Ghost Adventures: The Untold Truth Of Zak Bagans

You don’t have to believe in ghosts to be a “Ghost Adventures” fan. The Travel Channel series takes you to places you won’t find in a Lonely Planet guidebook — it’s got morbid history, fun camerawork, cool scenery, lots of belly laughs, and it’s scary, like horror-movie scary, complete with ominous mood lighting and jump scares. Also, it’s forever entertaining to watch Zak make Aaron go sit alone in a dark, dilapidated room in some terrifying, terrifying abandoned mansion, prison, hospital, or whatever.

“Ghost Adventures” was the brainchild of Zak Bagans, who is Hollywood handsome, wears only black, and does voice-overs that sound like Rod Sterling at half speed. The show is just one of many paranormal investigation shows you can find on cable television — even the Osbournes have one — but “Ghost Adventures” is different because Zak is different. This guy lives and breathes the paranormal, which frankly would be kind of a drag if it meant you had to be forever haunted by some ghost or another and could never get away from it, but Zak does seem to thrive on all the attention, both from the living and from the dead. He even owns a Haunted Museum and a Demon House, the latter of which is just an empty lot now because he had it demolished two years after he bought it. Zak is a big personality and though we love the other guys on the “Ghost Adventures” team, well, it wouldn’t be what it is without Zak Bagans.

Zak Bagans always believed in ghosts

If you watched “Ghost Adventures” back in the old days, when Zak Bagans looked like he was about 12, you probably remember the original opening sequence: “I never believed in ghosts until I came face to face with one.” Compelling, right? Who better to sell non-believers on the existence of ghosts than a former non-believer?

Well, it turns out that opening line might have been a bit fictionalized. If you look back into Zak’s childhood, it’s pretty clear he’s kind of always had a thing for the paranormal. In fact, according to his own “about” page on the Zak Bagans Haunted Museum‘s website, he’s been interested in the paranormal since he was 10 when he used to buy scary stuff at yard sales with his mom.

In his autobiography, “Dark World: Into the Shadows with the Lead Investigator of the Ghost Adventures Crew,” Zak recalls watching some bizarre apron-clad mouse-demon thingy trash his bedroom while he was a small child. And he also told the Daily Herald that when he was a teenager, he went in search of a phantom house and actually found it. The house drifted in and out of reality, and then the door opened and a spooky figure appeared. In another incident, a girl he didn’t know used a Ouija board to tell him intimate details about his life. So it does seem like “believing in ghosts” has kind of been a lifelong thing for him.

Zak Bagans came 'face to face' with a ghost

Zak Bagans describes the “face-to-face” encounter from those old opening credits in detail in the first pages of his autobiography, “Dark World: Into the Shadows with the Lead Investigator of the Ghost Adventures Crew.” According to the story, he was living in Trenton, Michigan, in an apartment building where there was a “presence of something that was not inviting.”

During the summer of 2002, Zak says he was awoken seven nights in a row by a ghostly woman’s voice screaming “Zachary!” On the last night, the ghost pinned him face-down on the bed. When he was finally able to sit up, he was staring her right in the face.

To his credit, this definitely does seem a bit more literally “face to face” than the story about the demon mouse or the phantom house or the girl with the Ouija board, and he does say it was this experience that “opened [his mind] to the paranormal.” In the book, he also writes that he was “indifferent on the topic of ghosts” until that particular moment, which is not exactly the same thing as saying “I never believed in ghosts until …” So it does sort of seem like he changed his story a little, you know, for dramatic effect. But probably no one is really buying that Zak Bagans was ever the non-believer he said he was back in the early days of “Ghost Adventures.”

Zak Bagans has a film degree

On the other hand, Zak Bagans isn’t just a guy who picked up a camera because one spooky encounter convinced him to. He has a background in cinematography, and he does know some stuff about how to create mood, set a scene, and tell a story. If he didn’t, “Ghost Adventures” would probably not be as wildly popular as it is.

Zak is a graduate of the Motion Picture Institute, which boasts such other notable alumni as Josh Wagner, who wrote and directed the indie film “Turning Point” that you’ve probably never heard of, and, you know, a couple of people who work at Netflix or got jobs as assistant location managers. Don’t laugh. Making it in Hollywood is rough, even when you have a film school degree.

Anyway, Zak is kind of the Motion Picture Institute’s biggest star alumni, and they don’t seem at all phased by the fact that he makes a documentary show about stuff that a lot of people don’t take very seriously, because it’s a wildly popular documentary show about stuff that a lot of people don’t take very seriously. And when you’re trying to sell your film school, well, that’s at least more impressive than “works at Netflix” or “is an assistant location manager.”

The first episode of 'Ghost Adventures' was school project

Zak Bagans was drawn into paranormal filmmaking before he even left film school. In fact, the very first episode of “Ghost Adventures” was not an episode at all but a feature-length documentary, and it was a project for his film studies degree.

In Zak’s autobiography “Dark World: Into the Shadows with the Lead Investigator of the Ghost Adventures Crew,” he writes about teaming up with Nick Groff and Aaron Goodwin as students to shoot a film about ghost hunting in the haunted mining towns of Nevada. To make the film, they visited a creepy hotel in Tonopah and another creepy hotel in Virginia City. They filmed a mist, and a ghost threw a brick at them in the basement. When they got home, they cobbled the footage together and submitted it to the New York International Film and Video Festival. They won best documentary.

That was pretty much how it started. Zak does not have a story of struggling to make it, of not being taken seriously, of working at Netflix or as an assistant location manager before finally getting his big break. Nope, Zak kind of became a star just as he was finishing his education. Now, no one is saying that you have to struggle in order to make great art … also no one is saying that “Ghost Adventures” is great art … but luck definitely played a part in Zak’s success. Or something supernatural? Nah.

Zak Bagans got some bad press

Well, it’s not clear how Zak Bagans feels about the “I don’t believe in ghosts” variety of nonbeliever, but anyone who publicly non-believes that “Ghost Adventures” is for real had better watch their backs. In early January of 2020 (or maybe late December, the details are sketchy), Ranker’s “Graveyard Shift” published a story that suggested maybe “Ghost Adventures” fakes its investigations. And while a noble attempt was made to find a Wayback copy of the original story, it is as deleted as Ranker said it was in a January 3, 2020 apology they issued on Facebook.

“ and Graveyard Shift have permanently taken down and deleted an article we recently published about Zak Bagans of ‘Ghost Adventures’ and ‘The Haunted Museum’ fame,” they wrote. “We’ve also deleted the Facebook posts we created to promote the article. The article included inaccuracies about Bagans, and the Facebook posts were misleading; both the article and the social posts did not meet our current editorial and social media standards. We regret misinforming our readers, and any distress the article caused Zak Bagans personally.” Which basically means, “Zak Bagans threatened to sue us and we did not like that.”

Evidently it wasn’t just a “‘Ghost Adventures’ is fake” kinda story — According to Antares Russell Leask in “Wraiths and White Men” (via the University of Texas, Arlington), the article also said some things about Zak Bagans personally that were probably total hearsay, so no one was really surprised that Ranker took the story down.

Zak Bagans' feud with 'Ghost Hunters'

We’ve all heard about the epic brand battles like Coca Cola vs. Pepsi, Burger King vs. McDonalds, Amazon vs. Barnes and Noble (who are we kidding, Amazon vs. everyone), so no one is really surprised to hear that “Ghost Adventures” vs. “Ghost Hunters” is also a thing.

According to Mass Live, the feud began when “Ghost Hunters” said things about “Ghost Adventures” and one of their investigations of the uber-haunted Bobby Mackey’s Music World, you know, on a “Ghost Hunters” show in front of everyone. Zak Bagans doesn’t watch “Ghost Hunters,” or maybe he does secretly, but he wasn’t watching that night. A bunch of his fans were, though, and in this world of everything-ends-up-on-Twitter-in-like-five-seconds he found out about the comments almost as soon as they aired.

What were the comments? Something along the lines of “‘Ghost Adventures’ exaggerated their investigation of Bobby Mackey’s.” Evidently, Zak was playing poker when he heard the news and he had to abandon his game to incite a virtual fistfight (that is, not in person and not an actual fistfight) with the “Ghost Hunters” people. The incident ended with some major “Ghost Hunters” back-peddling (“noooo we were talking about Bobby Mackey’s, not about you!”) but Zak did not forget. A few years later, he used Twitter to say this about “Ghost Hunters”: “Ive never had more issues with people talking s**t than ppl from Ghost Hunters Intl… Failed TV Show and these wannabes wanna talk s**t LMFAO.” That’s classy, Zak.

Locations Zak Bagans won't go back to

Zak Bagans and the “Ghost Adventures” crew have visited some really scary places. These are the kinds of scary places that would freak out even a nonbeliever, like dilapidated mental hospitals, abandoned prisons, murder houses, graveyards — if it seems like it might be haunted, they’ve probably been there.

You would think after more than 20 seasons of doing this stuff there wouldn’t be much that would scare Zak anymore, but that doesn’t seem to be true. He can list off a number of places that he’d rather not go back to. One of those is Bobby Mackey’s Music World, which the crew actually did visit a couple of times but has since sworn off. In a Discovery+ Facebook video, Zak explained that the location put “a big dent and scar into our physical selves.” And he doesn’t mention it, but there are a million different rumors about why Nick Groff left “Ghost Adventures,” and a fan favorite is the one where he left because a demon followed him home from Bobby Mackey’s and destroyed his marriage.

A couple more sites Zak told Facebook he’d never go back to: Goatman’s Bridge and Point Sur Lighthouse, but the latter isn’t because he thought it was especially scary, it’s because the lighthouse is only accessible by boat and he’s afraid of sharks. Go figure.

Zak Bagans loves masks

Zak Bagans actually invented mask wearing. It’s true! Long before the pandemic forced all of us to mask up, Zak was already doing it. In fact, Zak is so famous for his mask wearing that he sometimes gives signed respirators to his fans. The rest of his team, though, is typically unmasked (at least pre-pandemic), which probably contributes to the confusion.

The reason why Zak masked up before masking up was a thing is really not super mysterious, even though it’s one of the most common questions people ask about him. In fact, “Zak Baggans mask” gets like 40,000 results if you search it on Google, so it’s clearly something people are still scratching their heads about. After months and months of COVID it should be an easy answer to guess — masks protect you from particulates, and old, musty, abandoned places are full of particulates. Dust, mold, asbestos, you don’t want that stuff in your lungs even if you don’t have asthma, and according to Distractify, Zak has asthma. The other guys on the “Ghost Adventures” team aren’t similarly afflicted and don’t wear respirators because, you know, they don’t really want to. Kind of a familiar refrain, isn’t it?

Unsurprisingly, Zak is also a big proponent of pandemic mask-wearing, too. In the summer of 2020 he used Twitter to share his opinion: “Just wear a damn mask!!! Take it from someone who has been wearing them for the last 12 years!”

Zak Bagans' work outside of 'Ghost Adventures'

All that film school stuff prepared Zak Bagans for “Ghost Adventures,” but most people go to film school because they want to do scripted movies and television. Well, Zak didn’t waste any of his education because he was the executive producer of the 2016 thriller titled “Sympathy Said the Shark.” According to ProductionHUB, the film tells the story of a love triangle gone horribly, horribly wrong, and it’s got a really unique look and feel because each character gets a turn as a first-person point-of-view.

“Sympathy Said the Shark” wasn’t widely released but it did get an audience award at the Portland Film Festival. Also, based on the trailer, if you’re prone to motion sickness the first person POV thing might be a problem for you.

Zak’s fame has given him opportunities to branch out into other genres — he’s also the author of three books: “The Autobiography Dark World: Into the Shadows with the Lead Investigator of the Ghost Adventures Crew,” “I am Haunted: Living Life Through the Dead,” which is kind of a brag on all the stuff he’s done as an investigator and why he’s the best guy to do it, and “Ghosthunting for Dummies,” because obviously. And because literally everyone who is famous thinks they are also a musician, Zak did an album with Praga Khan from Lords of Acid (“NecroFusion,” released in October 2012). The album even did well, reaching #1 on iTunes.

Zak believes in what he does

Pick your documentary-style paranormal series, and there’s always going to be someone saying it’s all fake. And the cool thing about paranormal science is, it’s not science, so there really isn’t any way to definitively prove that ghosts exist, or that they don’t exist, or that “Ghost Adventures” is fake. For that last question, only the show’s producers and stars really know the truth. While it is almost certainly true that the “Ghost Adventures” crew exaggerates stuff – c’mon, guys, not every out-of-focus insect is a light anomaly — the real question is, do they really think ghosts are real, and do they think they’re capturing actual evidence, or have they been faking it all for 22 seasons?

Zak Bagans does live pretty much the same life off-camera as on camera. He owns a huge collection of paranormal memorabilia, cursed dolls, and other bizarre things that he makes available for public viewing at his Haunted Museum in Las Vegas. And according to Ozzy Mora, who worked with Zak on an episode of “Ghost Adventures,” his mannerisms and apparent enthusiasm for what he’s doing suggest that he is a true believer.

It’s certainly possible that Zak is a great actor who remains in character on and off screen and that deep down inside he’s aware it’s all a big ruse, and if anyone ever found out his career would be over. But if that’s true, well, it’s some pretty convincing acting. Nicely done, Zak.

Zak Bagans supports the Nevada SPCA

If you’re still on the fence about Zak Bagans and all the ghost hunting stuff, here’s the thing that will tip you over from skeptic to fan. Zak Bagans is a dog person. Also, his dogs are super cute.

According to Woof Republic, Zak adopted a Yorkshire terrier named Ridley in 2010. His other dog, Gracie, is in front of the camera a bit more often — Woof Republic doesn’t say what breed she is, but she looks pretty border collie-ish. “We humans absorb a lot of negativity in this world,” he told the Daily Herald in 2017, “but dogs are pure joy.” Zak is also a long-time supporter of the Nevada Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and frequently shows up at adoption events and sends out calls for donations to the organization on Twitter

Of course, the big question is, how much do his dogs get involved in the paranormal? Maybe that wasn’t your big question, but it’s totally a big question. Lots of people think dogs are specially tuned to that stuff, but what does Zak think? “I’m teaching Ridley how to hunt ghosts,” he told People Magazine. “He’s good. I tried to see if he’s sensitive to spiritual energy, and I think he is.” See, this is what “lives and breathes the paranormal” means. You may not be a believer, but it doesn’t matter because Zak does enough believing for both of you.

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