Good Reason

It's okay to be wrong. It's not okay to stay wrong.

I sort of like “The One”.

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.

Can we have them take the masks off? I’m having trouble cold-reading them.

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.


  1. In series 1, a few years ago, one "test" involved 5-minute live reads.

    No more than one minute was shown for each contestant and all hits were shown, along with numerous misses. This meant that more than 80% of the read was misses, even for the supposed "best" of them.

    I made a short video of the winner of that segment, showing what it might have looked like for the unseen four minutes. I put it online and received a defamation threat from the contestant.

    I've refused to watch this season after I learned much more about how editing is heavily used to make things look far, far better than they actually were on the day of the shoot.

    Nettiemmore attended filming last time and discussed it openly at JREF. Of particular note was the fact that they filmed three separate endings (three different winners) so they could just play the right one "live" when the phone votes were counted.

    Try to imagine that. Each one of them would have had to act the big "Winner's Grin" while the others congratulated them. And they're meant to be psychic!

    You can find some of Nettiemoore's detailed notes from the show in this JREF thread.

  2. I must correct myself. The "winner" of that particular segment was shown reading for two minutes – but the first minute was miss after miss, so my arithmetic stands.

  3. The editing is a huge issue, I'll agree. It didn't come into play so much in the one episode I watched — the tests were such that it was possible to be obviously wrong. Except for one: the Celebrity Sporting Goods test. That one was a bit cold-read-y, and I'll bet they did include all the 'hits' they could dredge up.

  4. see, their problem is that they aren't channelling the right source of information; god would give them the information (ask & ye shall receive) if only they believed … I'd like to see a version of this that involved the religious, Monotheist Face-off!

  5. I didn't realise Richard Saunders was on there. Makes me want to watch it now.

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