(Investigator 155, 2014 March)


Australians can thank the Americans and in one case the British for some thought-provoking television that combines entertainment with education.

The Mythbusters and Penn & Teller Bull****! have already been discussed. (#103; #125) This time we'll consider death, monsters, superhumans, and magic.


Which of the following would you prefer to experience given a choice?
•    Freeze to death in a meat locker;

•    Bitten by a pet black widow spider;

•    Paralyzed by a voodoo toxin, mistaken for dead, and buried alive;

•    Swing a fish, that you've caught on a line, into your mouth and choke to death;

•    While working under a car with your body protruding get cut in half by a semi-trailer driving over you;

•    Work in a ditch and get 3 tons of sand dumped on you by a tip truck;

•    Fall onto a rattle snake;

•    Stand barefoot in a puddle into which a live wire protrudes from traffic lights and get electrocuted;

•    Stick your head through an open window, dislodged a stick holding it up, and get your neck broken when the window slides down;

•    Travel on an airplane after getting huge breast implants which explode due to lowered air pressure;

•    Run to retrieve a javelin sticking up in the ground, run backwards part of the way, and turn around at the right instant to pierce your eye;

•    Keep your hair in place with excessive, flammable, hair spray which catches fire from a cigarette and boils your brains;

•    Get consumed by flesh-eating bacteria when a cut from shaving your legs gets infected;

•    Get an acupuncture needle in your chest pushed into your heart when you roll off the table and hit the floor face down.

•     Be lifted skywards by a strong wind when you're in your tent and crash to your death;

•    Eat hallucinogenic mushrooms in the desert and then try to have sex with a bear.

The show is called 1000 Ways to Die and premiered in the USA in 2008 and ended in July 2012.

It portrays live re-enactments of events, as well as computer-generated imagery, and frequently consults experts to explain the cause of death.

A frequent motif is that of people's silly, immoral or unlawful decisions backfiring on them. The guy who broke his neck when the window slid down, for example, was a peeping Tom who peeped once too often.

The show is not always as serious as death should be, especially the pithy label to summarize each re-enactment. The exploding implants, for example, are titled "Titty Titty Bang Bang".


In this series viewers learn a little about mythical monsters.

Freak Encounters is a prank show that premiered in 2010 in which unwitting victims are set up.

They think they have obtained a short-term, night-time job such as resetting the alarm system in a warehouse or surveying a forest road.

Initially the "employee" notices nothing unusual. Soon, however, he begins to encounter evidence of a monster on the loose.

Fellow workers, who are really accomplices in the hoax, reassure the hoax-victim that everything is normal. But the planted evidence becomes more and more graphic.

In different episodes the monster is a bloodthirsty werewolf, a giant mutant bat (known as an "Ahool"), a Neanderthal Wildman, a giant spider, a giant snake, and others.

The climax comes when screams suggest the creature is attacking or eating one of the other workers after which the hoax-victim too is confronted.

All the subjects appear to be fit and in their 20s — perhaps to minimize the risk of heart failure.


Stan Lee's Superhumans is a US documentary hosted by comic-book superhero-creator Stan Lee and contortionist, Daniel Browning Smith — "the most flexible man in the world".

On the show people who claim to have extraordinary abilities are tested. You'll see the world's fastest, most accurate gunslinger, America's fastest, most accurate archer, the strongest man in the world, the man with the hardest muscles, and many others. One fellow withstands punches and kicks to anywhere on his body, even a kick to the crotch by a kick-boxer.

Every Superhuman tested in the series apparently passes the tests. They include:
•    Rajmohan Nair of India, who withstands electrical shocks of 30 times the level that kills other people;

•    Juan Ruiz of California, who is blind but sees by echolocation; 

•    Tim Kaukonen of Finland whose body withstands near-boiling temperatures;

•    Shi Yan Ming, a Shaolin monk with a superior "one-inch punch";

•    Dean Karnazes of California, who ran 50 marathons in 50 days;

•    John Ferraro of Massachusetts, whose thick skull withstands blows from a sledgehammer;

•    Zamora the Torture King (aka Tim Cridland) of New York City, who skewers himself without feeling pain or shedding blood;

•    Dr. Norman Gary of California, who can summon and control swarms of bees.

•    Tim Friede of, Wisconsin, who survives bites by venomous snakes;

•    Yves Rossy of Switzerland who flies with a jet-powered wing strapped to his back;

•    Martial artist Tom Cameron of Illinois, who focuses the power of Chi to knock people down without touching them;

•    Salim Haini of Morocco, the "Man Who Eats Anything".

The people are real and many of them can be confirmed with Google Search.

The biography of Shi Yan Ming (b.1964), for example, is on Wikipedia.

He is a genuine Shaolin monk who trained in China from the age of five, defected to the US at 28, and founded the Shaolin Temple in Manhattan. His skills include breaking rocks with his skull, sleeping while standing on one leg, licking red hot iron, and dangling a 23kg weight from his scrotum.

Some reviews of Superhumans on the Internet claim that some of the stunts are faked. Myself, I doubted that anyone can genuinely drill into his head with an electric drill and not get hurt or even break the skin.

Not counting commercials Superhumans runs for 45 minutes. It debuted in the US in 2010 and showed in Australia in 2013.


Dynamo: Magician Impossible is a documentary series that began with five episodes in 2011.

The series features British magician/illusionist Steven Frayne (b. 1982) who dumfounds strangers he happens to meet with magic. Google Search reveals that Frayne's stage name, "Dynamo", is also the name of a "superior" detergent and it's been suggested the magician is named after it. Dynamo's magic mostly appears impossible such as levitating himself above an audience, or passing himself or his hand through a glass wall or panel — although there are websites that give explanations for some of the tricks.

America's equivalent to Dynamo is Criss Angel (b. 1967) whose real name is Christopher Nicholas Sarantakos. The television series Criss Angel: Mindfreak, like Dynamo's tricks, shows amazing escapes, disappearances, levitations, mind readings, and much more. Many of the tricks are performed seemingly impromptu in front of groups of strangers.

In one episode Dynamo walks on the water of the Thames River in London. Criss Angel does similarly in one of his episodes where he walks 60 metres onto Lake Mead, the USA's largest man-made lake.

Television viewers may well feel stunned at what they see and at least one commentator on the Internet attributes the tricks to demonic influence and power. But such people don't reckon with big budgets. Big budgets permit thorough prior preparation, the hiring of colluders, assistants, and people who pretend to be spectators.

Walking on water is probably done with a "plexiglass" shelf or walkway put in place prior to the performance. Bikini-clad girls, who just happened to be present, waded out and put their hands under Criss Angel's feet to show nothing firm held him up. However, each girl stayed on the same side of Criss Angel i.e. we don't see them wading across his line of walk either in front of him or behind. They were probably paid colluders as surely as the cameramen and at least some of the "spectators".  


Wikipedia reports a confrontation on television between Criss Angel and two other magicians, Uri Geller (from Israel) and Jim Callahan (of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania).

Geller and Callahan both claim to have paranormal powers and both attribute some of their tricks to the paranormal.

The confrontation happened on the TV show, Phenomenon, which ran for 5 weeks from October 24 to November 21, 2007, in the US.

Phenomenon featured ten contestants competing for $250,000 by displaying paranormal powers. Viewers voted by phone and online and the judges were Uri Geller and Criss Angel.

Four contestants performed their magic in Episode 1 on October 24.

Prior to the next episode Angel was interviewed about Phenomenon by Larry King on the nightly interview program Larry King Live (October 30). Angel said: "No one has the ability that I'm aware of to do anything supernatural… If somebody goes on that show and claims to have supernatural psychic ability, I'm going to bust them live and on television."

Episode 2 had six contestants including Callahan who performed an automatic writing trick in which he contacted a dead author to identify an object someone had placed inside a locked box.

Geller praised Callahan's performance but Angel called it "comical". He then took an envelope from his pocket and addressing both Callahan and Geller, he said: "I will give you a million dollars of my personal money right now if either one of you can tell me specific details of what's in here right now."

An argument followed and when violence seemed to threaten, a commercial break intervened.

The third episode saw Callahan eliminated.

On Episode 5 Angel opened his envelope and revealed the numbers "911" for the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack. He explained: "If somebody could predict, tell us on 9-10 that 9-11 was going to happen, maybe that could have prevented it."

The point is that if psychics and clairvoyants are genuine then nasty events would be predicted and prevented, which is not the case, therefore they are not genuine.

Television allows levels of deception not available to magicians on stage. Camera angles can be chosen to conceal what's really happening, and pictures whether celluloid or digital can be edited. So when you see Dynamo or Criss Angel angled horizontally and walking down a wall, or Criss Angel makes a girl appear in a fish tank that he just happens to come across, be skeptical.

These are not spur-of-the-moment tricks, but were preceded by preparation that television viewers do not get to see.


A possible antidote, if you're so impressed that you think magic is real, is The Masked Magician.

This television series was produced in the US and has 18 one-hour episodes. The first four featured magician Val Valentino as the Masked Magician and were produced in 1997-1998. He revealed his identity in the 4th episode.

A new Masked Magician featured in a single episode in May 2002 called Breaking the Magician's Code: Magic's Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed, and 13 more were produced in 2008. In Australia we saw them on Network Seven and 7Two starting in June 2010.

The Masked Magician performs baffling tricks and "Breaks the Magician's Code" by showing how he did them.