Syfy’s Destination Truth, which returns for its fifth season tonight, is entering its new season with a double header: “Vietnam’s Bigfoot” and “Return to the Haunted Forest/Belize Goblin”. Two full hours to kick things off. We had the opportunity to check out the episodes in advance, and they are terrific.
If you aren’t familiar with the show, here’s a great TV spot:
TV Spot: Destination Truth – Man of Adventure
In support of the season premiere, Josh Gates spoke with SciFi Mafia about how he got the gig, how the stories are chosen, and why he usually has to leave much sooner than he’d like:
SciFi Mafia: Hi Josh, thanks so much for being on the call today. Congratulations on the new season.
Josh Gates: Thank you.
SciFi Mafia: 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. “No, don’t go in the cave. Don’t, don’t.” They always do.
Josh Gates: (laughing) That’s because I have an electric prod behind them that I use to force them in the right direction.
SciFi Mafia: (laughing) I can’t believe they always say, “Yes,” and they just go.
Can you tell us, for those who don’t know, how you first got involved in the show?
Josh Gates: Sure. You know, I’m kind of, 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 kind of exposed to travel. And it took me, after college, a little while to figure out how to do that professionally.
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 you know 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, you know, exploration into the unknown kind of format, this Destination Truth show, and they needed a host.
I was just returning from Africa and I had just climbed Kilimanjaro. 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.”
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.” So I think the other thing that was a nice marriage between Syfy and I is that I could kind of be a proxy for the viewer and kind of act as a skeptic and approach these stories, you know, with a degree of skepticism.
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 Mafia: Perfect. Can you walk us through the process of how you decide on the stories? Like who pitches it, and do you have a bunch of people doing research?
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.
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. 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. I mean you even open up like 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 sort of wonder, “Wow, I wonder what’s really going on there?” So those are the stories that come from around the world.
We also I think keep a mind to 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 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 kind of 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.
SciFi Mafia: Right, right. Well I’ve got to say, the Vietnam view especially was fascinating. I had no idea about the extremely dense jungles and the amazing caves. 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, kind of 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 5 feet off the road, and you are in uncharted territory. So it’s one of my favorite destinations.
SciFi Mafia: It was gorgeous. 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: Well you know, this is one of the difficult parts of the show for me, as just the travel enthusiast is that you want to spend more time everywhere. And you know, it’s just 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 you know, what I always sort of 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 kind of 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.
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.
SciFi Mafia: Great. Thanks so much!
Josh Gates: Thank you.
Thanks again to Josh Gates for taking the time to speak with us about the show.
Destination Truth Season 5, starring Josh Gates, premieres tonight, July 10 at 8/7c with back-to-back episodes before taking its regular slot the following week, Tuesdays at 9/8c on Syfy.