Phenomenonal Weirdness

Skeptics all over the US are aflutter over tomorrow’s premiere of Phenomenon on NBC, a collaboration between Emo-gician Criss Angel and semi-retarded phoney spoon bender Uri Gellar. It’s a “reality” show that seeks to find the next great . . . something. Mentalist? Psychic? Nobody seems too sure. There’s a laughably over-the-top TV promo for it that asks “Do you believe . . . in special powers?” And it has Uri Gellar looking baffled as he walks by a road sign and it BENDS. Ha ha ha! I can’t even imagine the amount of work they had to put into that promo to dramatize a guy who pretends to bend cutlery with his mind.

The reason why skeptics have been so interested in this show is because Criss is a skeptic who admits there’s no such thing as real psychic powers, and Uri Gellar is still living in a dream world where people actually believe he uses mental energies to do something completely useless. A lot of people have been rightfully worried that Criss will let the show turn into Uri’s Sideshow of Idiocy.

The other day, I got this e-mail from a listener of SGU who happens to be a bit of an insider:

An interesting bit of information from the Phenomenon TV show production, is that there was originally a big concern about Criss Angel on the show. Some upper end producers have voiced their concern that he is so ruthless and intolerant for putting up with people who make false claims of supernatural ability, that he was going to ruin the ‘back and forth’ of the show (between he and uri gellar).

As it has turned out, he is actually very kind to the participants, in the ways that he points out they are not real. But the problem has now become, according to the producers, that Uri is the one they are afraid is going to compromise the show. It seems Uri’s actually not convinced any of the people have true powers. Of course none of them do, but the feeling is that he was expecting to discover real powers, and is having a hard time ‘acting’ like he believes they may have them. Or in some cases, he just won’t go along with their act and points them out as frauds.

Interesting psychology for poor Uri.


Very interesting, indeed! I’ve been watching the videos on NBC’s web site, and it looks like all the tricks that are being performed are standard stage magic, except one guy who claims to be able to talk to the dead. Apparently, he’s so bad that he can’t even convince poor, deluded Uri that he’s for real.

All in all, I’m not worried. Criss repeatedly states that no one has paranormal powers and the point is to find a mentalist (magician), not a psychic. The nail in the coffin, though, is that Banachek is associated with the show — watch a video of him talking about sideshow geeks, mentalism, and Project Alpha. Project Alpha was a hoax set up by James Randi to have two magicians infiltrate a study of psychic powers in order to expose their dreadfully poor controls, and it’s a fascinating story. You can read all about it on Banachek’s site.

If any of you are watching the show tomorrow, post your reviews here!

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. Also, I'd just like to add that I was very pleased with the word "emogician," and thought it was so funny that I Googled it and was upset to find that I'm not the first to come up with it and apply it to Criss Angel. Sigh.

  2. Hey, hey! Credit where credit is due. There's nothing phony about the fact that Uri Gellar bends spoons. He just… does it with his hands.

  3. I think instead of watching this so called "program" everyone should instead watch the Hugh Laurie sketch on spoon bending. The end result will be the same… someone bent a spoon, but at least it'll be entertaining.

  4. I was rather impressed with your use of "emogician" and I, too, am saddened that you weren't the first to come up with it. Damn that Google, making it too easy for us all to see there's nothin' new under the sun.

    Reminds me of a word that I accidentally created once in attempting to call attention to the 'magical' qualities of the voice of a particular musician. Sadly, though it was a funny slip of the tongue, "mugician" is not a word that I alone coined. Oh well.

  5. Thanks for reminding me. I almost forgot about this show. But after 7 hours of live Most Haunted on The Travel Channel at the Winchester Mystery House this past weekend it might be too much. Maybe worth recording to later.

    Bend a wooden spoon, that'll impress me. Oh how about a plastic spork?

    Great site too BTW.

  6. I'm sure this idea must have been brought up at another time but do you think it would be possible for someone to watch this show each week and give a little recap of how the tricks are done? Skeptics and magicians seem to go hand in hand so there must be someone who could do that rather easily. I know magicians don't like to give away the work behind a trick but any trick that is being done by a 'psychic' should really be well explained so no one has any doubts…and I like to know how tricks are done.

  7. This sounds pretty cool. If even Geller is starting to fray under the strain of these porr deluded or lying fools, what hope is there? Something Geller will never publicly admit to is that no psychic powers stand up to sceptical observation.

    Poor Uri, thought he could revive his dead career by finding new para-subnormalists. Now that would be a cool trick!

  8. I suffered through it and wrote up a review.

    I guessed at some of the tricks, but it would be interesting to know possible ways of how they were all done. Maybe Randi would be willing to comment?

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