[7 December 2009]
Combine an education of science, philosophy, psychology, and history with a little electrical and plumbing vo-tech training, and you’ll wind up with a well-rounded, multi-faceted curriculum that many institutions of higher learning would be proud of. Add in ghost hunting and it’s the school of The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS), also known as Ghost Hunters Academy.
Having premiered in early November on the Syfy channel, Ghost Hunters Academy is the second spin-off from the popular Ghost Hunters brand, which began in 2004 with the flagship show starring plumbers Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson. Following the 2008 travel-themed Ghost Hunters International, the new Academy is a unique reality-TV paranormal series which focuses on training and selecting new members for the TAPS team.
Led by Ghost Hunters investigators Steve Gonsalves (34) and Dave Tango (24), the group is comprised of five college-aged “cadets” who travel around the country in an R.V. to favorite haunted hotspots visited on the main show such as the St. Augustine Lighthouse in Florida, Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Pa., the battleship USS North Carolina in Wilmington, N.C., and the Buffalo Central Terminal in upstate New York.
During the initial six-episode run of the show, which begins at the Revolutionary War-era Fort Mifflin in Philadelphia, Gonsalves and Tango test and occasionally eliminate recruits who can’t live up to the TAPS standards. Along with being a shot across the bow at the other college-focused show Paranormal State on the A&E Network, Academy is a chance for the Ghost Hunters and TAPS team to educate fledgling investigators about what goes into the often-tedious, several-night waiting game of ghost hunting.
Gonsalves and Tango, who both had their own paranormal investigative groups before joining TAPS, spoke over the phone about their new roles as leaders on the show, and what it is like to bring their experiences to the amateur recruits ...
What makes for a good cadet and potential TAPS member?
GONSALVES: The passion—that it’s there, it’s in them and that they love it and want to do it forever. If you join our team, we don’t investigate in the same capacity as any other team on the planet. We’re much more involved with much more equipment. We do multiple investigations a week where most teams do one a month. If your heart’s not completely in it, you’re going to fizzle out after six, seven, eight months.
What’s a common misconception your cadets, and even some viewers, have about paranormal investigative shows?
TANGO: These people come into the show and a lot of them think it’s just like they see on TV. That it’s like 20 minutes in a room, and that’s not the case at all. There’s a lot more to it and I’m glad Steve and I were able to show them that. It can be rough sometimes, but that’s the way it is. It’s not as easy as it looks. Yeah, we’re sitting down and we’re pointing a camera but there’s a lot more to it with the setup and the procedures and protocol of investigating.
GONSALVES: You have to have a lot of knowledge. Not that we all have degrees in it, but you have to have a lot of knowledge in the paranormal: the current theories, the past theories, the energy theories. You have to know all this stuff and they all came in not knowing any of it but boasting as if they did. One person says, “I love it, I love it, it’s my favorite.” She’s so happy that it’s what she’s wanted to do forever, but yet has never read one book, never been to one lecture, never done anything. How can that passion be in you for as long as you can remember but you’ve never bothered to pick up one book?
TANGO: Don’t just say, “I read this on the Internet, I read that on the Internet.” You need to get real books from parapsychologists and true investigators. A lot of these students say, “Well I read this on the Internet so it must be true.” Maybe it is, but we don’t know that.
GONSALVES: We have one girl who says it’s been her lifelong dream to be a parapsychologist. I finally asked her, “How do you plan to do that?” She says she’s going to go to school for it. It made me realize she had no idea what she was talking about. There is no accredited course in the United States for that … These are people who think they know everything but are quickly finding out that they don’t really know anything.
Can you say which cadet said that?
GONSALVES: [Laughing] No.
TANGO: It will unfold on its own.
While you have to train the cadets, do you also have to break bad habits picked up from watching TV, and even from watching the main Ghost Hunters show?
GONSALVES: It would be breaking bad habits, but there’s only one or two of them that have any investigation experience coming into it. Those people we definitely had to break bad habits. The other people we had to break bad habits because they did see these things on TV, but it was a little easier because they didn’t have any prior experience. It was frustrating, it really was. There’s this one that just claims to be the queen of the paranormal, but yet ... well, you’ll see on the show. But it was an experience they all loved. Afterwards [they’ll] say, “This was amazing.”
TANGO: You do see progress. Whether it’s a little bit or a lot ... a lot of it is just common sense stuff. I think, for Steve and I, that was the most frustrating—things that you don’t have to have any knowledge about. That’s the stuff that bothered me the most.
At Fort Mifflin, there’s an instance when cadet Susan Slaughter is overcome with sadness and the situation becomes really emotional. The TAPS team stresses not forcing people to be uncomfortable, but do you find yourself rolling your eyes at that drama?
GONSALVES: One hundred percent, man. Without a doubt. It’s hard to watch. She hid some important stuff from us, like that she even has those feelings ... there’s five qualities we’re looking for during this show. One of the qualities is composure; another one is professionalism. What she does there doesn’t show either one of those.
TANGO: Or even honesty.
GONSALVES: Right. In that circumstance, she blew all of them. There’s nothing wrong with having feelings you can’t control or needing to get out of the investigation site. But you say, “Hey guys, I’m feeling uncomfortable. I need to excuse myself, can somebody walk me outside the premises?” You don’t just break down and take off. If there are clients there, can you imagine how they’re going to look at us now?
There’s an excellent moment in the premiere when Steve intentionally misleads cadet Chris McCune to test how susceptible he is to the power of suggestion. Why did you screw with him like that?
GONSALVES: [Laughing] Yeah, we do that quite often. One of the big problems in this field—and it’s not just with new investigators—is to let what other people say suggest what you are seeing and experiencing. You become very impressionable. We do test them continuously throughout the episodes.
Steve, I know you like reality-TV competition shows like Top Chef and Hell’s Kitchen. As a viewer of those, you know there are contestants you immediately like or dislike, and people you don’t think will last long. Did you have the same experience in the leadership role?
GONSALVES: You do find yourself thinking that way, but what I did was treated it like an investigation. When you go on an investigation, you get those feelings at first like, “Oh, we’re not going to find anything here.” But you have to put all that aside and do a thorough investigation no matter what you think because you never know. That’s sort of the way I approached this. I may think this person is never going to last; I may think this person is goofy or whatever, but I have to put all that aside and give them the best training and experience I can.
TANGO: It’s like a big roller coaster ride. You think you know this person, or that person’s not going to last, and they come out of their shell and it gets interesting.
GONSALVES: It’s going to be an interesting show for people because it is an extreme roller coaster. Just when you think they’re doing awesome, they end up doing a horrible job. When you think they’re going to do bad, they end up killing it. There hasn’t been a reality show like this. Ever. It encompasses every element of reality shows, plus you’re ghost hunting and in haunted places.
Is it tough being the boss?
GONSALVES: What’s funny is we all become friends. We’re all on the road, we investigate every week and we spend 12 hours a day with these people ... so it gets a little tough.
TANGO: They’re all great people, and it does get kind of tough but we have to do what we have to do.
GONSALVES: Like I said to one guy, “Hey, I’d be friends with you ... but it doesn’t necessarily make you a good team member.” You have to sort of separate that.
You don’t get rid of cadets every episode, so how do the eliminations work?
GONSALVES: If we see somebody is at the point where we’ve done all we can, and they’re just not going to get it, we have to get rid of them and bring in somebody we can potentially use. We do that quite often. That will be fun. What’s nice is the recruits are around long enough that the audience will be able to connect with them ... so it’s not like you’ll see this person for just one episode or half an episode, and you’re like, “Aw man, I was just starting to like this dude and he just got kicked off.” You’ll get to experience each cadet. And then we kick them off! Just kidding.
Since Steve used to be a police officer, who is the good cop and bad cop between you two?
TANGO: It’s kind of both. Certain things will bother Steve, and certain things will bother me more. When they start dilly-dallying, for some reason I can’t deal with it. If they’re talking away and not doing what they have to do, I just can’t stand it. I don’t know if it will show on camera, but I get tense and I just snap at them.
Does it frustrate you that you worked for years as paranormal investigators and becoming part of a hit TV show was a result of that, and now you have a group chosen by video submissions dropped into a spin-off without experience?
GONSALVES: I know I shouldn’t be, but I am. I find myself thinking sometimes, “Wow, I had 15 years in the field before I got a TV show.” Now, everyone nowadays looks at ghost hunting on television as a reward system for being in the field. That’s why they’re in the field—to get on a TV show—which sort of bothers me a little bit. But what I like about it is if it isn’t us choosing the people, it’s going to be somebody else. At least we’re there filtering appropriately.
On the main show, you two are known for pranking one another and exchanging dares. Does that dynamic have to change now that you’re the leaders?
GONSALVES: It’s still there ... but these first six episodes we’re still trying to figure out the show and what it’s exactly supposed to be. We didn’t really have much time to be walking around, investigating and just come up with stuff like that. You’re going to see a different side of us, a more authoritative side with a jokester sense as well.
Steve, your fear of flying (along with heights and spiders) is pretty well known. Was that the reasoning behind the RV?
GONSALVES: That’s funny. No, I showed up the first day on set when we filmed at Fort Mifflin, and they were like, “This is your RV.” We told them we’d be on board, because we wanted to take care of the paranormal aspect of it, but that’s all we really cared about. They didn’t really tell us about the other mechanics of the show. To show up and find we had an RV was pretty cool.
TANGO: Steve, you’re an excellent driver, by the way. I don’t know if I’ve told you that. If I drive that thing, it will drive off a cliff, believe me. I could not do that. Seriously, everyone would die a horrible death.
Wouldn’t that make for a great season finale?
TANGO: If they could recover the tapes!