle from World War II, part of what was called Operation Hailstone, where an enormous amount of Japanese ships and planes were sent to the bottom of the ocean in this pretty terrible fight.

And there are these long-standing rumors that this place is haunted, and so we thought, “Well, let’s roll up our sleeves and figure out how to do, you know, a paranormal investigation under water. So, we have a lot of -- obviously -- underwater cameras that we’re down there with.

We also used, for the first time, a really advanced ROV, which allowed us to kind of fly into some of the tighter, you know, spaces in these shipwrecks, record really high quality audio, capture high definition video, so a lot of that kind of nuts and bolts paranormal investigating of just, you know, “What do we see? What do we hear?” All of that is going to be captured down there.

We also did underwater EVP sessions using underwater hydrophones, which are essentially underwater microphones, and so we’re able to use a lot of the same technology that we used on land. And I think for a first effort for considering it’s never been done before, it turned out to be a great episode. It’s really one of my favorites from the season.

It’s actually the -- where is it in the lineup -- I think it’s the fifth episode of the season. It’s the lead story in the fifth episode of Season 4, and it’s terrific. It’s really good. It’s just a really different way into a paranormal story.

Question > I know you’re kind of the man without fear with all these things you do, but are you apprehensive at all about moving to Thursday night, away from Ghost Hunters and kind of anchoring with the new show?

Josh Gates > The most dangerous adventure of all. No. Look, we’re excited about it, you know? I think in a lot of ways we really feel as though Ghost Hunters was the wind in our sails for a long time. They really helped establish Destination Truth. Their viewership is immensely important to us.

And that the channel is moving us over to Thursday night and sort of, you know, it’s like Destination Truth is all grown up. We’re standing on our own for the first time and we’re excited about that. The show’s been doing really well and we’re really excited to have our viewers come over and join us on Thursday night.

Question > I really enjoyed the Pompeii episode, when you were sort of dropped into this Vesuvius...I wanted to know what was the temperature like, the feeling, and I’m also curious about the "bomba," how you found that? And the crystal, the quartz crystal that was inside, if anybody explained to you what that was?

Josh Gates > Well, it’s a naturally occurring thing that happens in this pyroclastic kind of volcanic explosions where these "bombas" or these sort of, you know, quartz crystal rocks, these hollow rocks are formed. And there is a belief among certain people that they are, you know, charged or that they are, for lack of a better word,kind of special.

And so when we met with the woman who said, “Yeah, you have to go do this,” in the moment we’re like, “Oh, great. This is exactly the kind of stuff we love to do on this show,” you know? This gives us an opportunity to be in the middle of Naples, which obviously we’re in a really developed part of the world, and undertake something that we would normally be doing way off in the middle of nowhere.

So we thought, “Oh, this is great,” but then when you get over to Vesuvius and you sort of realize, “Well, wait a minute, this thing is smoking. This thing is not really at rest. This is actually a pretty dangerous piece of real estate.” Then we sort of suddenly said, “Oh, wait a minute. What are we getting ourselves into?”

And there’s also that issue of perspective. Like when you’re standing on the rim of Vesuvius looking down into the crater, you sort of thing, “God, it looks kind of deep, but not that deep.” And then, as you go deeper and deeper down there on the ropes, you realize how actually huge that crater is.

And so more than anything, it was a little bit hot, you know, to the touch when you would touch the walls of it, but it was mostly just exhausting, especially coming back up. Because it was like we...belayed all the way down there and then hiked down to the bottom, and then routed around for a long time trying to find this thing.

But, when you were down there and you looked all the way back up to where you’d come from, there was this feeling of, “Wow, this is a lot deeper than I thought it was,” and kind of, “What am I doing down here?”...

I think the thing that made us feel a little bit better, although I’m not sure how much of a consolation this is, is in talking to people about Vesuvius, you know, that volcano if it were to erupt again, it sort of doesn’t matter where you are.

I mean, if you’re in Naples you’re in trouble anywhere, you know? So, whether you’re at the bottom of it or standing on the rim taking photos, you’re not really going to fare very well. So, at the end of the day, we sort of just said, “Well, let’s just hope the volcano’s in a good mood,” you know?

Question > The next episode where you were looking for the Nandi Beast, I was just wondering if you brought those hats back with you, your special Nandi Beast hats that the chief gave you to protect your head from the Nandi Beast?

Josh Gates > There was great debate about those hats. We wanted to bring them back, but we sort of bound for more episodes before we came home. And we took them as gifts and then when we got to the next place we went to, which was a village, the people really wanted them, and so we donated them to the villagers...We felt like they went to good use.

Question > When you were looking for the Nandi Beast in the middle of the night, that was frightening to me because, I mean you’re in the freaking jungle and there’s like spiders and huge insects and all kinds of other critters that are, you know, could be as equally as dangerous...that scene where you came up and you heard running water, I mean you guys could have walked off a precipice. And I’m just wondering, how many people do you have around kind of scouting out ahead of time, or do you have just a really tight small crew and if somebody takes a tumble, oh well?

Josh Gates > That’s one of the cool things about the show is that you get the sense, I think, when you’re watching it that there isn’t a lot of infrastructure kind of off in the periphery, and in fact there isn’t. If you were to be able to control that camera and swing it around 360, you wouldn’t see ten other people that aren’t on the show. You wouldn’t see anybody that isn’t on the show. It’s just us out there doing our thing.

In that particular instance, there’s actually a little side story that isn’t in the show. When we came to that waterfall, I walkied down to our base camp and I said, “We found this big waterfall up here.” And the only person that kind of wasn’t on camera that was around is there was somebody from the village down near our base camp for part of the night, a kind of liaison to the people down at the village. And he had said to the people at base camp who then radioed up to us, “Oh, you know, we know where that waterfall is. You should be really careful up there because there’s a really big black snake that lives up near that waterfall that the people in the village are very apprehensive about.” And that to me was worse than anything was this message that got relayed up to me that, “Oh, you might want to be careful, there’s a giant black snake up there.” But no that’s kind of the thing...And then you think, “Okay, now really what am I doing here?”

Question > When you’re doing your paranormal investigations, what’s the one outcome that you found out like something was true that really surprised you the most that you didn’t expect to find anything?

Josh Gates > Well, for me, I’m a skeptic when it comes to the paranormal. I’m really open-minded, I’m always sort of, I guess hoping is probably a good word, because I think that everybody kind of wants to believe that there is something going on in the afterlife.

So, I’m always hopeful and I’m open-minded about it, but I don’t have an expectation that I’m ever going to find anything. And so for me, in a general sense, anytime we get really strange readings or we see or hear things that are unexplainable, I’m always surprised.

In this season we have a number of episodes that take place in, purportedly paranormal hot spots and some really dramatic places. In the second episode we’re going Angkor Wat in Cambodia, which is the largest religious structure in the world, this amazing temple, and we’re going to do this underwater investigation, I talked about a minute ago. We’re going to an abandoned Japanese mining town, which is a really cool episode.

And in some of these places, this season we saw very strange things that I can’t really account for. We saw strange lights in Angkor Wat, which really aligned to what a lot of the eyewitnesses were talking about, and it’s in the show. And I chase those down and do everything I can to kind of figure out where they’re coming from, and at the end of the day, I don’t know.

I think this season the most visceral example of a surprise is a place that we go to, it’s actually in the second to last episode, the week before Halloween, and it’s a place that is in Micronesia...these very strange ruins out in this very kind of unknown island.

And the locals believe that when you go to this place, physically you are affected. You get incredibly ill and there’s a couple of instances, historical instances of people actually dying there. And what happened to me in that site was extremely visceral, to the point where we’re actually currently in the debate about how much of it we really can show on air, but I got very sick. And so for me, that was a very physical manifestation of a story that obviously surprised me in a really bad way.

So, a lot of neat stuff this season in terms of the paranormal.

Question > You obviously spend a lot of time at night in the dark walking through the woods and all that in these caves. Do you guys ever like get freaked out by doing it, or are you used to it? And has anybody ever like tried to prank somebody to scare the crap out of them when you’re all alone out there?

Josh Gates > We sometimes prank each other, from time to time on the show in kind of, you know, little ways. But, really the way I always sort of think of it is like there’s something kind of - it’s like the Hardy Boys. It’s like you’re out there and you’re explorers and you have your flashlights, and when we get out there to the night investigation part we’re all kind of excited, you know?

And it’s sort of scary more in retrospect when you, “What were we doing up there,” you know? But at the time, there’s this great sort of liberty to, “We’re going to go out and have an adventure and we’re going into the unknown, and no one knows what’s going to happen.”

And we’re all there as a group and we’re all a very tight knit group, and so I think that what really it is in the moment is excitement. And there are instances where yeah, things start moving around or your hear strange things or see strange things where suddenly you snap out of that into a feeling of real trepidation.

But, I think more often than not I get scared in retrospect, you know, after I’ve done it.

Question > What got you started in exploring in the first place?

Josh Gates > I think my parents probably got me started. My father, who is retired now, was a deep sea diver for his entire career. So as a kid growing up, my father was always working overseas, and then coming home from these really exotic places.

And, as a little kid he would be working in Africa somewhere or in the Middle East and would come home with gifts and stories, and I really - I think from an early age had this sense that, “Wow, there’s a - there’s kind of a big world out there.” And my mother’s British, and so we would go over to Europe every year to visit our family over there.

And so, I was kind of flying around on planes and hanging out in my parents shadow, who are both people that had traveled a lot, and I think that’s really what got me into it. And then got hooked on Indiana Jones and things like that and just decided that that was something I really wanted to get into was seeing the world, exploring the world.

Question > Which investigation this season were you looking forward to the most?

Josh Gates > For me it’s probably that underwater investigation. The place that we went to is a place that is kind of among scuba divers, like an oft talked about, but seldom visited location, you know, this amazing underwater graveyard in the Pacific. And so, I was really jazzed to go and do that underwater paranormal investigation for the Japanese ghost fleet.

I think I was also really excited to go to Siberia. We did an 11-day trek, I think, across Siberia and that’s a part of the world that I certainly had never been to, and haven’t really seen very much of, you know, on TV or in film. And I was just really excited to - I’m always excited when I get to someplace I’ve never been before, especially someplace I may never get to go to again.

So, we had this great one-hour episode on the Siberian Snowman, which is sort of the Russian iteration of the Bigfoot, and this kind of great big adventure across Siberia. I always like it when we can do a big one -hour, one-topic story where we get to really kind of, go the extra mile across some really difficult geographies.

So those were for me, big exciting places to go to this season.

Question > What’s the balance between tracking like beasts and the paranormal activity stuff?

Josh Gates > We don’t want to do more ghost stories than creature stories, so we try to keep the balance at least 50/50 and airing toward the side of doing cryptozoology stories. That’s really where the show started.

We really, I think, found in the second season of the show an opportunity to investigate the paranormal in a way that doesn’t step on the toes of Ghost Hunters because we typically aren’t in your sort of traditional haunted house.

And so, we really, I think, have, from the second season on, found a unique way into the paranormal. But yeah, we try to keep it at least 50/50.

Question > So, would you say that the paranormal elements of the show, did that set you apart from other shows like Monster Quest?

Josh Gates > I actually think what sets apart from other shows like Monster Quest is the tone of the show as a whole. Monster Quest is a show that isn’t host-driven. It’s very much - there’s kind of a distance between the viewer and the subject matter, and our goal in Destination Truth is to really bring the viewer with us.

I think Destination Truth has a great sense of humor, we want to have a lot of fun along the way, we want to meet interesting people, and then we want to have this big sort of rollicking adventure and investigations. I think there’s not another show that kind of tries to do that, and that’s what I think makes it unique.

Question > You mentioned Siberia, I was just curious is there any lasting effects from the Chernobyl cafeteria yet?

Josh Gates > Not yet. I haven’t grown a third arm yet, my hair is not falling out. Well, it is, but not because of Chernobyl. But no, no lasting effects so far, knocking on wood. Everything’s still, you know, holding together.

Question > How much input do you personally have into choosing like where you’re going to go and which topics you’re going to follow?

Josh Gates > A lot. We’re a very tight knit group over here. I’m actually in our production offices right now and it’s really a team effort, you know? Myself, the Executive Producer of the show, Brad Kuhlman, we really get together and we sit down and sort of talk about, you know, first and foremost, stories.

What’s in the news? What’s something that’s kind of relevant that we can go and look for right now that there have been some recent stories on? What part of the globe do we feel like we want to go to? Where do we not want to go back to because we were just there? And we really work as a team, along with Erin Ryder, our Producer here, and you know, a couple other folks in-house to develop where we’re going to go.

And, typically it’s just a question - there’s a million places we want to go, and then we try to kind of whittle that down to a route that makes sense, and a good collection of stories that gives us a broad pallet of topics to bring to the viewer.

Question > Has there ever been any place that you’ve wanted to go that for one reason maybe political or financial, or whatever that you couldn’t go, somewhere you really wanted to go?

Josh Gates > Oh, plenty. Plenty. There’s a lot of great crypto stories in Central Africa, which unfortunately there’s just a couple of those countries are a little too touch and go for us to be able to go to. So, you know, Congo, places like that where there are some of the great sort of African cryptid stories. It’s just a little bit difficult to bring a television production there.

We have pitched the channel on going to Iraq a number of times and they laugh in our face every time we say it, but I keep trying. And, yeah, I mean typically it’s just - like there’s a couple of hot spot places that have been hard for us to get to.

Question > What is the scariest thing that’s ever happened during a shoot?

Josh Gates > That for me was in season three in Romania when the roof ripped off our airplane that we were flying in. We were in an old Russian plan and the front section of the roof tore off in flight, and that for me was definitely the moment I thought the series was probably coming to an end.

Question > If you can kind of preview the Cambodia episode this year a little bit, and what you went there for and what did you find that was a surprise?

Josh Gates > Well, we went there to investigate Angkor Wat, which is a really large temple complex in the Siem Reap, and you know, it’s a very iconic building. You’ve probably seen in a lot of films. It’s in the Tomb Raider series. And, it’s this beautiful, ornate temple and it’s a place that has long been associated with spirits.

It’s believed that it was a funerary temple, locals really revere it, and it’s not a place that is entered into at night very often. It’s never been filmed at night before, and so we - when we first thought of the idea of Angkor Wat we really entered an initial phase of going, “Well, is there any way we’re going to get permission for this?”

And we have some great contacts on the ground in Cambodia and the permission had never been written before for a film crew to come in after dark. So, along with being the first paranormal investigation of Angkor Wat, it’s really the first time it’s been filmed at night, and so that makes it a really cool episode.

It’s a sprawling complex, it’s a huge building, and it was really for us about getting in there at night and determining - you know, people say they see strange lights, they hear strange noises, and for us it was about kind of putting boots on the ground and just making our way through there and seeing if we could corroborate any of those experiences.

Cambodia is an amazing country obviously, and Siem Reap’s a really rich part of the country, so the episode is filled with really neat temples and some beautiful spots. So, I think it’s one of the best of the season.

Question > And comment about being in The Explorers Club.

Josh Gates > Yeah, The Explorers Club is an institution that I’ve wanted to be a part of for a long time. It’s a really respected institution that’s been around for over 100 years now. And they’re really, even though it has a name that kind of sounds like it’s kind of, Indiana Jonesy or something, it’s really an organization that’s dedicated to promoting science, to promoting field sciences and it has a really amazing roster of members.

And so, for me to be accepted in the club was a huge, huge honor for me. I mean, there’s some real heavy hitters in there. Edmund Hillary, who just passed away was the President of the club, and it’s a pretty intimidating group of explorers to be in the company of. So, very, very special for me.

Question > What’s been your favorite place that you visited? Not even necessarily for the show, but just since you’ve been so many places?

Josh Gates > I’m a big Southeast Asia guy. I love that part of the world. So, for me it’s probably Thailand. I love Thailand. It’s one of those places where, when you take a trip sometimes and you think, “Yeah, I could, you know, I could live here. I could - this is a place that I could really set up shop.”

For me, that part of the world has always been really fascinating. Amazing culture, really neat people, they’re very sweet, great food. It’s just a nice place. So, I love Southeast Asia in general, and Thailand in particular.

Question > I know in the end of last season when you went to Easter Island. I’m just curious, like the one woman she gave you the herbal tea to protect you or whatever, have you ever had anyone do something like that, or some kind of ritual that ended up not so good, because that could’ve been anything (in the tea)?

Josh Gates > For the most part, no. There are a lot of sort of ritualistic beliefs associated with some of these places that we go to. And - but for the most part we’re open to trying pretty much anything. And no, we haven’t had any really bad experiences yet on that front. Fingers crossed.

Question > How did you start working on the show?

Josh Gates > It was started by a guy named Neil Mandt, who’s a producer here in Hollywood and a guy that I happened to know. And they - he had a concept for the show and the channel was looking for a show that could sit alongside Ghost Hunters, and they needed a host. And Neil said, “You should meet this guy Josh. He loves to travel.”

And I met the channel and that was really the genesis of it. They, I think, wanted somebody that was first and foremost a guy that was a traveler and not necessary a guy that was a monster hunter, or a guy that was a paranormal expert.

They kind of wanted someone that was just willing to go and look, and the kind of be someone the viewer could identify with and go and ask these questions, and go and look in these dark corners and sort of see what was there.

So, that’s really how it started and as a guy who loved to travel before the show, you know, it’s been an amazing job for me because it’s allowed me to travel for a living, which is, you know, a pretty great deal.

You can catch Gates on Destination Truth every Thursday night at 9/8 central on Syfy.


Originally published here at Sci-Fi Vision on 16 September 2010.

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