World traveler and intrepid explorer Josh Gates returns to host all-new quests in season three of Destination Truth, which returns to The Syfy Channel on September 9th @ 1o p.m. EST/9 p.m. CT. Each episode is an off-the-map adventure in search of the answers to some of the world’s most intriguing unexplained mysteries. This season, Josh will travel to some of the most extreme locations on Earth, including the isolated Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, and the heart of the world’s worst nuclear accident at Chernobyl. Viewers will also ride along on unprecedented investigations, including the world’s first overnight exploration of King Tut’s cursed tomb and pitch-black dives in ancient Caribbean caves.
Explorer, adventure and photographer Josh Gates hails from the small town of Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts. A graduate of Boston’s renowned Tufts University, Josh holds degrees in archaeology and drama. His work and travels have taken him to more than 75 countries around the world. An avid scuba diver, he has participated in sub-sea archaeological excavations in the Mediterranean, and his work as a photographer has taken him from sweltering African villages to the icy heights of the Himalayas. In addition, he has scaled “the roof of Africa” on Mt. Kilimanjaro, climbed Aconcagua, the tallest mountain in the Americas, and set foot in more than 75 countries around the world. Josh holds degrees from Tufts University in archaeology and drama, and was recently inducted into The Explorers Club, a prestigious global organization dedicated to the advancement of exploration and field research.
At the end of August, myself and a group of fellow journalists had the pleasure of speaking with Josh Gates about his work on Destination Truth and his around the world adventures. An edited version of that Q & A session follows.
I was wondering if I could get a layman’s definition of cryptozoology from you? Also in the UK, the show is called Monster Hunter; what do you think about the name Destination Truth compared to that?
JOSH GATES - I think a layman’s definition of cryptozoology is the study of or search for unknown creatures, and actually, in some ways, I think that Destination Truth has over time served the show better as a title because we don’t just do monsters anymore. When we started the show it was really about being a program that could complement Ghost Hunters and that would go out and look for more creatures or more biological-based stories. Over time, though, we’ve realized that the real heartbeat of the show is that at its core, it’s a real travel adventure. We’ve found that there are great stories other than creatures, including the paranormal, curses and things of that nature that definitely fit the mold for our show.
Can you give us a preview of some of the things that you’re going to be looking at or going after in season three?
JG - Absolutely. We sat down at the end of season two and asked ourselves, ‘What can we do to raise the bar from the season season,’ which was quite successful and covered a lot of really interesting places in the world. We came up with some fascinating stories, so we’re going to do the world’s first overnight paranormal investigation in King Tut’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. We’ll also be doing our first U.S. investigations. We have a great story out in the frontiers of Alaska, and also in the swamps of Florida. So we’ll be kind of bookending the U.S. and doing two stories here. We also spend an entire night investigating the ruins of Chernobyl in the Ukraine, which is really a sort of high-stakes episode. And we have an extraterrestrial episode in the deserts of Chile. We’re going to be doing some stuff in the Amazon, and we’ll be spending part of the season in South America as well. Then we’ll be returning to a story on Bigfoot or Sasquatch, which we’ve always tried to do season after season. We’re going to be continuing our Yeti story from season two, which was in Nepal, by doing a one-hour special in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, which was a great episode and a really beautiful country for us to showcase. So it’s going to be an exciting season and we’re looking forward to it.
How do you come up with your ideas for the various investigations, and once you have an idea, what is the process for going after it?
JG - We have a couple of different thresholds that we try to meet for the stories, the first and most important of which is we want to look for stories that people are having some sort of current encounter with. We want to talk with people that have had a recent experience. There are great stories all over the world that are folkloric and mythological that aren’t really topical anymore. We also want to talk with people who are having a genuine and authentic experience because that’s a mystery, right? If you can find credible people that have been shaken up by something, whether or not there’s a monster present or whether it’s a mistaken identity involving some sort of known animal, you have a mystery on your hands. That’s really what we want to do, which is travel to places where we can get our hands dirty and roll up our sleeves and try to investigate these really interesting stories. Once we have a story that meets that criteria, we want it to be someplace exotic, and those two things often go hand in hand, you know? We want to take our viewers to parts of the world that they don’t get a chance to see every day. We have primarily stayed out of very industrialized nations, including Western Europe as well as America, and tried to go to locales that are, for lack of a better term, off the grid. Places like Bhutan, where most people just have never had a chance to see. So if we can meet those two criteria, find a great story with great eyewitnesses in a really interesting place, then it’s more than likely we’ll be buying a plane ticket.
What sort of production challanges did you guys face in Season Three, and was there an episode that was especially difficult and/or challenging to have pulled off?
JG – The thing about Destination Truth is that it’s a pretty lean, mean machine. We travel with a very small crew, and that’s really by design because we want those who are watching the show to feel like they’re on a real adventure and that they’re riding shotgun on something that’s a little bit crazy and not completely smoothed out and designed. So there are always production challenges because we try not to over-fix each of our stories. This year, however, I think we put ourselves in harm’s way more than a few times. I think the Chernobyl story is a great example of that. We actually pitched that internally as a joke almost at first. We said, wouldn’t it be amazing if we could go to Chernobyl. There’s a whole ruined city that sits right in the shadow of the reactor there that has been abandoned for, you know, 30 years and that is still very radioactive. Then we started wondering if this could be done; could you actually go there and spend a night? So we talked to the government in the Ukraine as well as producers there and we realized that if we could meet certain production challenges and keep people from being exposed to radiation, then we could do something that really hadn’t been done before and have free reign to wander around a totally abandoned city. Not only was it a question of how do you keep a crew from being exposed to radiation, but also your cameras, microphones, battery packs, pens, paper, everything else. How do you bring those things into a place like that and then bring them back out safely? That’s something we’d never tried to do before, obviously. There are very few places in the world that you can attempt such a thing, so that was a great production challenge. I think the same was certainly true with places like Bhutan. It’s a very traditional country that has sort of staved off the modern world. So to bring a television production in there and interact with a very traditional Buddhist culture was a real challenge. But I think that’s part of the fun of this show because you get to see me and my team come up against cultural roadblocks as well as production roadblocks. And I think that no place more than Chernobyl did we all sort of feel, who gets to come here and do this? Even though it’s a scary place, it’s one of those places where you think, wow, this really is an amazing opportunity.
Where does your love of exploration stem from?
JG - I think it came from a couple of different places. My father,who’s retired now, spent his career working overseas for the most part as a commercial diver, so I grew up in a family where my dad was always coming back from someplace really exotic and bringing presents from the other side of the world. So from an early age that led me to feel like, wow, there’s a lot of stuff out there that I haven’t seen. I was also a movie nut as a kid and fixated on Indiana Jones and things like that. My imagination, therefore, kind of got the better of me at an early age and I decided that this is something I wanted to do, and the more I traveled, the more I realized that I just had a real love for it. So to be able to work on a show that lets me not just travel, but travel to some really unique places, has been a dream come true. It’s been great.
What has been the scariest occurrence to date for you on the program?
JG - Well, there are two different types of scary occurrences on the show. There’s the one where you’re looking for a particular creature or phenomena and you start to think, “Wait a minute, maybe this thing is here.” Then there’s the scary occurrence where you’re doing something sort of physically perilous. And both of those things happen on the show. This year, we had a very close call while flying in a very old plane that we chartered in Romania to try to do some aerial photography. There are a lot of old jeeps, plans, boats, etc., on the show because the places we go to have a lot of well-used equipment. So that’s a great example of a scary situation, and certainly a moment where I thought that we were maybe filming our final episode. Sometimes, though, what’s really scary on the show is 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. So we’re always very mindful of, you know, what if a tiger comes out of the jungle right now? What if an anaconda shows up right now? We’ve had a couple of snakes as well as spiders and other animals show up while we’ve been filming, and I think we’ve been really lucky to capture some of those things on film and not have any real incidents with them.
Have you and/or your crew experienced any type of hex or curse that has followed you throughout an episode?
JG - We spent a night alone investigating King Tut’s tomb, which is supposed to be cursed. Originally, this was going to be our season premiere, but we moved it – it’s actually our third episode - and instead, we put a story about a haunted forest in Romania in our first episode. The reason for that is that one of crewmembers, our cameraman Evan, had a very scary experience that is captured on film. Evan is one of these guys who’s a road warrior. He has shot tons of reality shows and is a real pragmatic, down-to-Earth guy. Evan got pretty shaken up by something unseen in this forest, and it’s a really compelling moment where the experience he had physically knocked him around. So it does happen on the show, and there are plenty of times when we go out at night to do these investigations and scatter in order to try to cover as much ground as possible. It’s that classic horror film set-up, right, where we all go in our separate directions and it seems like, inevitably, when someone ends up alone or with just one other person in a very remote area, sometimes scary stuff happens.
Have you ever gone someplace on an investigation and afterwards thought the place was so cool that you went back on your own just to explore?
JG - Absolutely, and there are plenty of places that I’m waiting to go back to. I’m a real frequent flyer nut in that I horde my collection of frequent flyer miles because I’m always looking to use them and go back to some of the places we’ve gone. We did an episode in season two in Cambodia and also an episode in Thailand, and I’ve since gone back there a few times just because I really fell in love with Southeast Asia. That was a part of the world that kind of just spoke to me, and I thought I’ve got to go back there and just bum around a little bit. I mean, if there’s a downside to the show, and I’m certainly not complaining, is that sometimes we don’t get a chance to take in some of the tourist sites or some of the major sites that most people traveling to these places would normally go see. A great example of that is that last season we did an episode in Zambia, and the only reason anyone really goes there is because of this massive waterfall, Livingston Falls. We were within a half-hour of it by car and our schedule just didn’t permit us a chance to visit it. So that’s one of those times when you think, ‘Oh, God, I was so close and when am I going to be in Zambia again.’ But there have been plenty of places that I just can’t wait to go back to, Bhutan among them. I could spend a month just backpacking around there.
On the flip side, did you ever visit a place and discovered something there that you felt might be worth doing an episode?
JG - I don’t know if that’s happened, but we had a unique experience this year which has never happened to us before. We went to Northern Chile to film an episode and we passed through this ghost town/old mining town that was really in the middle of nowhere. It was just meant to be a pit-stop, but it looked so terrifying that as soon as we got out of the car we knew we had a whole episode right there. We actually filmed a little bit and then saved the footage because we want to go back and shoot an entire episode there.
Egypt is sort of traditionally a nightmare to film in; what kind of issues did you have shooting there?
JG - Well, you know, it has a reputation as being a very hard place to film in. In fact, Ghost Hunters International had filmed there, or gone to film there, and hit some real snafus. With a lot of countries, and Egypt is certainly a prime example of this, it’s kind of who you know on the inside. And all these types of episodes depend largely on local producers which we call fixers. We had been recommended a guy in Egypt who another production company had said, “Don’t look any further, this is the guy you want.” So we got him on the phone and he’s this really young guy, something like 22 years old, and his father is a very famous fixer in Egypt that has been fixing there since the 60′s. This young man had sort of apprenticed his dad and is just dialed into everything. We talked to him a few times and he seemed to either be putting on a good show or he seemed to really know how to grease all the right wheels and make everything word. True to his word we went to Egypt and filmed two different locations, one in a village called Armant, which is near the Nile down by Luxor and, of course, the Valley of the Kings which is roughly in the same area. It was just effortless, and this guy really got everything working for us. And it’s amazing in that a number of the roadblocks to filming in countries like this are things that are difficult to smooth out from over here, and you really need someone who knows the local politics as well as the local economy and the local government along with certain military things. You just need someone who understands the whole mechanism, and this guy was just terrific. So we managed to get in and out of Egypt without a problem. India has always been a place that we’ve wanted to go and it’s another country with a very dodgy reputation for film. It’s just a lot of red tape. So we’ve kept India off the list, but I’m sure at some point we’ll try to tackle that, too.
You have a new team this season, so what kind of preparation do you do with your newbies?
JG - Well, we give them all this scary speech about how it’s going to be really hard and that you’re going to be sleeping on floors as well as eating bugs and all that kind of stuff. We’ve had people work on the show who have really thrived in those types of environments, and we’ve had people who got out there and realized, “Wow, this is going to be a challenge that I’m going to have to rise to because this is not what I thought it was.” We’ve had people who have worked on shows like Amazing Race and Survivor and they find the experience of working on Destination Truth to be a lot more difficult. The thing is, on those big shows you typically put in your eight-hour shift and you’re done. Destination Truth is, by its very nature, a show where we’re filming getting up and going to breakfast. We film stopping at gas stations, or we’ll go out at night and stay up all night looking for a creature or a phenomena. It’s really a 24-hour a day job, so I think the first thing we do is try to tell everybody that that’s what it is. You have to be the kind of person who genuinely wants to go and have a real around the clock adventure. A big part of that speech as well is that it’s really about a team. There are only about eight of us out there, so everybody is a really important gear in the machine, and we try very hard to get the right people in order that all those pieces fit together properly.
Is it important to you to kind of balance out the comedy with the more darker elements of the show?
JG - By nature what I really love about Destination Truth is the rough-shot travel, and rough-shot travel always ends up being kind of funny, right? So that’s the part of the show that I find pulses the best for me, and I’m always fighting to get as much of that into the show as possible because I think people really respond to it. It’s pacy and it’s part of the show where you get to see a lot of the people from these different countries and experience a bit of their culture. And the investigations are where the show obviously gets very dramatic and tense, but I try to strike as much of a balance as I can between the two in each episode. If you look at any great adventure and if you’ve ever taken a trip, it usually doesn’t look like the travel brochure. It’s full of mishaps and the unexpected, so that’s a big part of what we try to get into the show, and I think that makes it authentically a real travel adventure program.
Is there a mystery that you haven’t investigated yet but would really like to?
JG - For me, it’s often about locations. When I look at the globe, the place I’m most drawn to is Southeast Asia and I’m intrigued by a lot of the small Pacific Island nations. They’re really hard to get into the show because some of them are very difficult to get to and build into a route. There are a number of great stories in the Pacific, from Polynesian curses to cursed or haunted island and shipwrecks. All these amazing things are floating in the middle of nowhere and are hard to get to. So I certainly would love to figure out a way to maybe do a season where we take the show on a boat and we go around the Pacific or something.
Can you give us a visual of the qualifications for an ideal Destination Truth crew member?
JG - We want people who are truly interested in travel. We’ve had individuals on the show who have been to the four corners of the world, and others, like our new medic this year, Rex, who was very poorly traveled. He’d been to, I think, Canada once or twice, or Cancun, but I don’t think he’d ever been outside of North America. So it’s not a prerequisite that to work on the show you have to be an international traveler. What we’re really looking for are people who are hardy enough to get through a two or three month shoot and stuck with it. Not to overstate it, but it is hard and the chips are definitely down sometimes out there. Some of these investigations are long cold days of trekking up into the mountains and lugging a bunch of gear in bad weather. We want people who are OK with that and are excited about that. The worst thing that can happen on our show is for somebody to, as we always put it, turn a corner. You never want someone to kind of say that this is too hard or difficult, because it’s tough to pull them back from that. We need people who are cheerleaders, too, for each other, and who are really good at what we do. We have this great director of photography this year, Evan Stone, who has a great visual style and he’s brought a lot of neat little tricks and gizmos to the show and has found interesting ways of filming in very difficult environments. We have another cameraman who has been with us for a few seasons, Gabe Copeland, who will do anything to get the shot. He will jump on top of cars, hang out of a tree, anything. We love Gabe because he’s a guy who will not quit until he can bring the show to the people who are watching it. And what’s really interesting, especially from a fan perspective, is that Rex, who I mentioned earlier, was actually a fan of the show. He came in to interview for it because that’s a difficult position for us to fill; we need someone who is a certified paramedic and who has had experience providing care in really rough environments. We brought Rex in for an interview and he was just beside himself because he had watched and loved the show. He told his girlfriend that he was going to come in for an interview and she thought he was lying. So we offered him the job, and for the first half of the season he just kept shaking his head because he couldn’t believe he was out there helping make the show. That’s a great example of how we really have been able to integrate someone who watches the show and put them on it.
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