Column: The curse of the series that refused to end, 'The Curse of Oak Island'
Do you want to know what the real curse of Oak Island is? That it will never end.
That I have spent seven seasons and countless hours watching the Lagina brothers drilling holes halfway through the earth, only to discover that the real treasure of Oak Island is a hyperbolic advertising campaign that makes it look like they’ve unearthed Noah’s Ark when in fact it is a few fossilized Skittles and the remains of a Shakey’s pizza box.
If none of the previous paragraph makes sense to you, then you’ve never snoozed your way through History Channel series “The Curse of Oak Island,” in which relentlessly deluded-but-determined treasure hunters Rick and Marty Lagina pursue an elusive buried treasure on Oak Island, a small, wooded island off the coast of Nova Scotia, Canada.
As with any treasure hunt worth its salt, the Oak Island legend has a mysterious side: Supposedly, seven people must die in pursuit of the treasure before Oak Island will reveal her secrets. “So far, the body count stands at six,” purrs the Oak Island website with a Vincent Price-style menace. (This is not to mention the number of viewers who have died of boredom.)
And yet I watch it. Every week. Not because I like it, but because my boyfriend has faithfully watched it from the very beginning. This is surprising to me, as he is a pretty high-energy, easily bored, type A person. It does not seem like he would want to watch a treasure-hunting series in which they never seem to find the treasure and the pace is that of an ant trying to carry a Virginia ham up a hill.
And yet here he is, lasered in on a show whose “action scenes” include metal detectorists crowing that they just found a bobby pin and the two brothers looking quietly concerned as they watch a worker drill yet another huge hole.
But my guy is not alone. Far from it. The History Channel claims “Oak Island” is the No. 1 rated show on cable television, and there are legions of Oak Island fans out there, who are known as “Acorns.” Countless blogs and Reddit chats expound theories and dissect every show development in exhausting detail.
At Oak Island, the disappointments are many. A typical plot point: Rick and Marty get amped up when one of their digging crews discovers a piece of wood that — based on wood grain — could have been part of a pirate’s peg leg. The brothers fly in a certified splinterologist from Cambridge who performs numerous high-tech tests and excitedly gathers everyone around the table in the “war room” to make his announcement: the wood is, in fact, a toothpick from a Cracker Barrel restaurant, but DNA suggests it may have been used by one of Elvis Presley's bodyguards!
Pretty much every episode is like this. Big setup. Big build. Whispered promises that they have FINALLY found something valuable, but not before something incredibly dangerous/expensive/life-threatening will happen. (Translation: Gary steps in a pothole while metal-detecting for Spanish galleons, so has to spend the rest of the episode navigating the rough terrain of Oak Island on a motorized scooter!)
And then… the inevitable letdown.
Still, I think I’ve figured out the reasons for the show’s inexplicable following.
It is manly. There are very few women on the show. It’s like "The Magnificent Seven" go treasure-hunting. “Oak Island” seems to be as much about brotherly bonding and their testosterone-fueled adventure as it is about finding the actual treasure.
It revolves around men talking important issues in the “war room,” huge earth-moving equipment, high-tech devices and booby-trapped flood tunnels. The show is rich in history and mystery and incredibly complex conspiracy theories that link whatever’s buried there to everyone from the Incas to Pirate Captain William Kidd to the Knights of the Templar.
As my boyfriend said: “It’s kind of like Indiana Jones. It’s really about the adventure to find the treasure versus the treasure itself.” (Well, it’s an “adventure” without the rolling boulders, alligator pits and tiger fights.)
It has brilliant marketing. The History Channel has managed to hype this slow-moving story so that it seems like the car chase from “The French Connection.” Episode descriptions are always promising SOMETHING BIG if you hang on for just one more episode.
“An unexpected disaster could put this search on ice for good!”
“Brothers blindsided by another shocking discovery!”
This is fueled by the perpetual question-asking narrator, Robert Clotworthy, who makes the uncovering of every button and coin seem like the discovery of King Tut’s Tomb. A narrator? Who can’t stop asking questions? Because this show never seems to end? Find out in Season 37 of “The Curse of Oak Island!”
It has its own language. This show has been around so long that it has developed its own lexicon. If you would try to play a drinking game every time the show’s characters say “the Money Pit,” “Smith’s Cove,” “The Swamp,” “Send in a diver,” “At the end of the day,” “Templar, baby!,” “Boots on the ground,” “Crown time,” “That’s a top-pocket find,” “That’s a bobby dazzler” or “More questions than answers,” you would almost certainly wind up in the ER within the first 30 minutes of the show.
You just can’t believe that’s it. In a way, Oak Island is like an unproductive slot machine. You keep pumping more and more money into it, believing that, one of these times, you HAVE to hit the jackpot. You keep thinking: They HAVE to find something eventually, right?
Or, as Robert Clotworthy might say: “A series? That people have devoted countless hours of their lives to? Only to discover that Gary has found another Canadian nickel?”
Find out next week, on “The Curse of Oak Island!”
Readers can reach columnist Tammy Swift at firstname.lastname@example.org.