Banachek is an American mentalist and skeptic. He has written numerous books and invented various magic and mentalism effects, and is often sought out by top entertainers such as David Blaine, Lance Burton, James Randi and Criss Angel. He has been the recipient of a number of awards and recognitions, including the Dave Lederman Memorial Award (Awarded for Creativity in Mentalism) and the Dunninger Memorial Award (Awarded for Distinguished Professionalism in the Performance of Mentalism), both awarded by the Psychic Entertainers Association, as well as the College Campus Novelty Act of the Year, and the Entertainer of the Year on two occasions, all awarded by the Association for the Promotion of Campus Activities. He is renowned for fooling scientists at Washington University into believing that his supposed psychic abilities were genuine during the Project Alpha hoax in the early 1980s. In 2009, he conducted a preliminary test of psychic claimant Connie Sonne’s dowsing ability for the James Randi Educational Foundation’s Million Dollar Challenge that was witnessed by hundreds in person at The Amazing Meeting 7 in Las Vegas, NV.
In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Banachek recounts his origins as a mentalist in South Africa, including how James Randi’s books influenced the development of his worldview. He talks about his involvement helping develop Penn and Teller’s bullet catch, the current finale to their Las Vegas show. He describes his role in Project Alpha, and explores to what extent he thinks the researchers involved were aware of his and his colleague’s deceptions. He details the role that magicians and mentalists may play in informing the public about psychic and other paranormal claims, and describes the virtues of being an open-minded skeptic as opposed to a “debunker.” He talks about his role n the James Randi Educational Foundation’s Million Dollar Challenge, and recounts his preliminary testing of Connie Sonne’s dowsing ability in front of a live audience at The Amazing Meeting 7, in Las Vegas in 2009.