Anti-Science

I watched Psychic Challenge so you don't have to.

Add this to the list of things you totally owe me for, people. The other night, I downloaded the pilot episode of Lifetime (TELEVISION FOR WOMEN!)’s America’s Next Pile of Crap so that I could judge it’s worthiness and more importantly mock its participants while eating take-out (crab rangoon + snark = love). It debuts tonight but you don’t have to bother, because here’s all you need to know:

It’s a total pile of crap.

Oh what, you say you knew that already and are hungry for more? Fine. Click below to get the full low-down.

The first show features four brave phonies taking part in three challenges that test their abilities to guess, make stuff up, use basic common sense, and look stupid. In the notes I was typing while watching the show, I’ve referred to the four contestants as Blonde Chick

blonde chick

Bowl Cut

bowl cut

Douche

douche

and Xena

xena

but I guess their names are really Karyn, Jackie, Jamie, and Zenobia. Whatever.

Challenge one is finding one live man who is sitting in one of thirty rooms in an empty, defunct hospital. As described thus far, that would make the odds 30:1 against. However, the odds are about to start leaning in the direction of our brave contestants.

First of all, every contestant claimed to get the heebie-jeebies or feel some kind of lingering spirits. From an abandoned hospital? You don’t say! Why is this test even happening in an old hospital? I already see the excuses coming a mile away: oh noes, the spirits led me to another room where surely something awful happened! And yeah, they all used that excuse, because none of them picked correctly.

Though no one chose the correct room, Douche still got points, for choosing an adjoining room. Wait a second, that increases the odds of a contestant scoring a hit from 1 out of 30 to 1 out of 10. Huh. But wait, there’s more!

The show is hosted by some guy who appears to have all the personality of a cardboard cutout. Cardboard Cutout accompanied each of the psychics as they wandered the halls trying to find the hidden guy. In a properly blinded test (i.e., a test designed to make sure nobody cheats or accidentally affects the outcome), Cardboard Cutout wouldn’t have any idea which room the man was in. However, the man stayed in the same room for all four tests, so the host knew which room it was. That’s inexcusable — even if he’s not trying to help them find the right room, he could unconsciously clue them in by the way he stands, where he looks, where he walks, and what he says to them.

With 1:10 odds and the added benefit of being led by the host, it’s no big surprise that Douche managed to score a point. Lame!

Challenge two was to psychically identify a mystery “celebrity” sitting behind a temporary screen. The contestants each got a photo of the celebrity sealed in an envelope, plus a personal item — in this case, the person’s watch. The celebrity would listen to each contestant describe what they were seeing, and score them accordingly. Cardboard Cutout stood in the room with each contestant and interacted with them. NOT PROPERLY BLINDED. Good grief, it’s not that difficult.

So anyway, the big mystery celebrity was Lifetime’s own stupid psychic Lisa Williams! Here are the high(low)lights of what each contestant rambled on about:

blonde chick

BLONDE CHICK
sees something about the media, legal action
astrology
january, december
grinding teeth
understands music
loves music, some sort of interest
overcharge on a bill that may relate to a car or mechanical
sees “sales, saley, bail?”

When Lisa appears from behind the screen, Blonde Chick says, “You know what’s funny, I kept feeling your energy!” The world thinks, “Shut the hell up, Blonde Chick.”

All that rang true for Lisa was that her husband has some kind of car park bill in Utah and she used to be in the music industry. Even “astrology” didn’t hit, because Lisa’s not down with that particular brand of nonsense. She has her own special BS to peddle, thank you very much.

Lisa gives Blonde Chick 21 out of 25 points.

douche

DOUCHE
had hair done
birthday or anniversary on Feb. 2, significant
just spilled something on clothes
ability to communicate
decent blend of spirituality
good energy reader
England

Lisa says that she couldn’t relate to any of the names or dates, but her kid just spilled something on her shirt, and he said England, and energy reader, and ZOMG amazing! I’m thinking that Douche probably figured that the “celebrity” that Lifetime chose to appear on their big psychic reality show would probably be their own stupid psychic. I mean, who else are they going to get, Meredith Baxter Birney?

23 points for Douche.

bowl cut

BOWL CUT
grandma had a big lesson for you
upper respiratory problems
affected by the throat
something w/ a polyp or thyroid
something with throat, with singing
older spirit coming through
eyeglasses
switches to reading Cardboard Cutout out of desperation: depression…watch the cholesterol…Cardboard Cutout remains unamused

Okay first of all, Bowl Cut is NUTS. Just batty. She gets angry that she can’t see her subject and talk to her, since that’s what she’d normally do, because she needs feedback. Oh you don’t say? Yeah, that’s called cold reading. Also? Angelica Houston called and she needs her wig back for The Witches Part II.

Anyway, Bowl Cut flubs it and gets a lousy 15 points even though Lisa’s grandma had upper respiratory problems.

xena

XENA
celeb can be demanding at times
someone she’ll be happy to meet
something w/ her eye
come from someplace warm
water surrounding them
working on a book with someone else
eyes again

Xena’s was the most general of all, and surprise! Biggest hits. A celeb who’s demanding? A celeb she’ll want to meet? A celeb with a book deal? Wow! Lisa is impressed, mostly by the book thing (she just got the first draft of her book today oh god kill me) and the eye thing (because she has “an infatuation with a picture of an eye” and there’s an eye on her business card. Uh, okay). 23 points for Xena.

Now the “psychics” are all riding in a van somewhere, and in conversation we learn that Bowl Cut is into voodoo and is known as “the White Serpent.” I swear to god the following exchange actually happens as they try to impress one another with their delusions (“go over” refers to dying):

DOUCHE: “What if you were able to go over and come back physically living?”
WHITE SERPENT/BOWL CUT: “…..I’ve done it.”
DOUCHE: “….SO HAVE I.”

Challenge three is to solve an unsolved murder. I’m glad I was finished my crab rangoon by this point, because otherwise I’d have brought it all right back up.

We now meet Marissa Martinez of Oxford, California. Her son Vincent was shot and killed outside their home on March 11, 2005 by some guys in a car, following a skirmish. Key facts: he was 19, has a twin brother, killed by a single gunshot to the chest, fell in the front yard, died in his father’s arms. The father and twin brother are there. I begin to hate humanity, or at least the portion who approve show segments like this that feed off the unimaginable pain and misery of others knowing full well that it’s total bunk. Of those Lifetime higher-ups who do believe in psychic powers, even they are knowingly exposing this family to people who aren’t going to be totally competent. After all, that’s the point of the show, right? To find the one person who really has psychic powers? Which implies that most contestants will not be able to do these challenges well. Dear everyone who had a hand in putting this show together: if you don’t hate yourself just a little when you look in the mirror, you’re not human. Don’t worry, though — I’ll try to hate you enough for the both of us.

The contestants are only told that a crime occurred. They need to figure out what it was, and the one who gets the most factoids correct wins the chance to sit down with the family to answer their questions about their son. The family meets the psychics then goes elsewhere to watch the happenings on video. Cardboard Cutout hangs out with each contestant, helping them get the right hints from the afterworld.

Things that should have been obvious: it happened in the front yard (they were only allowed there and in the living room), it was a murdered family member (they just met THE FAMILY that was affected), and it was a son or daughter (the parents are both there). The house is modest and the small front yard has pretty much just a tree. It sits right up against the street.

bowl cut

BOWL CUT/WHITE SNAKE
there was a confrontation
words beforehand
threat of driveby in front of house
(“Where,” asks Cardboard)
by the tree
there was a fight first
a bullet to the head
(“Where,” asks Cardboard)
they considered him a family member
(“Who is it?”)
I don’t know his age
a brother

The family is impressed and give Bowl Cut second place and 30 points.

douche

DOUCHE
sees punctures
shot or stabbed
tinge of planning
forethought
aware of what they’re doing
neck back and head hurt
taken to knees
G or F, Francis Frank Fred
a marking or a scar on the face or forehead
someone looking out a window or driving by
three others beside her, or two others
connected to gang or group of friends who are intense

He finishes by saying, “I’m complete.” HA HA HA ew.

Last place and 10 points for Douche.

blonde chick

BLONDE CHICK
Weird case, more involved with the perp
criminal
murder
gun
(“Who was murdered,” asks Cardboard Cutout)
ton of info
money taken
older man coming in
woman coming in too
making me walk into bathroom
definitely a murder

“Typically I’m specific but right now I’m all over,” she whines at the end.

Third place and 20 points for Blonde, who says she’s disappointed but not surprised: “Psychically, I knew that.”

xena

XENA
They lost their baby
happened in the yard
car
heaviness
maroon car
over by the tree
someone ran out
blood
by tree
screaming
got killed, someone killed him
sad, tragic, they really love Marissa (Marissa starts crying watching on video)
she carries around a picture
they’re child, Marissa’s child, Victor’s best friend, Rico’s pride and joy
her baby loves her very much

Xena impressed the family the most and got to do a private reading for them. Hooray for her. She reaches the son in the afterworld but he’s too preoccupied to tell them who actually killed him. Too bad. 40 points for Xena.

Adding it all up, Xena and Bowl Cut move forward to the next episode, and we say goodbye to the other two. No worries, I’m sure they all saw it coming.

To her credit, I think Xena is just a little batty and not a con artist — she starts crying during the challenge, and has clearly bought into whatever she’s selling. Bowl Cut may or may not know she’s running a con. One way or another, she’s off her gourd.

Conclusion: the crab rangoon was delish, yet sits uneasily for some reason.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

Related Articles

21 Comments

  1. Karyn, Jackie, Jamie, and Zenobia

    These sound suspiciously like the kind of names which school textbooks use to create an impression of "diversity".

    If I think any more closely about this, I'm just going to make myself suffer, so that'll be my only observation for right now.

  2. What bothers me about this series (and clearly, there's lots) is that there's no way to fail some of the tests – apparently only one person got points in the first test, but *everyone* got points in the next two. I mean, I didn't see the show, but they were pretty free with the points, yes?

    My point (if you will) is that based on this system, *someone* will have to win, and hence, that person will be declared 'psychic'. It's not possible for the show to have an outcome where no-one's found to have special powers or abilities.

    I'm *really* hoping Criss Angel will keep a better reign on things with 'Phenomenon'.

    Maybe the winner of America's Psychic Challenge can have a cage match to the death with the winner from Phenomenon. At least then there will only be one of them.

  3. You know what we need? A show that's marketed like this, but is really run like the Randi Challenge. One by one, contestants will come on, be given a proper, and when they fail it, declared to not be psychics (or maybe we'll lure a real one out of hiding from Randi's million *stifled laugh*). Ah, to dream…

  4. You know what though? They keeping make this crap and people keep on believing it.

    I'm tempted to agree with Infophile, or to suggest another kind of show done just like the one you saw, but where everyone simply reveals themselves to be fakes at the end, but I know it just wouldn't work.

    People seem to have an uncanny ability to ignore mountains of persuasive evidence in the face of one flaky piece of mumbo-jumbo.

    It's enough to make you take up Scientology.

  5. "You know what we need? A show that’s marketed like this, but is really run like the Randi Challenge."

    Randi said he's been approached about such a show several times. It always falls apart when the marketers get involved, and announce "of course Mr Randi, somebody will have to win."

  6. Crab rangoon is some tasty chinese food involving cream cheese and crabmeat. A snark is a mythical animal (Lewis Carrol invented the name).

    Seriously? She calls herself White Snake?
    …Maybe the band would sue her. That would be pretty sweet.

  7. Wow,

    I guess we really do owe you for this! I'm sure it was torure beyond imagining, sort of like an episode of "Phsycic Detectives".

    I love the names though, easy to remember, straight to the point.

    rod

  8. Wow, Rebecca, your tone here is a lot harsher than it was on, say, your final entry in the radio gig contest. I'd say it's richly deserved, though. I'm glad to see that you don't pull punches on stuff like this.

    ~Wordplayer

  9. Randi said he’s been approached about such a show several times. It always falls apart when the marketers get involved, and announce “of course Mr Randi, somebody will have to win.”

    I think I have a solution to that: If they all fail, Randi wins. That, or have a self-proclaimed fraud participate with them and show that they can do just as well or better without calling their tactics supernatural, and then that person could win.

  10. Infophile, I had the impression the marketers felt some member of the public had to win the prize for the show to have any ratings. Plus none of them wanted their particular beliefs gored.

    But man, I think those are both great ideas!

  11. I'm a bad person, and I know I'm a bad person, but I really really wish this show would do a crossover episode with Spike TV's World's Worst Train Wrecks. Just fill a van with a bunch of these "psychics" who exploit families for money and book deals/speaking engagements and (provided they're driving themselves – no studio-appointed gopher) let the closed caption cameras record the carnage.

    We all know the reality; these leeches will keep on stealing money from grieving families and making money off of the poor, old, sad and ignorant. I just like the fantasy world every now and then.

    Thanks for watching, Rebecca. You truly are a public servant.

  12. Infophile, I like your idea. Make sure that every show, there's at least one "shill" who's really an undercover mentalist of magician, and have them win it. Only to reveal at the end of the season, that none of the winners were actually really psychics, and have them all explain how they did it …

    And of course, it would actually be more realistic if there were episodes where nobody won because they all just sucked too much.

  13. That was hilarious… until the third challenge. Gods. I really, really hate these people.

    Is this the show Chris Angel's involved with? I hope not, as he has always been legitimate and NEVER claimed any sort of paranormal ability – in fact, he has outright said that he doesn't believe in them.

    Or am I just setting myself up for disappointment here?

Leave a Reply

Close