The first episode of Round 2 of "Ghost Hunters Academy" obviously inspired a great deal of commentary on my part, some of it rather harsh. Given how many people are openly praising the show amongst the various social media sites, I was a bit surprised to see how many people agreed with my criticisms, particularly regarding equipment.
It all boils down to the definition of "paranormal". In the most basic fashion, that which is paranormal is that which is beyond the normal. So to define "paranormal", one must have a solid understanding of what "normal" is. And the biggest problem in the field today is just how subjective the definition of "normal" really has become.
I agree with Jason when he says that science gives us the clear method of determination between "normal" and "paranormal". And I completely agree that new investigators (and even many seasoned ones) should learn, right from the beginning, how to make that distinction. What lies at the heart of my criticism for this show is that it falls short of that goal. TAPS hasn't let go of their subjective interpretation of "normal", so how can they teach others to do so?
That's why this show seems to get an extra helping of criticism. It's one thing when it's just a documentary/dramatization of what TAPS members themselves are doing. Every group has its own quirks, strengths, and weaknesses; no one is perfect. But when it comes down to teaching others, and therefore implicitly setting oneself as better educated or more experienced, the level of scrutiny is necessarily higher. There's nothing worse than a teacher or trainer passing on bad information.
I went into great detail in the review for the previous episode (Season 1, Episode 7: "The New Class") regarding how this question of "normal" relates to standard EMF meters, and how the common interpretation of the output from that equipment doesn't take into account what the equipment can and cannot do. And the result of that lack of understanding is evident all over this episode: Steve, Tango, and the candidates all react to fluctuations that are completely normal for that kind of EMF meter. (One reason why Jason's comment about Roslyn's apparent lack of technical knowledge was unintentionally revealing and hilarious!)
On the other hand, I must give the candidates credit for using the EMF meter to identify sources of man-made background EMF. That is the only reasonable use of that equipment on an investigation: to determine if ambient sources of EMF are strong enough, regardless of frequency, to influence human perception (the "fear cage" effect). Knowing the frequency can allow an investigator to draw further conclusions, but just the basic knowledge of high-EMF sources is a good start.
I'm not sure if it was a case of how the previous episode and this installment were edited, but I was annoyed to see Steve and Tango sitting behind a desk and staring at a screen again. I recognize the rationale behind it; once team leaders are established within the pool of candidates, there needs to be a means of reviewing their performance in that role without the interference of a "mentor" standing five feet away. Yet it also took away from the impression that Steve and Tango were actually instructing, something that many viewers saw as a positive development in the previous episode.
I was also annoyed with the "cigar" test. The entire point of bringing candidates to a supposedly active location is to test them under field conditions, where there are existing anecdotal reports to use as a basis for setting up and conducting an investigation. Even if nothing unusual happens, there is plenty to evaluate. Intentionally blowing cigar smoke into a location is nothing less than contamination of the site. (And, for that matter, probably just an excuse for Steve and Tango to smoke cigars.)
That said, Adam's group was right on top of it. I must admit that Adam is proving to be an investigator with good instincts, even if too much of his motivation is driven by the desire to win the competition. Roslyn didn't fare quite so well, though Eric and Michelle did the right thing. (Though I do wonder whether or not Jason and other TAPS members would have been less likely to dismiss the smoke under similar circumstances.)
But speaking of Roslyn, I just can't agree with the basis of Jason, Steve, and Tango's criticism. Roslyn's decision to dismiss the cigar smoke may have been a quick one, but it was also erring on the side of discretion. If the default interpretation is supposed to be "not paranormal", then why bicker when that's exactly what a candidate does? Especially when she was right?
On the other hand, earlier in the investigation, she failed to show initiative when Steve ordered her team out of an area when there was potential activity taking place. Not only did she think that solidifying her authority over Eric was more important than the apparent activity (a blatant and sad attempt to set Eric up for elimination), but she may have prevented good data from being collected. From a comprehensive point of view, that's a far more troubling investigative issue.
That's not the only instance in which I question Jason, Steve, and Tango on their logic. I was a bit wary of Eric at the beginning, but I'm starting to warm up to him. He had the exact same observations regarding the moving door video that I had, and he wasn't afraid to speak up when his team leader was making a mistake. He showed a lot of initiative, and frankly, I thought Michelle was tagging along in his footsteps. I really didn't see the reasoning behind her selection as team leader.
I didn't have much of an opinion on many of the candidates this time around. Some of them are starting to blend into the background. One candidate that may be riding on luck a bit is Vera. She strikes me as a bit too credulous and quick to point to something as paranormal. Yet, oddly enough, there was some evidence to back her claim this time. So the jury is still out on Vera.
Regrettably, Dan put himself in something of a hole again, and after Jason already gave him some flak in the previous evaluation. Yet I can't help but notice that Dan was also one of the least experienced investigators. If the idea is to train candidates and then evaluate performance, where was the training? If all the candidates were supposed to have a certain baseline education and experience in the field before getting this far, why in the world would they cast Dan in the first place?
Frankly, I think there would have been a case for keeping Dan and dismissing Roslyn. Roslyn's attitude betrayed her desire to put herself ahead of the others in the wrong way. Which is worse: the still-learning candidate, or the cut-throat candidate? The answer this episode offered to that question is the precise reason why "Ghost Hunters Academy" is flawed at its core.