Paranormal shows are a dime a dozen, but the crew of Travel Channel’s Destination Fear are carving out a unique niche for themselves. The show sets itself apart by being, first and foremost, a social experiment about fear and how much a person can take in a paranormal situation. Spearheaded by the team leader and show creator Dakota Laden, the show is the literal manifestation of all those creepy locations you’ve ever wanted to spend the night in, but were too terrified to do so. Dakota, his sister Chelsea Laden and best friend Tanner Wiseman take on the challenge weekly, setting up camp for the night in some of America’s most terrifying abandoned and haunted locales.
Each season is set up as an ongoing RV road trip to locations handpicked by Dakota. The twist is the rest of the crew are left in the dark about what location they’re going to except for a packet of information detailing its sordid history until they arrive. At the midpoint of every investigation, the group picks out the most terrifying places from the location, split up, and try their best to sleep there for the rest of the night. It becomes a test of endurance and just how much a person can take.
The show is also known for its scant production, relying less on traditional interviews or voiceover, instead letting the caught footage tell the story and narrative of the night unfold naturally. This approach to the format treats Destination Fear viewers like part of the crew, putting them in a first-person perspective.
The show gained a massive cult following during its first season for daring to do something a little different with the genre and is back for another round, and this time Tanner and Chelsea also get to pick a location and turn the tables on Dakota for a change.
You’re fresh into season 2. How are you guys feeling about finally getting the new season out there for everyone to see?
Dakota Laden: I know for me I’m just excited that everyone finally gets to see everything we went through. We come home from these trips with stories only we can tell each other until now, so finally we can get it all out!
Tanner Wiseman: I totally agree. It’s one of those things where you have those huge life events happen, but you have to keep it quiet, so that’s always difficult to keep it in a small, little circle. But now that the episodes are coming out, we finally get to talk about every little story we have. I’m excited about this season because we got to switch it up a bit. Dakota normally picks the locations, but this season Chelsea got to be in control and picked a location in Texas and then I got to pick a location in Montana, so it’s been fun switching it up.
Chelsea Laden: It’s so weird when you’re doing something so extreme and you have no one to tell once you’re done. One thing that does help is that we’re so close, so we have each other. But we have so many stories to tell and we have to keep it quiet. So the excitement of the new season is there, but being able to talk about and have conversations about the experiences is also so nice.
If you’re able to divulge, is there a case you guys are most excited for everyone to see this season?
Dakota: As much as I love the first half of the season, I’m obsessed with the second half of the season. Our fourth stop at Hillview Manor is mine. It’s terrifying and one of us is sent to the hospital…
Chelsea: It’s funny, and we don’t even try to do this, but we’ve been really lucky where as we’ve filmed each season it gets progressively more intense every time. As Dakota said, the last half really anchors the season in intensity. I actually like our Wisconsin stop at Sheboygan Asylum. It’s a place where no one ever has gotten to spend the night there before, so we were the first people to really get the full experience.
Tanner: I totally have to copycat here, the Sheboygan Asylum is an absolutely terrifying place. But also Hillview Manor—that episode is going to make a lot of people freak out a little bit because it gets so intense and you don’t see it coming.
The first episode of the season was crazy, Tanner, with the flashlight turning around and you not even seeing it!
Tanner: I was so happy I didn’t see that in person. I would have freaked out even harder!
Dakota: You really struggled to find that flashlight, you didn’t even know it moved on you!
Tanner: I’m glad something happened so it didn’t seem crazy when I was freaking out the whole time!
What influences you guys to pick your locations?
Dakota: I’ve always had a very high standard picking places. The history has to be there. There has to be some kind of reason for a haunting. For this type of road trip we’re doing, spending the night in every location and sleeping alone where a lot of the experiment has to do with fear and seclusion, I like it if I can find a place that’s big enough where we can all be separated in and feel far away. Size definitely matters, but sometimes we’ve been in places like the Fairfield County Infirmary from Season 1, which was our smallest location, but our biggest punch.
Tanner: Each location has to have its own unique story. There have been places where either the history is extremely dark and that’s why we got to the location, or there’s a reported haunting that’s really dark. There has to be an element that raises the stakes. There’s always some extreme story at these places that’s always a fun factor.
Chelsea: And everyone has their own location that they’re more attracted to. For me personally, it’s a hospital or some kind of medical facility, because I’ve been in the medical field and studying medicine for a long time, but like Tanner said, the bar is so high. You have to pick a location that’s going to pack a punch, a place that you can’t dictate what’s going to happen that night. Especially Tanner and I, we’ve only had one opportunity to pick a location, so you have to really keep in mind the whole picture and what you really want to get out of it.
There are so many different paranormal shows out there now. What do you think Destination Fear brings to the table that’s different from another paranormal show?
Dakota: I’ve been a big, big fanboy of the paranormal for a long time and so for me, we really try to capture the love and the feeling we had for the paranormal from an early age, the exploration of abandoned places and experiencing it raw for the first time. One thing that we’re doing that I wish other shows would do is we don’t have any voiceover and we don’t have any narration throughout. I personally think it really lets the audience enjoy the night and it doesn’t take you out of the moment once. Not once is there a voice that comes up randomly “then we went to the third floor”—none of that. Everything you hear us say is what we said in that overnight investigation. The second we open the door for the location we’re in, the audience doesn’t leave it until we leave. We don’t have a camera crew following us. We don’t have an audio guy. It’s just us four. We remain very serious about wanting to be the only ones in the building and the only ones on the property.
Chelsea: One thing we wanted to do and an image we wanted to paint and the story we wanted to tell was that first-person experience. We wanted to create an environment that everyone can relate to. We don’t consider ourselves paranormal investigators, but we wanted to be the eyes for the everyday person that can do this.
Tanner: That’s exactly what I was going to say, too. I think what makes us a little bit different is we kind of just go in there blindly. Because of the nature of the show, everything is such a secret and the viewer kind of gets to play along as one of us as a character.
Dakota: One thing as well that I love about our show is the hat draw. We agree on the four scariest spots to go sleep and each draw our names out of a hat and go sleep there for three to five hours at a time. I think it’s the ultimate cherry on top to do that. We spend fifteen to thirteen hours in these buildings every night and for the last three to five, we’re 100% alone and secluded. It’s the ultimate climax to every night.
The hat draw is always an episode highlight. I love that you guys don’t pretend you’re not terrified if you get a location you didn’t want.
Tanner: It’s so much harder than it sounds, too!
Dakota: SO much harder. And it’s not like it’s a game show, either. It’s literally us in there grabbing whatever piece of paper and cup or hat we can find and doing a hat draw like we’re at a sleepover or something. We try to make it as fair as possible.
Chelsea had mentioned that you guys don’t consider yourself paranormal investigators. Is there a particular reason for that?
Dakota: Our whole goal isn’t to go in there and try and prove anything. We’re not trying to prove the existence of the afterlife. We know what we know and we know what we’ve experienced. Yes, we are very fascinated and want to go in and have an experience, but this is, really, about experimenting with fear and putting ourselves to the test. I think we probably consider ourselves explorers of the paranormal. Because we’re going to locations where we’re going into a room where a lot of people have had something happen to them, that’s why we break out ghost equipment. We have to put things to the test. We can’t just go there and be quiet and use just our bodies. The gear that we use I try to explain every time to the camera, this is what it is, this is what it’s believed in the paranormal to be. We also don’t try to use a bunch of gear, either.
Tanner: We also wanted to have a happy medium of having obtainable equipment so that when people watch the show they can feel like they can go out and do the exact same thing as us. If we had some gear that was too high tech, some people might be able to relate because either they’ve never seen it or used it. We want to stick to the simple stuff. Grab an infrared camera, a digital recorder, or the Ovilus, something that is pretty easy to get your hands on if you’re into this. We kind of just try to break it down to the roots and the early stages of doing this, because it’s the early stages of the show.
Dakota: It’s gear, too, that can help trigger our emotions.
Chelsea: With the title of being a paranormal investigator, it would kind of be misleading. I know that a lot of people confide in people who are paranormal investigators to help solve cases in their homes, so it’s important for us that it be known that we don’t fall into that category.
What would be each of your favorite device you use to try and contact the paranormal? I know you guys use the Ovilus a lot.
Dakota: I bet we all have different answers here. Mine personally is the digital recorder. It’s super easy for me to wrap my head around. You sit it down or be really still with it, ask it questions, give it time for answers and you play it back and there’s an answer there—that’s messed up. There shouldn’t be an answer there. It’s just a normal, everyday digital recorder, so when we get EVPs, that’s when I’m most shocked. Chelsea, what about you?
Chelsea: I just love the Ovilus. I know it’s such a hot piece of equipment. It has just given us such relevant answers and freaked me out the most. It sounds creepy, too! It doesn’t just show you a word, it shows you then it says it in this creepy robotic voice.
Tanner: I’d have to agree with everyone. I love the digital recorder and the Ovilus sets the tone because it’s an actual device speaking back to you, so there’s no guessing about what it said. It’s just a blatant word that you can read off the screen.
Speaking of EVPs, did you guys ever recover that EVP from episode 2? Or did it just disappear into oblivion forever? [The group caught an EVP during their second episode investigation that mysteriously disappeared when they went to play it back for a second time.]
Dakota: That disappeared into oblivion forever! It was so weird, too, because that was only our second stop and it was something that blew us all away. The only recording we have of that is on our camera. It doesn’t make sense and I’ll say, we’ve been doing this for a long time just as a hobby, too, and we’ve used a digital recorder the longest of any of our gear—we’ve never had it happen before and we haven’t had it happen since.
Chelsea: And the funny thing about a situation like that is it was so late at night and we were so tired that I was personally convinced I didn’t really hear it. I heard it, but thought, “I could be hallucinating right now.”
What do you guys, individually, want everyone to get out of this season and the show as a whole?
Dakota: For us, it’s so cool because people get to live life on the road with us for a month. Once we take off for our first location, we don’t come home until it’s all done, so the road trip never ends. The next episode always picks right up from where the last one left off. For people in the paranormal who have maybe seen our last season, I think one takeaway from this season is we did get a lot better at facing our fears and trying to overcome the fear. We got really good this season at having experiences that creeped us out or scared us badly and not actually running from it. Maybe leaving the room for a while, but going back and facing it.
Chelsea: Kind of bouncing off what Dakota was saying, for me personally, if you look at my first-ever episode and you then you look at the second season and see how much I’ve grown with my fear and what I’m able to accomplish. You can grow, face your fears, and do something you never thought you could do. There’s also been this really unique network and community of people who have connected on social media and started all of these new conversations about things they’ve experienced, and it’s a safe place to talk about some of these things because we’re all in the same boat.
Tanner: Also, when we go to some of these places, they’ve never been on TV before, so we get to introduce a location and we’re bringing some new locations that no one’s ever seen before. We always get really pumped up when we see one of our fans has actually gone on a road trip to that location, snapped a picture, and shows us they’ve been there. I think a cool takeaway is that these are real places that real people own and if you work the right angle, you could possibly stay the night there, too. It would be cool to see people be inspired to do their own road trips as well!