Buckle Up – Seatbelt Psychic

Susan Gerbic

Have you ever heard that skeptics overthink puzzles? Well that just happened to me, and I’m going to tell you an amazing story, so buckle up.

I’ve spent hours reviewing Lifetime’s TV show Seatbelt Psychic starring so-called psychic medium Thomas John. Yes, you read that right; it is called Seatbelt Psychic because John drives around Los Angeles and picks up “unsuspecting passengers.” As he drives them to their destinations, he speaks to their dead family members. Does reality television get any more ridiculous?

I wanted to watch the eight episodes, make lots of notes, and write about hot and cold readings. How mediums claim to talk to the dead and appear to do so with such great ease. Mostly it is just clever word play, and when you know what to look and listen for, you can see it and hear it. That’s what I wanted to do. For hours, I watched the first three episodes. They are nineteen minutes long, but I hit pause, reverse, and pause again and took a lot of notes. So for me, it does take a long time to watch one episode. I was also going to remind you that we should never make fun of the sitters; they are unsuspecting and vulnerable. Hearing that your dead father is proud of you and that your Uncle Charlie is watching over you when you are ill is pretty comforting.

I wanted to tell you all these things.

But I was wrong. 

First before we begin, I must acknowledge that I had a reading with Thomas John in March 2017. That reading was recorded and the story is terrific. Read about Operation Pizza Roll here.

I watched the first episode of Seatbelt Psychic several times, taking notes and looking for patterns. I was really impressed with John’s smooth delivery. He is sympathetic without being glib or fake. He comforts these people who are bawling their eyes out in a way that leaves them feeling uplifted. I’ve been researching medium Tyler Henry for the past couple years, and he is nowhere as good as Thomas John.

The sitters (in this case they could also be called riders) were interviewed after leaving the car. They all were so impressed that Thomas John was spot on every time. They were so grateful that he gave them readings, and several said that their whole life has been changed and he was blessed several times by them.

So, I watched and took notes and wondered several things.

There are many cameras in the car. Watching the editing shows angles for at least six cameras inside. There is a film crew following the car, and as soon as they get out, the crew is there to show them leaving the car. Why don’t people react to the cameras when they get in the car? Why don’t they give a destination? Why don’t they try to pay for the ride when it is over? Why isn’t there even a tablet on the dashboard for driving directions? People get in the car, buckle up, and Thomas John pulls away from the curb and into traffic. Within a minute or two he tells him that he is a medium who speaks to the dead and asks if they are “open to getting a reading from him.” At no time is there any conversation about the destination.

When two people got in the car together, they got into the back seat, but one always sat in the middle seat. Isn’t it more comfortable to sit next to the window? It’s a large town car, so why bunch up with the person next to you when you can move over to the side and have a seat in between? Is it possible sitting in the middle seat made it easier to see them on the camera?

The next thing I wondered was why the people looked so finished. They reminded me of characters in The Truman Show (1998). Their makeup, nails and hair were well done; their clothing was stylish yet still looked everyday. The clothing really looked odd because there were no logos anywhere. I looked purposefully for logos. Not even a small one on a shirt, no baseball caps, no t-shirts with clever slogans, no Nike swooshes. If you take a random sample of people in Los Angeles taking an Uber or Lyft, some of those people will have a sports team logo somewhere. Not with this group. I have heard that TV shows do not like you to wear anything on the set that has any kind of logo, so I was really starting to get suspicious.

The stories were pretty fanciful also. One was a woman who Thomas John had to kick out of the car because he saw, “200 dead people around her.” She said she was a mortician and wasn’t bothered at all when he told her to leave the car. Then there was a firefighter from 9/11 and a woman from New Jersey whose family had been in the mafia. Another woman’s father was a crossdresser and Thomas John said that he was seeing a man with hairy legs in women’s clothing and red panties. In episode 1 he asks a pregnant woman if she had been kidnapped; she nods yes and he says she could have been killed but an angel was watching over her. Then in episode 3 with a different woman, Thomas John asked if she had been kidnapped; she said yes and told the story of how she had been trafficked and sold all over the USA as a sex slave as a child.

People were crying all over the place as Thomas John got hit after hit—very specific hits with names, health issues, locations, and more. I was getting some tingles wondering what was going on. How was he so specific? The show claims in big letters at the beginning he has never met these people before. Would Lifetime lie about that? No way, that would be too much. What if they were found out? That would be so embarrassing for Lifetime and for Thomas John.

Then Wendy got in the car. Thomas John asked if he could hold something that belonged to her so he could get a stronger connection. Normally people give jewelry to the psychic to hold, but Wendy handed him her nametag from her workplace. As Thomas John held it in his hand, right in front of one of the cameras, it showed her full name and photo. Yep. I just paused the screen and looked at her name: Wendy Westmoreland. She was pretty easy to find on Facebook. The photo that was shown on the show of her brother, with whom Thomas John connected, is the same photo on her Facebook page.

I spent quite some time browsing around Wendy Westmoreland’s completely open Facebook page. She sure likes to take selfies, and she uploads a lot of photos. I found a post with a candle saying, “share if you have a brother in heaven also.” Then looking a little more, I found that Wendy is a part-time actor. Oh really? She shared a trailer of herself in a film called Stalked by a Doctor: Patient’s Revenge. I watched the trailer and there she was, a juror in the jury box. And then I noticed that Stalked by a Doctor was produced by Lifetime. Yep, the same producer of Seatbelt Psychic.

Then I went to her Facebook friend list and saw lots and lots of actors listed. I spent a couple of hours getting screen shots from Seatbelt Psychic and comparing them to her Facebook friends. I enlisted a few friends of mine, and I’m proud to say that I think we got some matches. Then I found a post about how Wendy just joined the actor’s union. And then it dawned on me: IMDb!

I looked up Seatbelt Psychic on IMDb and found that there was a cast for the show. Why would there be a cast? Other than the “random unsuspecting people” who are riders getting readings, it’s just Thomas John. He talks to the camera when he is alone in the car, but there is never anyone else.

Unless the “unsuspecting people” he gives rides to are all actors.

Looking over the IMDb link for episode 1 there are six actors listed, Lisa Cash, Curtis Kingsley, Tyrone Evans Clark, Jamaal Lewis, Kate Romero, and John Stellar. The photos for their IMDb profiles match up with the so-called unsuspecting people that Thomas John gave readings to. In case you are not aware of how IMDb works, I should mention that the actors listed on the show have to add themselves, kind of like a Wiki. Lifetime is not adding their names. This is why you only see six names besides Thomas John listed; the other actors have not signed into their IMDb accounts and added themselves.

I looked at the credits for Seatbelt Psychic and noticed that the actors aren’t listed but a casting director, casting producer, casting coordinator, and casting assistants are.

Why would Seatbelt Psychic need casting if there is only one person on the show?

Every episode states that “THOMAS JOHN has not met any of these people before” and that is entirely believable. These actors might have been told that they were going to go for a ride in a car and just to go along with it, then Thomas John gives them their individual readings possibly with the benefit of plenty of pre-show information supplied by their agents, managers, or Facebook pages.

Could it be what we are seeing isn’t acting but genuine reactions to the hits he is getting? Sure. Actors have feelings too, and they may be even more prone to burst into tears than anybody else who is being manipulated. That’s also believable. It’s possible these short car rides are actually much longer with more involved readings and discussions about family members, carefully edited down to include only the best of the best comments. That’s also probable.

What we do know is these people are not picked up on a random ride-share. They are known people before they even get near the car. Anyone who understands how hot reading works (the psychic has information about you before the reading happens), knows as long as the psychic knows who is going to be read, it’s an easy job to match the name and visual information, especially if you have a Hollywood headshot to refer to.

These actors have to fill out forms before they get in the car or on camera. There are then so many ways to get information on them. It only took me a couple of minutes on Wendy’s Facebook page to find an old family photo of her brother, his name, and that he had died. All things that Thomas John knew as well. Thomas John told actress Lisa Cash about her getting a new dog and that her other dog that had passed over had picked out this current dog for her. A minute on Lisa Cash’s Facebook page shows how much she loves dogs. At her age she probably has had several dogs that have “passed over.” I didn’t need any fancy information to find these people. I just used their first and last names, selecting the one from Los Angeles, and found others merely by focusing briefly on the “About” Facebook area that they are actors. Some are Facebook friends of each other and moving from one person’s account to another makes it quite easy to locate more of these “sitters.” Jamaal Lewis has a public fan page on Facebook where he posts all the time. I know he was a tuba player in high school, his birthday, and his family members, as well as all kinds of random bits of information.

If not enough info is gleaned from his page, I can just click on his mother’s Facebook page and scroll through that and keep following family members until I’ve got what I need.

As I stated at the beginning of this article, I had suspected that I would be spending hours going over the word play between Thomas John and the sitters. I expected to spend weeks on this project. It was quite a surprise to find that all I had to do was look on IMDb or the credits of the show to explain how it was that Thomas John was getting such precise hits. I completely overthought this whole thing when the answer was so simple.

They are all actors.

There are no unsuspecting passengers.

Reality shows are anything but what they claim to be. The only things that are real are often the conspicuous absence of any real script, plus there is no real acting, no real direction. As in most programming like Seatbelt Psychic, any real input happens in the editing room. We never see that. The sad truth is most viewers are only looking for entertainment, and this on-the-cheap style of production is as lazy as it is profitable.

If I overthink, it’s only because I’m a skeptic who takes the time to look for the truth. The average viewer simply identifies with the most morbid and salacious material being fed to them, then blithely goes back to their bowl of popcorn.

Don’t overthink.

Accept the obvious and sharpen your Occam’s razor.

Thank you to Stuart Jones, Mark Edward, and others for your help with the research for this article.

Susan Gerbic

Affectionately called the Wikipediatrician, Susan Gerbic is the cofounder of Monterey County Skeptics and a self-proclaimed skeptical junkie. Susan is also founder of the Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia (GSoW) project. She is a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and writes for her column, Guerilla Skepticism, often. You can contact her through her website.