The members of the Appalachian Investigators of Mysterious Sightings (A.I.M.S.) team are back.
Tonight, “Mountain Monsters” returns to West Virginia on the Travel Channel to discover if there are still wolves in mountains surrounding Tygart Valley.
The start of the seventh season of the reality show about the search for strange creatures continues on following the death of team founder John “Trapper” Tice, who was also the heart of the show.
Tice died in December of 2019, shortly after the end of season six.
It is a big step moving forward without him, but television producer Colt Straub said “Mountain Monsters” learned to adapt a long time ago.
“I think if the show was a carbon copy of what we did the first season, we’d be off the air,” he said. “We’d be too formulaic — and, also, realistically, a monster a week and the pool would have eventually dried up.”
Instead, the cult cable sensation has endured.
“Mountain Monsters” and the A.I.M.S. team led by Tice first went on the air in 2013.
The show followed a group of colorful characters as they researched, tracked, and attempted to capture or prove the existence of a Who’s Who of incredible creatures, including Bigfoot, werewolves, Hogzilla and the Mothman in Point Pleasant.
Straub said part of what made the show so special was the cast. Audiences could relate to them. They were real people.
“These were a group of guys that you’d like to hang out with,” he said. “They felt like your uncle, your dad, your bother. They’re so authentic.”
The producer added, “It’s not something you can fake, and I think that’s why the show has had the success that it’s had.”
Straub didn’t so much as cast the A.I.M.S. team as give them a platform to show what they do. The group began almost a decade before the cameras started rolling with Tice, trap builder Willy McQuillian and researcher Jeff Headlee, who set out on their own in search of monsters.
“Trapper had a lifelong fascination with cryptids and the unexplained,” Straub said. “He was the most knowledgeable outdoorsman I ever spoke to, let alone spent time with. I think he got obsessed with all things cryptid and assembled this team around him.”
Tice’s interest in Appalachia’s secret bestiary went back decades.
Straub and his brother Duke stumbled onto the A.I.M.S. team in 2012.
Their company, American Chainsaws Entertainment, had been making reality television shows for years.
“A lot of them had been outdoor based,” Straub said.
For Spike TV, they produced “Diamond Divers,” about diamond hunters off the coast of South Africa, and “Rat Bastards,” which followed giant rodent killers in the Mississippi Delta, who killed the invasive, ecologically destructive 20-pound rats for food and profit.
The brothers also produced the comedy series “Laff Tracks” for TruTV.
Their shows often featured quirky people in unusual lines of work, but Straub said they weren’t initially looking to do a story about people on the hunt for Bigfoot or the Mothman.
“We were looking into developing a show about trapping and the fur trapping world,” he said.
But when they began casting for that project, it led them to different people, which in turn eventually brought them to Tice.
“And wow! This guy was awesome,” Straub said.
Tice introduced them to the rest of his team, but the show didn’t happen overnight.
“We knew we were on to something, but we developed a little bit of a relationship,” Straub said. “With guys like this, they’re a little hesitant about opening up to people from California.”
Straub added that it probably helped that he grew up in Ohio.
“Nothing bad about people from California, but I wasn’t some slick guy,” he added.
Tice and his friends let Straub and his brother in on “their world” and the producer said they knew they had “lightning in a bottle.”
People liked the show immediately.
Unfortunately, Tice’s health declined and his role as leader of the A.I.M.S. team necessarily had to change. Straub said Tice became more of a coach on the sidelines, instead of the quarterback on the field.
That wasn’t how any of them originally envisioned the series, but real life can interfere with reality television.
“It definitely threw a wrench into things,” Straub acknowledged.
The show adapted and the adventures continued.
“It’s a testament to the cast,” he said.
Straub added that occasionally fans tell him they liked the early seasons better and he didn’t entirely disagree. They’d have all preferred to have Tice out with them, looking for monsters.
It just didn’t work out that way, but he was proud of how the show had grown.
The producer also added that fans of “Mountain Monsters” could now find all the previous episodes of the show on Discovery+, a new streaming site which launched earlier this year.
The site contains a wide array of Discovery programs from HGTV, Food Network, TRVL, Animal Planet and includes shows like “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives,” “Dirty Jobs,” “Deadliest Catch,” and “House Hunters,” among many others.
Straub said fans of “Mountain Monsters” could watch all the old episodes now and catch the new season on Discovery+ after the show’s season finale in March.
The new season continues on without Tice, but still manages to bring him along — at least, in spirit.
Straub said, “Trapper left one final mystery that goes all the way back to how he got started with cryptid creatures in the Tygart Valley in West Virginia.”
The producer said Tice’s daughter and granddaughter handed over the monster hunter’s journal which goes back decades, which would serve to send the A.I.M.S. team out on their season seven adventure.
“Trapper turned out to be as unpredictable in death as he was in life,” Straub said.
Season seven of “Mountain Mountains” returns Sunday night at 10 p.m. on the Travel Channel.