By Jamie Ruby
Tonight Destination Truth
kicks off its fifth season with two back-to-back episodes. Josh Gates and his team will look for Bigfoot in a cave in the jungles of Vietnam in the first episode, and in the second they'll return to Romania to the Hoja Bachu Forest and also visit the Mayan ruins of Tikal to hunt for the Belize Goblin.
Gates recently talked to the digital media about his latest adventures and what fans can look forward to in season five, which airs tonight on Syfy.
Syfy Conference Call
June 28, 2012 QUESTION:
We got to see the first two episodes, and it seems like you make it a challenge for your medic. Are you doing this on purpose? JOSH GATES:
Yes, just beneath the surface of trying to make a travel adventure show, I'm really just trying to torture the people that I work with.
The show's a challenge for everybody. I think one of the really fun things about Destination Truth
is that it's real adventure, it's difficult. So we go to very out-of-the-way places, we typically don't have the finest of vehicles, and we're doing a lot of physical things. We're belaying down cliffs and we're rafting and we're exploring caves and jungles where there's plenty of things that can sometimes reach out and bite you.
And so it's a real environment. And there are times when that can be a challenge, certainly for our medic. Our medic always has to be on their toes. But I think that's part of the fun of the adventure. QUESTION:
You go to return to a place, I don't think you've done [that] before, and this forest had quite the experience in it with Evan. And so I'd like to know, how did you get Evan to return? JOSH GATES:
Yes, so this season we're doing our first ever follow-up investigation. We get all sorts of emails and letters and requests from fans to return to a few different locations that we've visited on the show before.
People always want us to go back to the Island of the Dolls in Mexico or to Chernobyl -- which I'm not going to go back to -- or to this haunted forest in Romania. And I think the reason that people were so interested in that story the first time is that my cameraman Evan had this really terrifying experience there.
This is a guy who, he's a real road warrior. He's worked on all sorts of different types of shows, he's not a paranormal guy, he doesn't believe in ghosts, he's a skeptic. And we went into this forest that's reputed to be home to this dark, paranormal energy. And he was basically blown off his feet by something a couple of years ago on the show. And so we got all these requests to go back and to revisit this location.
So we wanted to go back but we knew that we really couldn't go back if we didn't have Evan with us. And the thing about Evan is he's kind of a glutton for punishment. And working on Destination Truth
is - it's like a hard tour of duty, but everyone who works on the show wants to come back and do it again.
And Evan has a family and he has other projects he's been working on. And so for the past couple of years he hasn't been on the show. And he always is like, "Man, I've got to get back out there, I want to come back out and work with you guys again."
And so I called him and I said, "Evan, I have this great opportunity, we'll fly you out to do one episode of the show. You know, we miss you, we want to see you." And he's like, "Oh great, that sounds terrific." And then I told him where it was and he wasn't quite as excited.
But he agreed to do it, he came back. He was a great sport. And I of course made him go back to the very same place that he was the last time. And you saw the episode, it's a pretty thrilling night. Another set of really mysterious things happened to him. QUESTION:
The first two episodes are terrifying. Every time you gave directions to the team they'd be the opposite of what I would do, which is run in the opposite direction like, "No, don't go in the cave. Don't, don't." They always do. Can you tell us (unintelligible)? JOSH GATES:
That's because I have an electric prod behind them that I use to force them in the right direction. SCIFI VISION:
Can you tell, for those of us who don't know, how you first got involved in the show? JOSH GATES:
Sure. I'm like a travel adventure guy I think by birth. I just always loved the idea of travel. I think there's something in my blood that I just - I'm not a real sit still kind of guy. My mom is from England, my father spent a lot of his career working overseas. And so from a young age I was exposed to travel. And it took me, after college, a little while to figure out how to do that professionally.
And so I was living in Los Angeles, and I would save some money up and I would take a trip, and I would save some money up and I would take a trip. And very coincidentally, as a lot of these things are when it comes to the television world, I knew this producer who was pitching the show to Syfy about a kind of exploration into the unknown format, this Destination Truth
show, and they needed a host.
And I was just returning from Africa and I had just climbed Kilimanjaro. And they met a bunch of people and I walked in and looked really terrible and scruffy and dirty from this trip. And I think that there was this kind of authenticity where they say, "Hey, this is a guy who really loves to travel."
And beyond that, I think they really wanted someone who wasn't going to just rubber stamp these stories, someone who wasn't just going to say, "Ghosts are real, Bigfoot's real." And so I think the other thing that was a nice marriage between Syfy and I is that I could be a proxy for the viewer and act as a skeptic and approach these stories with a degree of skepticism.
And so it was just a good fit. And the rest has been history. And it's been four or five years of doing a lot of travel and looking into a lot of these really, really amazing stories. SCIFI VISION:
Can you talk about your favorite place you've been this season? JOSH GATES:
This season is great. We went to a bunch of locations we haven't been to before. So it's our very first time touching down in places like Sweden, our very first time going to the Islands of Fiji.
So a lot of new locations for me. And I always like that, I'm a shameless competitor, so I always want to go to a new place and check off a new box for a place I've never been to before.
But for me I think, in terms of real highlight locations for me, we went to Guatemala for the first time this year, and one of the things that we try to do on the show is we always want to push ourselves to continue to explore these really iconic historic sites. We've been to King Tut's tomb, we've been to Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and we had the opportunity to investigate the Mayan ruins of Tikal.
And you know, it's the year of the Maya, it's a big story this year with the Mayan calendar turning over. And so to be able to go down, deep into the jungles of Guatemala and have free run of the ruins of Tikal, this is one of the biggest most significant Mayan cities. It's one of the largest ruins in the Americas. There are thousands and thousands of structures there, and these soaring pyramids that come up through the jungle canopy.
And it's just this incredible place. And it was a terrifying location, it's a really kind of (unintelligible) jungle. And also just this breathtaking beautiful place. And so I'm really excited to showcase our trip to the ruins of Tikal for our viewers. I think it's really one of our highlight destinations.
And I also loved our trip to Vietnam. I'm a huge fan of Southeast Asia. I just love that part of the world. And one of the things I really love is when we're able to spend a whole hour in one place on the show.
And so for our season premiere, we spend the whole hour doing this really back country trek into Vietnam. And it's a great way to showcase a little bit of the cities of Vietnam, and a lot of the places in country that you don't see, this really deep wilderness. And so I'm really excited about that as well. SCIFI VISION:
You've done this now for a long, long time. But are you still surprised by the different things you find out? JOSH GATES:
I am. I'm constantly surprised on the show. And I'm surprised by a lot of different things. And I think that's really one of the things that makes the show work. I think if the show were only about, "Are you going to catch a monster at the end of the hour," it wouldn't work.
And I think that there are so many surprises that we have every time we go out there. I'm surprised by the people that we meet, I'm surprised that we've met so many reasonable, intelligent people who really have been shaken up by experiences and encounters with the unknown.
And whether you're a skeptic or not, you meet these people who really have had some sort of legitimate experience. And so I'm always amazed by that. And then my curiosity is always piqued because I want to understand what it is that they have experienced.
But beyond that, I'm also continuously amazed by the general hospitality of people and by the really interesting different cultures that we get to embed ourselves into.
So I think that one of the great things about the show is it's always full of surprises. And sometimes it's scary, sometimes it's funny, but it's a real adventure and you never quite know where it's going to take you. And that's what keeps it interesting. QUESTION:
Since you mentioned about also being a skeptic, what was your personal view of the whole Bigfoot phenomenon before you got involved in the show? JOSH GATES:
I think before I got involved with the show I had a very casual opinion about it. I didn't really know much about it except I knew that there had been a lot of Bigfoot sightings in America and he's become kind of a pop culture crypto icon.
My opinion on it has changed I think a little bit in that I'm - I have been, over the last four or five years, amazed to receive this education on how prevalent the story really is around the world. It's an interesting fact that almost every major culture in the world has some sort of a mystery primate Bigfoot phenomenon.
He goes by a lot of different names around the world; he's the Yeti in the Himalayas, he's the Yeren in China, the Yowie in Australia. This is a story that exists all around the world -- that's interesting. In some ways I don't know if that makes it more credible or if it just means that it's something really entrenched in the human psyche, the story of our mystery ancestor or something that we really long to understand.
I also now have found that there are a few places in the world that I've traveled to, the Himalayas probably chief among them, where I now think that maybe there could be something unidentified. I think that there are spots in the world where there may be these small pockets and populations of primates that we haven't yet identified.
I don't know if they're going to be Harry and the Hendersons. I don't know if it's going to be a big bipedal hairy man who walks out from the woods. But there may still be discoveries to be made, and that's certainly not a position that I had before I started making the show. QUESTION:
With the Vietnam Bigfoot, can you talk about what you found most credible about the accounts, based on your own experience in the jungle? JOSH GATES:
I always find when you go anywhere and you have a real wealth of eyewitness sightings that are consistent and that are coming from credible people who aren't looking to profiteer or get publicity out of it, that always makes things interesting.
And one of the things on Destination Truth
is we're not able to showcase every person that we talk to. But I was very impressed in Vietnam by the amount of people who believe that there is something out there, who have seen something out there that they can't identify.
There are no big primates there. It's very difficult to begin to explain away what some of these people have been seeing. And there have been very interesting pieces of evidence brought forth over the years in terms of foot print casts that have been recovered from different parts of Vietnam, that also point to the fact that there may be something unidentified there.
But for me the most impressive thing about the story in Vietnam is just how much of Vietnam, for not being an enormous country, just how much of it is difficult to explore and has never really been cataloged. You know, the largest cave in the world was found just a couple of years ago in Vietnam.
You could slide the statue of liberty inside the mouth of this thing. It was just discovered, I don't [know] if it was 2007 or 2008, but it was just a few years ago. And a new species, a new mammal was discovered in Vietnam within the last ten years, which is something that doesn't happen very often.
And so this is a country that really hasn't been explored. And so that's when it gets interesting, is when you've got a place that people haven't really charted and you've got a lot of folks coming forward saying, "There's something here that we can't identify." That's what made it compelling for me. QUESTION:
What would you say if someone has never watched the show, what would they need to know in order to pick up and start watching this season. What's your feelings on that? JOSH GATES:
I think the great thing about Destination Truth
is that it's not - you can turn it on and you're at the start of a new adventure every week. You don't need to have been a fan of the show for years to understand it. Every week we are going to pick up on the trail of some mystery around the world and we're going to invite the viewer to come with us to get on a plane, to fly around the world and to investigate that mystery.
And the great thing about the show is that we make that a real open invitation. We want the viewer to feel like they're right there with us. And so the way that we film Destination Truth
is we just include it all.
If there's flat tires or bad food or rough lodging or zany people that we meet, we throw them up all on screen so that the viewer doesn't feel like they're watching a kind of sanitized, produced effort. We want them to feel like they're out there with us and show them what it's really like to have this adventure. So it's a really inclusive show that way and it's a lot of fun.
And I think that's the other thing about the show that's unique is that it doesn't take itself too seriously. The adventure that we go on is often peppered with these really funny experiences and misadventures along the way. And so we always think it's a great ride. QUESTION:
Do you guys have any crossovers planned from any other of the Syfy paranormal shows this season? JOSH GATES:
I have appeared on a couple of episodes of Fact or Faked
that have already aired in preparation for Destination Truth
coming back this summer.
So I've appeared there a few times, and I'm sure that they will re-run those a few times. But going forward I don't know. One of the nice things about the Syfy family is we all tend to pop up on each other's programs, a lot of cross-pollination there. So I would just say stay tuned for that in the future. QUESTION:
I want to ask you about the Belize Goblin, in the Mayan ruins. How long does that legend go back in time? How long has that been around as a legend? JOSH GATES:
That was a little tough to track because there's a lot of oral history in that region. And it's also a region that of ethnically is a very diverse part of the world.
So you've got Mayan and indigenous Indian culture. You have this kind of Creole culture. You have this slave culture that came down to that part of the world. You have this colonial culture. So it's a sort of mash of different groups down there.
And what's interesting is that each of those cultures talks about this creature. And that's what makes it a really cool story. And it's one of the things that I wish had a little bit more time in the show to get into.
But these are cultures that didn't really - over time they started to (unintelligible) to each other, but initially they were very separate cultures. And yet they all experienced seeing and hearing this creature.
So we're talking about hundreds and hundreds of years, this goes back. And they talk about this small goblin-like creature that lives in the forest. And each of them had legends about it.
Each of them had different names for the creature. And again, that's where the story gets interesting, because you're talking about disparate groups that didn't connect initially, and yet had a similar experience. So for us it was a very cool thing to investigate because it brought together a great legend with a lot of interesting different cultures. QUESTION:
Are you going to be attending Comic-Con this year? JOSH GATES:
It's a heartbreaker, but I'm not. I have a wedding to - it's one of my favorite weekends of the year. I love going down there. I just love going down there as a fan. I just love being a part of it. I channel my inner-nerd, I'm into all that stuff. So I'm like a kid in a candy shop down there.
And I have a wedding to attend this year. One of my great friends is getting married on the East Coast. Very, very selfishly he's getting married on the weekend of Comic-Con. So unfortunately, I'm going to have to go back to the East Coast and have to sit this one out.
But I am going to go to New York Comic-Con. I know it's not quite the same as the madness down in San Diego. But I will be at New York Comic-Con this year. QUESTION:
There's quite a lot of reality series, probably a lot more now than when Destination Truth
first launched, and a lot of competition out there. Is that sort of on your mind that you really try to make it very unique? How do you distinguish yourself from the others out there? JOSH GATES:
You're right, there are a lot of different reality shows out there about some of the things that we do, but also there's a lot of programming out there in general about everything. And so I think you can't get too caught up in trying to think your way through differentiating yourself from everybody because everybody is naturally different. And there's just so much programming out there that I think you'd drive yourself crazy.
One of the things I like about Destination Truth
a whole lot is that I don't see that exact format anywhere else. And it's a format that has to do with having fun, there's a lot of comedy in Destination Truth
, there's a lot of hijinks and misadventure. And as I said earlier, it's a very inviting series. We really want the viewer to feel like they're out there with us.
There's a lot of paranormal and now this more sort of crypto programming out there that is very earnest and very serious and very moody. And I think what we do is find this great combination on Destination Truth
of doing a real serious investigation, but showing all the fun that we have getting to these destinations and getting ourselves in these really out-of-the-way places. And I don't see that anywhere else. And I think that that's what makes the show unique.
I think that it's the fact that our crew is really front and center, they're part of the team. My camera operators, audio technicians, medic - they're part of the crew. And what you're seeing is a show where we flip that camera around every minute and show you not just what's in front of the camera, not just a host-driven vehicle, but a team of people who are out there having a real roughshod adventure. And that's unique.
And so for my money, that's what makes Destination Truth
stand on its own. QUESTION:
Is there one case or episode, either in previous seasons or upcoming, that you could definitely say, "I went in as a skeptic, but after investigation I'm fairly certain that there's definitely some truth here and that this legend is real?" Is there one that calls out to your mind that you definitely changed your mind on? JOSH GATES:
I think, yes there have been a number over the years. But just to speak to the current season, I think there are some great examples this year.
I think that the Vietnam episode, which is our season premiere on July 10, is a great example. This is a story about a mystery primate in Vietnam. We went there, we found some incredible evidence. I brought that evidence to the foremost expert in the world for footprint castings, and got some pretty amazing validation of that evidence.
We have a great episode in Fiji this year where we look after the story of some sort of sea creature which terrorized a group of villagers in a very remote part of Fiji. I certainly left there feeling as though these folks saw something. Was it a monster? Was it a shark?
Certainly it could have been something that we could explain away as something that's a cataloged creature in the ocean. But certainly I left there feeling like these folks had a real experience.
We're also doing a number of really compelling paranormal investigations this year. And I'm always on the fence about the paranormal. I'm a real open-minded skeptic when it comes to the ghost world. And there are places though that I've traveled to where it's very scary and I end up feeling like there might be something going on there.
We do a really unique paranormal investigation this year in the Philippines at a place called Hanging Coffins. These are coffins that are bolted to the sides of cliffs. It's probably the most unique and harrowing-looking graveyard in the world. And so we did an investigation on belay, in this hanging graveyard. And it was a terrifying place (unintelligible) some weird things happen to us.
And we also do a UFO episode this year in Kazakhstan, which is a location we've never been to before. And I am really not a believer that there are UFOs observing us here on Earth, and yet I saw something that blew my mind, something I could not explain. And so that's in the show as well.
So that's the great thing about working on this series is that I'm constantly going into situations and having my beliefs turned upside down. QUESTION:
Can you walk us through the process of how you decide on the stories? Who pitches it, and do you have a bunch of people doing research, that type of thing? JOSH GATES:
We take a map of the world and we get a bucket of darts and then we throw – no, that's not how we do it. First and foremost we want to go to places that people are experiencing something, currently experiencing something, that they can't explain. So we don't want to go somewhere where there's a legend of a creature that nobody's seen for 300 years.
So we start by looking through newspapers, looking on the Internet, and working with our contacts that we've built up around the world to identify stories in the news that are appropriate for the show. So that's really the first step. And that yields us a lot of our material. It's just finding places where these stories are reported.
And the cool thing about these kind of stories is even if they're really out there, they always get reported. You even open up your local newspaper here, and you may see on the bottom of page D7 or whatever that a lake monster was seen by a group of people.
And these are the stories that always catch our attention. And we always wonder, "Wow, I wonder what's really going on there?" So those are the stories that (unintelligible) around the world.
We also I think keep a mind to, as I was talking about earlier, trying to find some locations that are really going to challenge us and push us. So we want to go to ruins and historic sites and heritage sites, places where we want to take the viewer with us.
I feel like part of the show is about investigating the unknown for me, and part of the show is about being a virtual travel agency. And I really want to take our viewers to places that are going to really blow their minds. And so bringing them to places like Tikal and bring them to these heritage sites is a really important thing to us.
So this season we're going to be traveling to, as I said, Kazakhstan and Fiji, and Romania, Belize, the Philippines, really different types of destinations. And that's the other thing we try to do is put a good collection of places together that gives the viewers different types of experiences. So one week we might be high up in the Himalayas, the next week we might be on a tropical island somewhere.
And so we jam all that into the hopper and see if we can make sense of it and create a route for ourselves that makes sense, and to find a group of stories that are different and interesting and adventurous. QUESTION:
The Vietnam view especially was fascinating. I had no idea about the extremely dense jungles and the amazing caves and that type of thing. It was really, really interesting. JOSH GATES:
Vietnam is an amazing place. It's a place that everyone has heard of, probably for all the wrong reasons. And they're an amazing people. What they have done since the country has been reunified is incredible. And it's a place that hasn't been fully spoiled by the tourism machine. It's a place where you can go and there's infrastructure if you want it, but man, you walk five feet off the road and you are in uncharted territory. So it's one of my favorite destinations. QUESTION:
How do you decide how long you're going to stay at a location? For instance with Vietnam, how'd you decide, "Okay, that's enough, we're going to go now?" JOSH GATES:
This is one of the difficult parts of the show for me, as the travel enthusiast is that you want to spend more time everywhere. And it's the nature of trying to produce a television show, which is that you just can't spend too long anywhere.
One of the things that fans say to us a lot is, "How come you don't spend a week looking for these things in these places?" And my answer is always, "I feel the same way. I wish I could."
Typically if a journey is going to require us to travel, whether it's by foot or by car or by plane, to someplace that is so inaccessible that we can't film it in four or five days, that it has to be two weeks, that it has to be that amount of time to get there, then we typically devote the entire hour to that story. And we've done that in Nepal, in Bhutan, in Antarctica, these are places where they were so hard to get to that we devoted the whole hour to the experience.
If I had my druthers, every episode would be one hour, one topic. I think that you can tell so many stories in these countries. And part of me loves that we're able to go to two different destinations every hour and bring our viewers to different places, and part of me is always a little bit heartbroken that we can't spend more time in each place.
But what I always walk away at the end of the day feeling is that to some extent if the viewer watches the show and their interest gets piqued and they fall in love with this destination or they're intrigued by the story and they think, "Hey, I want more," then that's good. We want to excite people about maybe going to some of these places on their own and planning their own adventures.
So you're never going to be able to showcase every aspect of a country on a TV show. And so we do the best that we can with the time we're given and just try to get as much time in each country as we can. QUESTION:
I was curious about the Vietnamese Bigfoot, how does that differ description-wise from our Bigfoot here in the U.S.? JOSH GATES:
All the different Bigfoot stories seem to have little differentiations.
In the case of the Vietnam Bigfoot, he's typically described as smaller, it's not this huge, lumbering Bigfoot creature. It's a little bit nimbler, a little bit smaller, the body's a little bit more compact. And the fur is described often as kind of red or red/brown as opposed to the darker descriptions you hear of the U.S. Bigfoot.
But the other main characteristics in terms of its elusiveness are exactly the same. It's an animal that people have seen again and again, it's very hard to track, people can't seem to figure out where it lives, where it nests.
And those are always the troubling parts of those stories, if there's a population of animals here, where are they? Why can't we track them? Why don't we have really clear examples of their remains?
In Vietnam though, we're talking about something that appears to be a smaller animal. QUESTION:
As far as this year, have you added any new equipment to help you in your searches? JOSH GATES:
Yes, we're always tweaking the kit a little bit. Some of it is stuff you see, some of it is stuff that you don't always see.
We've adjusted some of the cameras that we use, some of the night vision gear, some of the look-back cameras that show our crew. We're using a different modified version of those that are a little bit wider in their field of view. So definitely some upgrades to the camera equipment.
And then also some upgrades all around; new diving equipment, adjusted underwater submersible that we'll be using for a few episodes when we go to investigate in Fiji, a more robust thermal imager that we use when we go out into the jungle. So we're always honing that kit as we go along. QUESTION:
You gave an idea a few years ago when the show came about and you were approached for it for hosting. Does the fascination go beyond travel? When you were a kid, were you big into Bigfoot or Loch Ness? JOSH GATES:
I was. I think like all kids, that those kind of mystery animal stories always are appealing. I was really into dinosaurs as a kid, I think like a lot of young boys, the idea of these big monsters that roamed the Earth always appealed to me. So for me it was more the dino stuff than it was Bigfoot and Loch Ness.
But yes, from a very early age I always had an interest in those stories. I always thought they were fascinating. And I used to watch reruns of In Search Of
with Nimoy and stuff like that and I always thought those were great, neat mysteries that needed looking after. QUESTION:
You touched upon a lot of what goes into producing some of these episodes. And I was just wondering if you could go a little deeper on some of the logistics on these international locations.
I imagine it's a lot of headaches trying to get everyone over there. Has Syfy really been open on giving you idea or that blank check to, "Yes, you want to go to the Philippines? Let's go." Or are there any restrictions? JOSH GATES:
Every country's different. Syfy's been great in working with us in terms of the creative, they're very open to a lot of the destinations that we want to go to. And some of the trips are harder than others. And there's a ton of factors that go into that, everything from cost of travel to difficulty with permissions and filming permits and all those kind of things.
But typically one of the things that really works in our favor is that we're a very small crew. So we make the show with very few people. We're a very small traveling circus. And so we're a little bit light on our feet. We're able to get into these countries and not leave a huge footprint behind.
And so that really helps our ability to get things permitted and to get into some of these locations. It's a very different thing if you're saying, "Hey I want to come to this 1000 year old temple with eight people” than if you say, "I want to come with a crew of 500," you know? So we keep things light, that helps our logistics.
We try to work with very good local producers around the world. That's always a real asset in terms of language barriers and local politics and things like that. And we're pretty rough and tumble. We drive ourselves and, as you see on the show, we're always renting the local vehicles. And we just don't have a big production footprint. So that makes all the difference in the world for us.