Ghost Hunters Academy 1.10: "Island Castaway"

I've been particularly hard on "Ghost Hunters Academy" because I believe that it emphasizes everything that is negative about TAPS and the "Ghost Hunters" franchise. I also feel that the competitive aspects of the show have not been modified in the most elegant fashion, with an emphasis on crass back-stabbing over demonstration of excellence. And of course, there are the oft-mentioned technical shortcomings from TAPS and the candidates.

On that note, I received an interesting comment after posting the review for the previous episode. In essence, someone asked the question: could the candidates know that TAPS is wrong about the equipment and how it is used, and are they keeping silent out of a desire to win the competition? The idea being that speaking up could paint a target on one's back, even if it's the right thing to do for the field.

I have two responses to that. First, I think this episode proves, at least to some extent, that the candidates are not simply going through the motions. Eric was trying to push the other candidates (for better or worse) by quizzing them on the use of the equipment. Unless Eric is being more subtle than I think he is, I don't believe he was questioning the effectiveness of the equipment at all. They just seem to accept it at face value, because TAPS has told them that this is the right equipment to use.

But secondly, I'm not sure that it would be a good thing if the candidates were simply paying lip service to TAPS. After all, what would that say about the candidates? It would deliver the message that chasing fame and media exposure is more important than correcting the bad practices of the field. It would also indirectly reinforce one of the criticisms of TAPS: that they make concessions with bad equipment choices, with selective interpretations of "evidence", and even with potential fabrication in the interests of maintaining their current fame and prestige. That would be a no-win scenario.

And I'm fairly certain that TAPS doesn't need to give the skeptics more ammunition. They've been trying to repair some of the damage to their perceived integrity since the disastrous Halloween live event in 2008, and the ratings suggest they've been largely successful. Perhaps that is why the issues surrounding Rosalyn Brown in this round of GHA have been kept relatively quiet.

As I've said before, the structure of GHA effectively invites judgment of whatever group the candidates might have started with before joining the competition. It's a hard spot for those groups to be in: if the candidates do well, the credit goes to TAPS, however unwarranted that may be; if the candidates do poorly, it's either a personal failing or a lack of proper instruction from their original group.

When that original group is not associated with TAPS, it feeds into the underlying message that TAPS and their associates are superior to everyone else in the field. But Rosalyn was a high-ranking member of a longtime TAPS Family organization. Not only is she a steady investigator for South Jersey Ghost Research, but she is an associate director and therefore partially responsible for training their personnel.

So what does it say about the standards of a time-honored TAPS Family organization if one of their best is now seen, on-screen, missing potential evidence, conducting poor EVP sessions (something she says is a specialty earlier in the season), and using authority when a team leader to further her own interests?

I was initially worried that Rosalyn was a ringer; as a TAPS Family member, she is supposed to be already following TAPS protocols as a regional representative supposedly aligned with their philosophies, values, and approach. But Rosalyn's dismissal is a clear signal that she was not ready to play at the TAPS level, which then implies that TAPS Family members, even highly-ranked ones, have serious deficiencies. And that begs the question: just what does the TAPS Family represent, if it's not about building uniformity?

I'm also wary of the notion that Vera is becoming TAPS' preferred candidate. After all, we're talking about the candidate that appears, as presented, to be the most credulous of the entire group. She wants to believe, and everything is a confirmation of those beliefs. Just on first principles, that doesn't align with TAPS' claim that they emphasize debunking over subjective belief. (Though, to be honest, "Ghost Hunters" has demonstrated that this stance is mostly talk and little action.)

I will admit that Vera is creative, but again, Jason, Steve, and Tango should be looking past the surface to the underlying assumptions. Vera is creatively trying to find ways to validate her assumption that there is paranormal activity taking place. One might counter that argument by pointing out that this is what most paranormal investigation is about; my response is that this is precisely why most paranormal investigation is not taken seriously in the scientific community. Vera is "assuming the result", and that is one of my biggest issues with the field.

That said, I've always found value in taking the anecdotal reports and using them as a basis for setting up tests and monitoring opportunities. Casting a wide net is fine, but it also leads to a habit of labeling any anomaly as paranormal in origin. The investigation, however, is based on a set of subjective experiences that are, by the witnesses, unexplained. Therefore, basing one's investigation goals on those reports would be the logical course of action, both in terms of debunking and in terms of high-percentage probability for verification.

I'll give Vera and Adam credit for taking the design of experiment into account, even if the approach was scattershot on the whole. Ironically, Eric was in the best position to drive the investigation in the right direction. He certainly remembered the details, since he made such an effort to reinforce them with the rest of the team. So why not demonstrate leadership by integrating that information into a specific plan?

Eric has great ambition, an analytical mind, and he's not afraid to give his opinion. All those are good things for a paranormal investigative group. Team members need to be able to speak up when they think something is being overlooked or misinterpreted. But Eric made the wrong play. As Steve and Tango said, Eric forgot that he was still a candidate. And because the format of the show downplays evaluation over the long-term in favor of week-to-week consideration, the impact of Eric's misread of the situation was that much worse.

As far as the "evidence" goes, I wasn't impressed. Both of the EVPs were buried in the background noise. Oddly enough, I felt bad for Rosalyn. I thought the "missed evidence" in this case was questionable at best. I barely heard a thing in that recording. To suggest that it was a major lapse of attention is a bit ridiculous when most investigators would be on the fence. After all, isn't the mantra "if in doubt, throw it out"?

So once again, I have to wonder if this episode does more to hurt TAPS than help. After all, consider this final point: in this episode, Steve and Tango point back to some of the most controversial "evidence" collected by TAPS as the basis for why this is a great training site. This flies in the face of TAPS' previous claims that they question that "evidence" themselves. Rosalyn may have been rightfully dismissed in this episode, but I continue to believe that the ultimate loser on GHA will be TAPS itself.


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