If you’re not in Australia, you may not have heard of “The One“. It’s a TV programme on Seven, which attempts to find Australia’s best psychic. This is sort of like trying to find Australia’s healthiest cadaver.
I’ve only seen one episode — the psychics try to divine the famous owners of sporting equipment, find a boy in an underground tunnel system (without going underground), and pick out the fake fencer out of a group of six.
At first, I was expecting to hate it. The fact that there’s an industry of charlatans (and a culture of people that believes them) drives me nuts. Also, it seems wrong that someone will win the title of “best psychic” even if they do no better than random chance, just by outlasting the other contestants. And it was painful to see all the contestants — deluded people (at best) convinced that they had Teh Powerz. But I ended up really enjoying it, and here’s why.
First off, there’s a “skeptical judge”, Richard Saunders, who keeps things on track. At first, I was worried that he was being played by the format, and lending credibility to the silly newage nonsense. And in fact, he does make noises about being sometimes “intrigued, but not convinced”. But there’s nothing wrong with staying open minded; that’s one of the things about being a skeptic. He certainly does a better job than I would. I’d be making catcalls and rolling my eyes. He’s much nicer than I am, and he explains random chance and probability, to the annoyance of the “gullible judge”. (She’s suitably woolly-headed.)
It’s also fun to watch the contestants make ad hoc justifications for each new failure. Will the psychic-believing viewers start to notice the constant dissembling? It seems unbelievable to me that someone at home wouldn’t become more skeptical after watching excuse after excuse, though that might be offset by seeing the occasional random hit.
The thing I’m most glad about, though: While the show does give a forum to psychics, it’s also promoting the idea that it’s good to test paranormal claims in a somewhat controlled way. Does “The One” do this ideally? Probably not, but I’m glad someone’s doing it at all. Even though it’s meant to promote psychics and the paranormal sub-culture, it inadvertently sets them up so they can fail publicly, again and again.