The Curse of Oak Island

The Curse Of Oak Island’s Controversial ‘Hoax’ Theory, Explained

The question for fans of “The Curse of Oak Island” has long been where the Lagina brothers’ treasure hunt lands on the channel’s vast sliding scale between entertainment and reality. Though the actual science and discovery seen on the show appear at face value to be perfectly plausible, they’re mixed in with mysteries, conspiracy theories, and the specter of a deadly history that some may feel borders on pure dramatization. Numerous online publications have dismissed the series –- which entered its 11th season on November 7 — as an out-and-out bad-faith hoax in the same vein (allegedly) as “Alone” and “Bigfoot Captured.”

The History Channel (owned and operated by A+E) has broadcast a wide range of series over the years, each varying in terms of how much “history” they actually contain. Some examine the lives of “Ice Road Truckers” while others document the purported “existence” of ancient aliens and the supposed survival and flight of Adolf Hitler after World War II (even though all credible sources point toward the reviled fascist dying in April 1945).

However, the truth of the legitimacy behind “The Curse of Oak Island” is probably significantly more nuanced.

Planted evidence is among the charges made against this piece of so-called pseudo-history

The allegation against “The Curse of Oak Island’s” veracity are widely varied and often vague, but the most extreme charge levied against it is that Rick and Marty Lagina (as well as the rest of the scientists and self-described experts in their employ) are essentially actors marching around the titular locale collecting “artifacts” planted by producers. Though this charge has not been levied against the series in a formal capacity (such as, say, by a mainstream news publication) as there isn’t legally defensible proof available, it’s a belief shared by many viewers, commonly alluded to during fan-discussions online.

On the r/OakIsland subreddit (where redditors can share posts about the series and the legend in general), posts questioning the show are regularly met with jokes and a consensus that the show is at least partly fake. Academics, meanwhile, have denounced  the entire Oak Island mystery quite decisively. Harvard professor Richard Joltes called it “just one tale in a long-running mania for treasure legends all along the eastern seaboard,” while Halifax maritime historian and instructor Dan Conlin dubbed it “classic pseudohistory.”

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The Oak Island money pit is real to Rick and Marty Lagina… probably

One fact that should arguably soften certain hoax theories is that Rick and Marty Lagina had already been hunting the Oak Island treasure for several years before the History Channel discovered them and came along to finance the endeavor. Unless they were playing the long game, this would indicate that the brothers’ intentions for the series were at least good when it began. This aligns with statements they’ve made to the media asserting the show’s reality. Though it’s not likely they’d say otherwise, regardless.

The tempting middle-ground-conclusion to draw between absolute fact and absolute fiction is that Rick, Marty, and at least some portion of their team are genuinely trying to find treasure –- even if its existence seems doubtful at this point. Whether or not the treasure exists is probably less concerning to the History Channel than the audience “The Curse of Oak Island” draws in.

Under these circumstances, the network would likely continue to finance the expedition and produce further seasons of the show regardless of the treasure’s existence. As for the alleged planting of artifacts, however, there’s no evidence to indicate this occurring as of writing. In other words, it’s certainly possible that “The Curse of Oak Island” depicts real people having real reactions to environments and events that may be varyingly “real” –- as is the case for a majority of reality television.

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