Hello again, Brothers and Sisters of the Psychotronic Video World. Now, when I’m stuck pushing papers at my desk at my “real” job, I like to have a playlist of podcasts to listen to, to pass the time and keep my brain from atrophying as I fight my way through the joylessness of being a paralegal for a foreclosure law firm. My favorite podcast for this purpose is MonsterTalk, the science show about monsters. In each hour-long episode, skeptical monster-enthusiasts Blake Smith, Ben Radford and Dr. Karen Stollznow examine the intersection between science and folklore as they apply to monsters; from the imaginary (an episode on Cthulhu is one of the most popular they’ve done) to the real (an excellent examination of scabies mites and the disease mange, the cause of all those Chupacabra sightings in Texas) and especially those that toe the line – Bigfoot, Nessie, Chupacabras, Mothman, and many others. Each episode involves interviewing a guest expert on the subject at hand, usually the author of a recent book on the subject. And let me just say, my Amazon.com wishlist gets a little longer with each episode. These aren’t the “Finding Bigfoot” guys – these are historians, anthropologists, biologists, serious theologians, and other luminaries examining evidence and weighing in, with a good dose of fun and humor as well (a faux-interview with the Krampus in one holiday episode concluded with the Krampus identifying Dan Aykroyd as his favorite movie monster).
In the most recent episode of MonsterTalk, their guests were Dr. Todd Disotell, a molecular primatologist at NYU and a fairly regular guest on the show, and Natalia Reagan, a field primatologist involved in the conservation of spider monkeys. In addition to these roles, Dr. Todd and Natalia are acting as science experts and judges on a new reality show on SpikeTV, “The 10 Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty.” Upon learning from the interview that the show would lean heavily in favor of actual science over a bunch of fat idiots running around in the woods at night going, “It’s squatchy up in here,” I knew I had to check it out. The first episode aired this past Friday on SpikeTV, but as I don’t have cable in my apartment, I ended up having to wait and catch it streaming.
The show itself is built around a simple enough premise. Nine teams of two contestants, a mix of hunters, wildlife photographers, and yes, “Squatchers,” compete for a $10 million grand prize. To claim the prize, they have to bring in solid evidence of Bigfoot’s existence as an as-yet undiscovered primate species living in the Pacific Northwest. And by evidence, I don’t mean claiming, “I saw some poop on the ground and it was Bigfoot’s,” Dr. Todd and Natalia are holding the contestants to the same standards of evidence they would hold their own colleagues in their respective fields. Dr. Todd’s genetics lab has proven the existence of four types of apes (a new subspecies of chimpanzee, a new subspecies of gorilla, and two species of Mangabey) and has also tested dozens, if not hundreds of claimed samples of Bigfoot hair and scat to determine if they did originate with a previously-unknown large primate. If anyone can determine that a DNA sample is unequivocably that of an anomalous ape, it is him, and for the show he’s been outfitted with an incredibly state-of-the-art mobile genetics laboratory to test anything the contestants bring him.
Now, you know me, readers. I love me some Bigfoot, but to tell the truth I do not believe there’s anything of the sort out there. Between the fact that most of the seminal Bigfoot cases have been proven to be hoaxes or at least practical jokes, and that as camera technology has improved and human activity in forests all over the world have increased, sightings of Bigfoot have become rarer and the quality of photographic evidence has declined unbelievably, the evidence simply isn’t there to suggest that a giant hairy protohuman is wandering America. I can’t remember the last time I owned a camera without autofocus; how hard do you have to work to get blurry indistinguishable photos these days?
As such, and given the sheer quantity of garbage gullible pseudoscience on TV nowadays between “Finding Bigfoot” and “Ancient Aliens” (there’s no man on Earth I want to give an atomic wedgie to more than Giorgio Tsoukalos) and the likes, “The 10 Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty” is a breath of fresh air. It’s not wholly skeptical; the wailing cry of an animal in the forest is given no other explanation then a contestant shouting “that’s the sound of Sasquatch!” for example, but overall the amount of actual scientific methodology and critical reasoning that made it to the screen is truly impressive. Even more enjoyably, Dr. Todd and Natalia don’t hesitate to tell it like it is; as Natalia notes, her professional reputation is on the line; she can’t pat the contestants on the back and say good job if they haven’t earned it. Dr. Todd, in addition to having a kickass mohawk and an inspiring CV, has a delightfully acerbic attitude and dry wit. When faced with the following whopper:
Dr. Todd’s only comment was to note that, while Justin claimed his “sample” tested as a “feral caveman human,” there’s no DNA marker for “feral” — “a feral human is a human, and if his story’s true he’s a murderer.”
This first episode opened with a challenge; each team had to use an air-powered dart rifle to collect DNA samples from wildlife in thelocale they were in, to prove they could do so; following this, the teams were sent out into the woods for an all-night hunt for evidence of Bigfoot’s presence in the vicinity – a site where more than 50 Bigfoot sightings have been reported in the last half-century. The team that brought back the least convincing, or at least, the least testable, evidence would be sent home. In the course of the hunt, we’re treated to some real kickers, including a team mistaking moss on a tree for Bigfoot hair, a team using a toy lightsaber to try and kindle Bigfoot’s curiosity and lure him in, a team claiming that evidence of elk in the area was proof that Bigfoot had a food source, and my favorite, a team that came back to base camp with nothing, not so much as a single bent blade of grass, and then having the chutzpah to say that they’re the only honest team and weren’t going to waste time with weak claims of evidence.
As this is a reality TV show, there are of course eliminations, and one team was given the big boot home. I can only imagine how agonizing the decision over which team to send home was for host Dean and scientists Dr. Todd and Natalia; quite frankly, I’d have trouble deciding between half the cast over who to eliminate this week, because everything they brought in was crap – in several cases quite literally. There’s a lot of poop in this show; including one contestant putting some in his mouth to disguise his scent and another literally rubbing elk feces in his hair for the same reason.
Episode 2 airs tomorrow night at 10 pm and I’m so syked up for it. I’m normally not a TV kinda guy – I don’t get sucked into shows, but I’m hooked on the 10 Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty. And I think that’s damn high praise.