Reality Bites: Ghost Adventures Revisited

There are a million reality shows on the naked television. We're going to watch them all, one at a time.

The Travel Channel's Ghost Adventures was one of the first "Reality Bites" I ever did, way back in 2011, and the reaction was ... spirited. I think it generated more comments than any RB besides South Beach Tow, including a couple from the owner of Rolling Hills Asylum (who challenged me to come spend the night there) and generated a handful of annoyed paramornal blogs and Tumblrs.

But if America's about anything -- aside from type 2 diabetes and the inexorable eradication of the middle class -- it's second chances. Ghost Adventures has been on the air since 2008, developing an enthusiastic following. Perhaps, I thought, I was overly harsh in my initial assessment?


The intro to the show has changed somewhat, with X-Files style spooky graphics and host Zak Bagans somberly playing up the show's cred:

We have worked years to build our credibility, our reputation.

Sounds promising, yes? There's a reason optimism is never advisable, and Ghost Adventures is emblematic of it. The Episode I Watched (on travelchannel.com, because it doesn't air until February 22) was called "Sharon Tate Ghost," though the "lockdown" doesn't take place where the actual Tate murder occurred (that house was torn down and a new one built), but at the house of one David Oman which is approximately 200 feet from where they took place.

Two-thirds of a football field, in other words. But freaky stuff is going on, so it must be related to the Manson murders.

The Oman House is the source of some consternation from the get-go. Cameraman Nick Groff feels depression and stomach pain during the drive up Cielo Drive to the house, though to be fair, I understand this is often a side effect of living in Los Angeles.

Oman himself believes the house's proximity to the mountains of Benedict Canyon (a third floor door opens to a cliff) is responsible for the negative energy in the home, though this doesn't prevent him from using the adjacent room as his workout area. "Several psychics" he's consulted believe the mountain is the site of a Native American burial ground (can't imagine what they could possibly be pissed off about). Another paranormal investigator, Dr. Barry Taff, tells Bagans he refuses to return to the house after his previous visits left him seriously ill, a condition he attributes to the location's "geomagnetically unique environment."

This potential triple whammy of "magnetic anomalies," pissed off ghost Injuns, and the unquiet spirit of Sharon Tate has the GA crew briefly considering calling off the lockdown, which of course doesn't happen. The resulting footage is depressingly similar to the first time we went through this: inconclusive noises, Zak talking to the ghosts, and finally he, Groff, and tech Aaron Goodwin freaking out like 12-year olds at a slumber party watching Samara climb out of the TV. To his credit, Bagans appears to have toned down his formerly aggro approach, abandoning the spiky hair and taking on a more conciliatory manner with any potential spirits. Then again, it'd be kind of a d-bag move to yell at a pregnant ghost.

But a kindler, gentler Bagans doesn't change the fact the show itself is still unequivocal horseshit. A Beetlejuice figure toppling over gets things going, because toys falling over are a sure sign of ghostly activity (my kids' playroom must be built on a Civil War battlefield). This is followed by a visit to one paranormal investigator who refuses to return after seeing a vision of a bloody pregnant woman. The interview is helpfully accompanied by a tasteful rendition of Sharon Tate's walking corpse. You can pretty comfortably zone out during the requisite night-vision footage of "terrifying" encounters, which are just as inconclusive and unconvincing as it was the first time some nimrod captured a shadow on a Polaroid.

What was it Scotty said? "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." Tell me, where does the shame fall when the audience has been fooled for nine seasons running? I re-read the first "Reality Bites" I did on GA and found I was, when all was said and done, pretty forgiving. I guess that arose from my initial suspicion that Bagans and crew were in on the joke. If they are, they're faking it better than ever. Either way, shame on you for encouraging them.

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