Paranormal Challenge, which premieres tonight at 9 on Travel Channel, faces a number of challenging questions of its own: Can creator/host Zak Bagans thrive outside of his Ghost Adventures comfort zone, without his bros Nick and Aaron? Will Ghost Adventures fans accept Zak in an observer/host role, rather than as intrepid investigator? Can a paranormal investigation show work as a team competition? Does Paranormal Challenge get the balance right between personalities, process, and evidence? Is "bragging rights" enough of a prize?
Fans and management alike will be pleased to hear the answer to all of these questions is, more or less, yes. I found myself glued to DVD screeners of the first three episodes, complusively replacing one ep with the next, and finding myself wanting more when the third was finished.
The eps I saw downplay staged competitive bluster and artificial drama in favor of nuts-and-bolts investigation and analysis, the show clearly wanting to be taken seriously as a venue for legit evidence gathering, perhaps even as a primer on proper evidence gathering techniques, rather than a goofy game show. And while "bragging rights" might not seem like much of a prize, in the relatively small world of paranormal investigation teams, the exposure and prestige are worth their weight in gold, or platinum, or something.
In a nutshell, two three-member teams investigate an iconic haunted location under the watchful eletronic eye of Bagans and a rotating panel of expert judges, who determine the winner based upon the criteria of teamwork, efficiency with provided equipment, familiarity with the history of the location, and the evidence captured during the investigation.
Tonight's premiere episode offers the additional competitive angle of a Battle of the Sexes between all-guy Resident Undead Paranormal (Adam Kimmell, Daniel Hooven, Jim Leopardo) from Pittsburgh, and all-girl Paranormal Xpeditions (Rachel Hoffman, Danielle Minacapelli, Tina Storer) from the Boston area, as they explore the creepy nooks and crannies of the dreaded Rolling Hills Asylum, in East Bethany, N.Y.
You-heard-it-here-first production elements of the show include a zippy logo comprised of a palm-forward hand grasping a crystal ball containing silhouettes of Zak (can't miss that hair) flanked left and right by teams and judges, and emblazoned with "Paranormal Challenge" in white and red. The show theme song is an ever-so-fitting -- sonically and thematically -- edit of Disturb's "Down With the Sickness" (Ooh wah ah ah ah!).
Zak is introduced (with Ghost Adventures prominently mentioned), the teams are introduced, the location is announced, a local historian runs through the haunted history, the teams are sent off to two separate zones for two hours to investigate, they are given some pointers by the judges, then they switch zones for the second two-hour hunt, evidence is presented, a winner is announced.
Creator/host Bagans seems perfectly comfortable as (pun intended) ghost-in-the-machine observer and host of the show, his personality both larger and yet more restrained -- almost avuncular -- than on Ghost Adventures.
For more on Zak and the show, please take a look at the exclusive set visit and interview we did with Zak at the show's fourth location, Mansfield Reformatory, last month. Look for a profile of the Paranormal Xpeditions team in these pages shortly.
Resident Undead spotlight:
Paranormal Xpeditions spotlight: