Dave Tango of 'Ghost Hunters Academy' talks Tourette's, benefit dinner and new ghost guide role

Dave Tango of 'Ghost Hunters Academy' talks Tourette's, benefit dinner and new ghost guide role
November 26, 2009
Aaron Sagers

Dave Tango is well known for his ghost hunting fame, but it’s fitting the Linden, NJ, native is a trained illusionist since his life these past four years has been filled with magic. But it’s no trick. At 24, Tango has transitioned from prestidigitation to paranormal investigation and taken the lead on the new cable show Ghost Hunters Academy despite his lifelong battle with Tourette Syndrome, a disease which he’s raising awareness for with a benefit dinner in Westfield, NJ, this Sunday.

Ghost Hunters Academy, airing Wednesdays at 10 p.m., EST, on the Syfy channel, is the latest spinoff of Ghost Hunters, the paranormal reality-TV series that draws about three million viewers each week. Recruited by Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson, co-founders of the Rhode Island-based group TAPS (The Atlantic Paranormal Society), around which Ghost Hunters is based, Tango has been with the main show since Season Two in 2005. But what began as an “investigator-in-training” position led to a regular investigator title and now to his leadership role on “Academy,” where he’s training young cadets to be ghost hunters.

Along with friend and fellow investigator Steve Gonsalves, 34, Tango travels the country in an R.V. with five Academy recruits to haunted hot spots. Since the Nov. 11 premiere, the team has visited the Eastern State Penitentiary and the Revolutionary War landmark Fort Mifflin in Philadelphia, and the battleship USS North Carolina in Wilmington, N.C. So far Tango’s new endeavor is already showing signs of being a hit after debuting with 2.07 million total viewers, making it Syfy's most successful reality series premiere in nearly two years.

Tango says the real success isn’t judged by ratings but by the help he can provide to scared owners of haunted locations, and by the awareness he can raise for sufferers of the neurological disorder. Tango will do the latter by joining his father Bruce, a former Elizabeth police officer, for the third annual benefit for the New Jersey Center for Tourette Syndrome on Nov. 29 at the Temple Emanu-El in Westfield. Featuring performances by comedian Kevin Meaney and singer Kristen Sellers, Tango will appear at the event with Ghost Hunter pals Gonsalves, Dustin Pari and Joe Chin.

While taking a break from leading an investigation with fans at the Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum in St. Augustine, Fla., Tango sat down to discuss the paranormal, leadership duties and growing up with Tourette Syndrome. For a young guy experiencing so much success, Tango is remarkably grounded and gracious, and most of what he says includes an element of self-effacing humor.

Q: How did a magician from New Jersey get on a hit cable show, and then eventually get his own series?

TANGO: I had my own little group in Jersey and we contacted TAPS because we had a place that had potential. They came and let me and a friend be a guest on an episode. I just got along with everyone, and two weeks later I got a call and they asked if I wanted to give it a trial run … I haven’t messed up since then, I guess!

Q: I guess not. So what is the purpose of Academy?

TANGO: Our mission to find the next ghost hunter for one of our shows. It’s a tedious process … it’s really important because we’re showing how different it [paranormal investigating] is from the show. They’ll see Ghost Hunters and think we’re just in a place for 20 minutes because that’s what they see on TV. We’re in there for hours and hours. It’s really nitty gritty, and you sit down and stare.

Q: You’re still on the main show, but less so. How are you handling the double duty?

TANGO: I miss being with Jay and Grant and all them. It’s been a while since we’ve been with them. We’ve missed episodes and they’ve gone to places that make me really jealous. They went to places in Jersey, and I can’t mention where, but when I found out, I was like, “Oh man, you guys are going there?” But this is a whole new thing, and this is pretty crazy.

Q: So ghost hunting on two shows is a pretty grueling schedule?

TANGO: During the year, we have about two weeks off. But I’m not complaining. I’m doing something I love to do. My family understands and I have a girlfriend who tries to come out as much as possible, so it helps.

Q: And when you do get home, what are you doing?

TANGO: I sit down, I’m in my pajamas, and I play Xbox and eat peanut butter. That’s pretty much it. Call of Duty, absolutely.

Q: So has Call of Duty turned you into a leader?
Steve Gonsalves, right, and Dave Tango from 'Ghost Hunters Academy' Courtesy Syfy
TANGO: [laughs] It’s a little scary being a leader. It was a surprise but I just went with it. I have a limit of knowledge on the paranormal, but I’m always learning. But everyone is always learning. I’ve been on the main show going on five years, and I’ve been investigating for maybe seven or eight years now.

Q: Is it odd to be young and running the show?

TANGO: I’m young, and I’m sure there are people out there that say, “Oh, there’s this young guy suddenly being a leader.” But really, no one really knows anything. We have our protocol and procedures, and a certain way we do things. That’s what I know. That’s what we’re trying to teach these people.

Q: You’re referring to the TAPS Method of debunking claims of haunted activity, and using what’s left as possible evidence of the paranormal. Can you teach that in a lesson plan?

TANGO: We’re not saying the TAPS Method is the right way or the wrong way. It’s not a science, but we’re trying to make it that way. It’s like how Galileo was with his studies. Hopefully, it’s the beginning of a whole new science. But right now, there are no experts.

Q: Because it’s not a science and there are no real experts, the paranormal has a lot of disbelievers. How do you deal with those who dismiss this pursuit of yours?

TANGO: No matter what kind of evidence anyone catches - if we, for instance, got miraculous video footage and we’re all there to witness it - there will always be someone saying, “You know what, it’s just a video.” I think the only way for someone to see for themselves is to be there in a haunted spot and actually witness something … But there will still be people so headstrong that even if they see a ghost and it talks to them, they’re still not going to believe it.

Q: How does that relate to growing up with Tourette Syndrome?

TANGO: It was rough growing up with it. A lot of people didn’t understand it, including teachers, believe it or not. I was never picked on when I was a kid. I was lucky for some reason … even the bullies liked me. But the teachers were the ones who weren’t educated or know anything about it. They would ask, “Why are you doing that?” and I’d be like, “Well, I can’t help it.”

Q: How did you cope with that?

TANGO: I’d have to get out of my seat and walk the halls because I’d have to tic a lot [experience [involuntary movements and vocalizations]. I’d have to move and couldn’t be in one spot for a long period of time. I would get embarrassed by teachers because they’d just shout out loud with, “What are you doing? You’re weird.” That was a big problem growing up with that.

Q: How did that lead to your father beginning the benefit?

TANGO: He saw the way it was hard for me growing up. It really touched him. He loves doing this every year because he knows at some point we will find a cure. We keep getting closer and closer. It’s tough to deal with, always moving around, but it will be good to see people supporting this cause.

Q: So how are you now that you’re the teacher on Academy?

TANGO: “You’re always learning. There’s a few of them that have taught me some stuff. No one knows everything.

Q: We’ve already seen some discipline take place on the show, so who’s the good cop and bad cop between you and Steve?

TANGO: It switches around. There are a few times on the show where I get kind of angry. Not because I’m a jerk, but because of common sense stuff. Safety issues are areas I was really getting mad about. Besides, if you want to be part of our group, then you need to step up. I had to. I was a young kid and got into this whole thing with Ghost Hunters and they hammered me too. I had to go through the same thing these guys go through.

Q: When you and Steve drive the cadets around, do you ever think of yourselves as parents on a road trip with the kids? The Ghost Hunters Academy RV Photo by Aaron Sagers.

TANGO: In a weird, weird way. We’ll catch ourselves saying, “Oh the kids …” The kids? These guys are almost my age. Even the crew say it sometimes.

Q: But aren’t they your TAPS tots? They’re your babies. You know, they grow up so fast.

TANGO: [laughs] Sometimes I think that!

Q: How is it on the inside of the R.V.? Anything you like to have on hand?

TANGO: It’s pretty cozy in there, but I love peanut butter. I’m a simple man; just jars of peanut butter and spoons … And chocolate big time. Steve’s really big into rewarding the recruits. I try to put in as much as I can, but not as much as him. He’s a very thoughtful person.

Q: Sort of like TAPS treats or Scooby snacks for your cadets?

TANGO: Ha … it is. It really is.

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