Exclusive: The Curse of Oak Island EP Joe Lessard talks Season 9 and the reality of treasure

Joe Lessard, pictured centre, is the EP for History’s The Curse of Oak Island and is pictured here in the field with the Laginas. Pic credit: History

Season nine of History’s Curse of Oak Island is back and bigger than ever, with Gary Drayton formulating specific dances for precious metals and the Laginas and Craig Tester bringing in even more experts as the testing ramps up and is more refined and targeted.

This season, the treasure is already at the forefront of everyone’s mind as the latest scientists analyzed the latest Money Pit cores from drilling and found silver and gold. And yes, Gary Drayton will dance.

Executive producer Joe Lessard has the best job. He gets to hang with his erstwhile treasure hunters turned archaeological enthusiasts up in the swamp as they keep peeling back layers of evidence of human visitations and influence, one older than the next.

Where will all this Curse of Oak Island fun and games actually come to an end? According to Lessard, not until the treasure is found.

In this season’s premiere, Rick Lagina said, “Every little piece of data seems to be aligning.”

So will we all be “Bobby dazzled,” or is this just reality TV hype? So far, the empirical data suggests the former. 

Last season the seismic testing pointed to evidence of a sunken ship buried in the triangle-shaped swamp. And with the cooperation of Tom Nolan, the son of the late Fred Nolan, team Lagina has even more fire in their bellies to keep digging up the cold Canadian muck.

Today, Monsters & Critics spoke to Lessard at length and got the details—spoiler-free, of course—to geek you up for season nine on History.

Exclusive interview with Joe Lessard

Monsters & Critics: Marty and Rick Lagina, they’ve been doing this for ten years, even though it’s Season 9, maybe a little bit longer. I know they’ve been obsessed with this for a long time. So what is setting Season 9 apart from all the others? And is there hope that they’re going to find something significant?

Joe Lessard: Well, the answer to the second question is always. The first question is what sets this season aside from the rest. I think that every season always leaves us with something suggesting that any of the theories about what happened on Oak Island could be true. 

I think what sets this season apart is that, finally, empirically that science says there is treasure on Oak Island, and these guys are equipped more than ever to find it.

M&C: Now you’ve got an added headache. You’ve got Nova Scotia now paying attention and start inserting themselves in the conversation after all this time. Talk about the Provincial Department of Community, Culture, and Heritage and what you’ve had to deal with this season?

Joe Lessard: Well, as a producer and especially on the series, my job is to have my crew in place and record what happens. One of the elements that Kevin Burns, my late boss and great friend and mentor, always knew about this show was that it was always going to be a great story to follow because he just believed that treasure or no treasure, Marty, Rick, and Craig and the team’s story was going to be a fascinating odyssey. And he was absolutely correct. 

So as a producer, I don’t so much insert my personal creative take on how we navigate this? How do we navigate that? It’s really what these guys’ process reveals. And we just follow it. 

The Nova Scotia government has taken more interest, and the audience will see what that entails as the season unfolds. But really, it’s just a significant validation. These guys have proven the Oak Island mystery is as serious and as real as anyone ever imagined or hoped.

M&C: You mentioned Kevin Burns, and I interviewed him a few years back. I know the show had his heart, talk a bit of him and how he had influenced Prometheus’s content and just what you’d want fans to know? 

Joe Lessard: Well, Kevin was Prometheus’s entertainment for me. Prometheus was a derivative for Prometheus, who was a Titan that gave man fire. And that’s what Kevin was to storytelling. He knew how to light the fuse. 

He knew how to blow it up, and he knew what it took to make a great hit, and finding the balance story through Rick and Marty Lagina’s point of view was his perfect brainchild that he could not have written any better. We have had done a short segment on Oak Island and the very first two-hour special, with the season of Ancient Aliens that we had done. 

That was when we first learned of the Money Pit. It hadn’t been on our radar before then. And Kevin was just fascinated by the story and the possibility something could be going on on the island. And so curiosity led to the discovery and that the Laginas were just about to renew the treasure trove license. They had been partners with Dan Blankenship, who had been there since the sixties.

It had been dormant for a while, and they were working on getting the legal permissions to start searching again right around the time that Kevin realized they were out there. 

So, I got to accompany him to Michigan. We met with Rick, Marty, and Craig [Tester], and it all slowly unfolded from there. They did not pitch themselves as a television show. So, Kevin Burns had to convince them to be a part of one. 

And I think it’s been for all of our benefit. It was just a great credit to Kevin and his intuition about good storytelling, and they weren’t going to do it at first. They had no interest in being on television. 

Marty was a very busy businessman. Still is, along with Craig Tester. Rick did not want to be in front of the camera. He said, ‘Make a documentary on Oak Island. Everyone will love it. It’s a great story.’ It’s what got me hooked, and Kevin had to convince them how their point of view would be so important to people. 

And they were like, well, that’s great, but we’re not TV people. And in that discussion, they related to how they’d been obsessed with the [Oak Island] story since they were just boys, and it was always their dream to be a part of the Oak Island story somehow. 

And Kevin said, “Well when I was a ten-year-old boy, my dream was somehow to be a part of the Lost in Space story. And now I control the rights to Lost in Space, and you guys control the rights to Oak Island.” And this is what dreams are made of, and this is the essence of the human spirit, and that roped them [Marty, Rick, and Craig] into the TV series.

M&C: Gary Drayton is quite colorful, and he’s delightful. He injects comedic energy. How did these people find their way? Do you cast them?

Joe Lessard: We don’t have a say or a hand in casting so much. Now and then, as producers, it behooves us to do our research and try to help make suggestions where we can, in terms of technology or expertise. But it’s Rick, Marty Craig, and the team. 

How Gary Drayton came into the fold occurred early in Season 2, Rick had the idea that he wanted to run a metal detector off the swamp and do so. So we had to go up there in February and film them for 12 hours a day in the freezing cold as they ran this gigantic metal detector across the frozen swamp. 

The company they had gotten in touch with to get the metal detector sent Gary Drayton as their representative to help operate and advise on its use. 

And Marty and Gary, just talking, hit it off. Marty got fascinated with Gary’s pedigree and his path as a treasure hunter in his own right. And his passion for unlocking history. So when Season 4 was coming around, Marty literally had the idea that he wanted to get Gary Drayton on the team to scour that island with his detector and see what clues could be found.

M&C: They’re saying this season there was a Portuguese influence on the stone road, one of the experts Terry Deveau noted. What can you tell us about that?

Joe Lessard: At this stage, yes, it was discovered last year in this supposedly natural swamp. It is a construct of some sort that doesn’t seem likely to have been built in a wetland. 

It definitely lent some credence to the romantic theory that Fred Nolan has always had since the late 1960s that the swamp was completely manmade.

And as the season unfolds, the term ‘stone road’ will evolve somewhat as they look at it more empirically and from an archeological point of view. 

But Terry Deveau, a historian who is also the president of the New England Antiquities Research Association, is a history expert and works with archeologists all the time. And he’s done a lot of studying about the Portuguese influence in Nova Scotia. 

So he’s seen a lot of it elsewhere, and the Portuguese were known to be in that region of the world in the 16th century. And so the question becomes, did they make it down to Mahone Bay, where Oak Island is? And how early exactly were they there, and what were they asked to do? And there’s more where that came from on its way.

M&C: What do you think the purpose of Oak Island was to whoever would have left treasure? Why Oak Island?

Joe Lessard: Exactly! Why Oak island? And I think that there’s going to be, again, just like every year, interesting theories that will pop up that will suggest reasons why Oak Island… especially as it might in some way be relevant to locations that are across other hemispheres. 

There’s this romantic theory that Rosicrucians and perhaps the English nobleman and early 17th-century scientist, Francis Bacon, had some idea about the new Atlantis and the new world and how exploration in North America began from the far reaches of Europe and beyond. 

Was it like a reset and Oak Island, in some ways, some ground zero, for that exploration? And was that the first place where something was established, and then things unfolded from there, and for whatever reason, it’s either been forgotten or deliberately hidden? 

But they are objectively skeptical. Rick is faithful about the mystery, and he wants nothing to do with over-speculative measures. Marty is a complete skeptic who just loves his brother and has always been fascinated with the romantic side of the mystery. So he teamed up with his brother to take this thing on at this point in their lives. He has been slowly turned more and more into, not quite as faithful as Rick, that would be quite a feat, but he’s getting there, and it’s because they keep digging. 

And it’s because they keep working with archeologists, geoscientists, geologists, metal detector experts, and different experts across the sciences. 

Last year they found a piece of railing in the swamp that they believed was part of a ship. So they carbon-dated the item multiple times. And it came back to 700AD. 

So, who was in North America with a finished piece of ship railing in 700 AD? We don’t know. 

But it’s in the Oak Island swamp. And that stone road, they think it might be 500 years or older. Well, then was that a different generation of someone who came there? It’s all fascinating. And these are the kinds of things that will be further explored and proven more and more in Season 9.

M&C: Hypothetical question. A notable discovery is made. They find physical treasure. Would you turn that into an event like an Al Capone’s vault-type event for History, or would you just fold that in naturally into the season?

Joe Lessard: Well, we’re always looking at things from a different angle and a different point of view. And, they’re just maybe some scenario where one of those options plays out. 

We’ll just have to wait and see how we do it where… we’re not entirely through with the season yet, but as I said, empirical science has said that there’s treasure on the island, and these guys are doing incredible things. 

And I think for the audience that has been faithful and robust and humbling in their numbers, I believe it’d be very gratified by what they see the season.

The Curse of Oak Island airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on History Channel.

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Arnold E Burchianti
Arnold E Burchianti
2 years ago

Following the search on Oak Island is like completing a bucket list item for me. It has been a lifelong interest of mine. I am 78 years old. I first read about Oak island when I was in the sixth grade. I found it discerning that my mind was fixated on this topic whereas the teacher and my classmates moved on through the little newspaper. I, also, could not believe how teachers would pass over the Mayan tale of a bearded white man named Quetzalcoatl. Later in life I did find a book written by someone possessed as I was about this godlike man, “He Who Walked the Americas.” Finally two avid treasure and mystery lovers have locked on my biggest attention getting topic. I read with interest the Readers’ Digest article that told me the name of Blankenship. In the 1960’s. I was a young man that entertained the idea of even going to Oak Island to help him. However, I had no real skills to offer. I love these types of mysteries. I believe that there are so many of such quests and challenges. Finding the History and Discovery channel has been wonderful entertainment for my inquiring mind. I really appreciate the Lagina brothers’ efforts. As far as the curse of Oak Island goes I believe that the death of Mr. Blankenship counts, and the curse is over. On with the hunt.
This mystery is my bucket wish number one, and I do wish that they hurry forward to a successful climax for I am 78.

Steven Prime
Steven Prime
2 years ago

Hi Arnold, I am not sure where you are or your position in life with health or responsibilities but maybe going to Oak Island is still something you can do, I am sure there would be a way to go and maybe even Meet the Lagina brothers ?
I also love watching it and am tortured by the wait between seasons and I don’t have the life long investment of interest that you do.
Anyway if it is possible for you, do today what you may not be able to do tomorrow.
Thanks for your comment I enjoyed reading it.

Lee Walkowski
Lee Walkowski
2 years ago

I’m with Arnold. I first read about it in Lost Treasure magazine. If I remember, it was about the time the Lagina brothers were starting to get involved. I’ve been metal detecting for about 20 years, have land detector and water proof detector and associated digging tools. Was very tempted to offer money to help the cause but quickly realized that anything I could offer was minuscule compared to the total search. I am 81 and would love to “help” in some way but would probably never be able to do that. If this Covid mess was not here and my wife were in better health, I would be really tempted to drive from my home in Michigan to Oak Island and spend some time there.

Russ Nelson
Russ Nelson
2 years ago

Great interview! I’m exited about the new season, as always. I first heard about Oak Island back in the 80s when I was in the Air Force. One night we were gathered around telling things like “true” ghost stories and family mysteries, and my friend, who was normally pretty reserved and didn’t speak much in big groups, told us this spellbinding tail about this island with a place called the Money Pi. He went into the whole nine yards about the boys finding the depression in the ground and starting to dig, the layers of wooden logs, flood tunnels, etc. And then said his family used to be very wealthy until his grandfather lost his fortune hunting for gold there. My buddy’s last name? Hedden. You guessed it, Gilbert Hedden’s grandson. After that I was totally hooked, and I couldn’t believe it many years later when the show first appeared. It became must-see TV from then on!