Monster-Hunter Extraordinaire: An Interview with Josh Gates of 'Destination Truth'
Are you hunting Yeti for business or pleasure? Do you have any Chupacabra or Sloth Monsters to declare? Have you accepted any gifts from Swamp Dinosaurs, Bat Demons or Devil Worms while traveling?
The questions Josh Gates encounters when flying across the world for fun and adventure are slightly more exciting than what the rest of us have to answer at the airport. Still, even though the third season of his hour-long show Destination Truth premieres Wednesday, Sept. 9 on the Syfy Channel, the gig of monster-hunting host hasn’t become mundane.
Since June 2007, Gates has traveled to remote, off-the-grid locales with a small crew to investigate claims of encounters with beasts that could take a bite out of Bigfoot and Nessie. As if that wasn’t enough, his repertoire has recently extended to exploring curses and ghosts – and his adventures with the unknown all occur after he deals with known dangers. But Gates is an affable guy who, at 32 years-old, sports a professorial-meets-adventurer look. Not completely unlike another such explorer who favors a whip and fedora, Josh Gates has learned to take life-threatening work environments in stride.
“There are two different types of scary occurrences on the show,” says Gates. “There’s the scary occurrence where you’re looking for whatever creature or phenomena that you’re looking for where you think, ‘wait a minute, maybe this thing is here.’ And then there’s the scary occurrence when you’re doing something that’s sort of physically perilous.
“This year we had a very close call in an airplane on a very old plane in Romania,” he adds. “Whether or not you think that there’s some sort of unknown creature lurking in the jungles in the Amazon or wherever we happen to be, there’s certainly plenty of other things that are that we know are there. And so we’re always very mindful of, ‘what if a tiger comes out right now?’”
Gates also admits that a reality of off-the-map exploration is that he often finds himself in very local political systems in tribal communities surrounded by “dudes with machine guns.”
“There’s a lot of assessing, you know, ‘Who am I with and who’s that guy with the AK-47?’,” he says. “We try really hard to not get in over our head in those kinds of situations because those can get sticky quickly.”
But Gates acknowledges that sometimes “scary stuff happens,” and when it does, it’s pretty mind-blowing. During the second season, Gates was in the Himalayan Mountains in Nepal on the trail of the “Abominable Snowman,” aka the Yeti, when he found a rather large set of three footprints. The sets were considered legitimate and non-human by Bigfoot expert Jeffrey Meldrum of Idaho State University.
The find was an exciting one for Gates and he’ll be heading back to Nepal to continue the search in the third season. He also describes a fairly freaky experience that happens to a crew member in “Haunted Forest” in the season’s first show.
“Evan is one of these guys who’s a road warrior; he’s shot on a million reality shows. He’s shot in war zones,” Gates says. “He got really shaken up by something unseen in this forest. It’s a really compelling moment where a member of the crew has an experience that fundamentally physically knocks him around.”
The footage of the event even leads Gates to paying a visit to Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson, hosts of another Syfy paranormal investigative show, “Ghost Hunters.” Gates asking the duo for some spiritual guidance on the ghostly forest incident is yet another installment of what he calls the “the Flintstones meets the Jetsons routine” on the similar shows. Gates, who has previously hosted two live Halloween shows for the Ghost Hunters, and is appearing on their show on Wednesday as a lead-in to the Destination Truth premiere, hints there are more crossovers to come.
However, Gates stresses that his show complements the “Ghost Hunters” but he wouldn’t want to duplicate them.
“They’re really great at what they do. They have great hit shows because they have a very specific way of doing things that really works. And we wanted to be something different.”
That something different is the show’s heartbeat as a globetrotting adventure program. Monsters aside, Destination Truth is a travel show with a comedic element and a “If it can go wrong, it usually does” attitude.
“We really try to blend into every episode some interesting and really comedic travel up at the top of each show. So you'll see a taste of the cities and the people and the culture and the food of the places we go. Then we clearly, on the show, are kind of going off the beaten path to look for these creatures or to experience these phenomena.
Gates says the travel “full of mishap and full of the unexpected” is actually more important to him for the show. “That’s the part of the show that I think pulses the best for me, he says. “People really respond to it.”
During the adventures, Gates’ reputation as a “big movie guy” pops up often. “Jaws” is referenced in watery episodes and he says that when recently filming a werewolf episode that “it’s hard not to hearken back to some of the classic monster movies.”
But it’s his well-worn passport, not movie pedigree, which landed Gates the job. An accomplished traveler, he is a SCUBA diver with a degree in archaeology (and drama) from Boston’s Tufts University, and was just getting back from a trip to Africa when he met to discuss the show.
“They didn't want someone that was necessarily an advocate for these creatures or these stories,” he says. “They wanted someone who seemed authentic as a traveler … someone who had been out there.”
Gates’ sense of adventure and wanderlust comes honestly, he says. His father, a commercial diver, was always coming back from someplace exotic with gifts from the other side of the world. Add to that the fact Gates was “fixated on Indiana Jones” and you have a natural explorer with a dream job.
But Gates’ tenure as a creature seeker hasn’t been without grief from a very visible, if unwieldy beast, the Internet. A handful of forums and bloggers have accused the show of being culturally insensitive or condescending to the villagers and locals from remote areas featured weekly on the show. However, Gates dismisses the accusations.
“Nothing could be further from the truth in terms of the kind of respect that we have for the people that appear on the show.”
“People sometimes look at other cultures around the world and there’s something sacrosanct about them,” he says. “They get this idea that you can't have fun with or fool around with people in the developing nations or people in other cultures because it’s somehow insensitive.”
He adds that the fun is mutual and shared, and “when the cameras turn off, we go have a drink with them … they cook for us and they introduce us to the people in their community.”
As for this season, Gates is heading to the ruins of Chernobyl in the Ukraine for an investigation, as well as conducting the show’s first United States investigations in Alaska and Florida. Destination Truth will also have an episode set in King Tut’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt – which is the world’s first overnight paranormal investigation of the tomb.
Regarding future investigations, Josh Gates says he always “has a whole list cooking” for Destination Truth.
“I'm really kind of intrigued by a lot of these small Pacific island nations,” says Gates. “From Polynesian curses to cursed or haunted islands, there’s shipwrecks, there’s all sorts of amazing things that are floating out there in the middle of nowhere … Maybe we [can] do a season where we take the show on a boat and we go around the Pacific or something.
He then adds, “I'm of course always secretly plotting to take the show to places that I've never been to before.”
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Aaron Sagers is a nationally syndicated entertainment columnist, paranormal pop culture expert and editor of ParanormalPopCulture.com. He can be reached at [email protected]m.