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The $10 million Bigfoot bust

by Donald Prothero, Mar 05 2014

A few months ago, there was a big buzz of publicity for a new show on Spike TV called “The $10 Million Bigfoot Bounty”. As I described in my post shortly after it began, it was a cross between a typical competitive reality show in a rugged location (like “Survivor” or “The Amazing Race”), with a veneer of cryptozoology to give it a new twist. Originally, eight teams of two people were to compete for a $10 million bounty if they found good evidence of Bigfoot, and a $100,000 “research grant” as a consolation prize for the team that did the best even if they didn’t find  Bigfoot. The series was hosted by former “Superman” actor Dean Cain, and the judges were molecular anthropologist Dr. Todd Disotell and primatologist Natalia Reagan.

Well, the show finally aired its eighth and last episode (some of which can still be watched on the show’s website). If you were watching a few episodes and want to follow it to the end, I won’t reveal everything and spoil it for you. Suffice it to say that none of the teams were very competent, so the “winner” could have been just about any of the original groups of contestants, except for those who were so completely out of shape and unfamiliar with the woods that they dropped out after a round or two. And it should come as no surprise (since it taped last summer and there were no leaks of amazing discoveries) that no evidence of Bigfoot was found—not even close! Nobody won the $10 million bounty. Instead, the final competition hiking all around the Porcupine Mountains State Park on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan hinged on whether one of the two teams didn’t bicker all the time—since the “evidence” both teams obtained was worthless. In the teaser for the episode, Disotell says they each got primate DNA! And then, after commercial, he finishes his sentence and says that it was human DNA (probably from the “hunters” themselves).

Most of the show was a complete waste of time, with the usual squabbling between teams that spices up such competition “reality shows”, and lots of footage of people doing stupid things in the woods. The bulk of each episode consisted largely of showing how this group of “squatchers” were complete incompetents when it comes to field biology and hunting and woodsman’s skills. Most blundered around the forest, talking loudly, fighting with their teammates, and getting nothing except lost. (I pity the many poor cameramen who had to follow these clowns around without snickering). None exhibited any real knowledge of wildlife and what signs real animals leave behind, so every sound, every trackway, ever pile of scat, and every fibrous substance was called “Bigfoot evidence”—even when the “hair” turned out to be moss. In an early episode they were convinced that the call of the barred owl was a Bigfoot call, and in the last episode, they claimed that a perfectly normal loon call was a Bigfoot call. (Apparently, the call need only be spooky and unfamiliar to these non-biologists and it immediately is labeled “Bigfoot”). Every possible impression in the ground was labeled a “Bigfoot track”, and then they poured plaster into it and got nothing that could be used.  Again and again, they got samples of scat that looked like perfectly normal bear, deer, or other large mammal poop—and again and again, it came back with no DNA or no primate DNA. They were taught how to trap mosquitoes for possible blood samples of Bigfoot—and then proceeded to fill their sample vials with mosquitoes that had bitten one of them. They walked around with expensive night-vision goggles and infrared cameras—and each time, the “hot spot” that they called Bigfoot turned out to be another team of “squatchers” or possibly a bear—at best, a “Blobsquatch”.  And every time they found trees bent down or broken off, it was attributed to Bigfoot—not natural processes like wind or heavy snow or rotten trunks.
Some of the procedures were truly bizarre. Some of the “squatchers” rub feces or urine on themselves to “disguise their scent”. Another one insists on eating scat, ants, and licking banana slugs. Many of the “squatchers” claimed that Bigfoot was attracted to fire, and kept building bonfire after bonfire each night. One of the contestants brought a toy light saber and whirled it around at night, hoping that Bigfoot would be curious and investigate.  In one episode, an all-male team used the all-woman team as “bait” and hoped that the women were “on the rag” to attract Bigfoot. According to this team, “They don’t know it, but Bigfoot ain’t nothin’ but a hairy ho woods pimp. And so we needed some hos out there, and that’s what we did.” In another sequence,  the “squatchers” claimed they were using “Sasquatch pheromone chips,” which consist of  “a mixture of human vaginal secretions mixed with chimpanzee vaginal secretions.” Several carried recordings of supposed “Bigfoot calls” to bring them out (or made their own calls). Others scattered blood or other foul materials on their trail in hopes that the scent would draw Bigfoot (surprisingly, it didn’t bring any bears, probably because each “hunter” was so noisy). The strangest of all was a team on the final episode which brought along a toy baby doll called “Baby Huey”, with a recorded baby’s cry inside, stuck it in a hollow in a tree. Then they scattered blood all around before setting their camera traps. Just like the many contradictory accounts of what cryptids look like, there is an equally imaginative and ridiculous set of beliefs out there about how a non-existent creature behaves.

Alison Edwards of Skeptoid has provided a hilarious run-down of each episode. As she posted:

We get a new scat theory during the Evidence Review! Team Dudebro argues that the reason no one finds Bigfoot scat is because … wait for it … because, what if maybe Bigfoot scat looks like all the other scat out there, and so everyone keeps overlooking it? Hey, it’s as good an explanation as any for why all that scat they’ve collected hasn’t amounted to anything. Then Stacey of Team Dudebro tries to justify his baby trap by saying, ”When ten million dollars is on the line, I’m pulling everything out of the bag I have.” That isn’t your bag you’re pulling things out of, Stacey. Finalty, it’s time to reveal the results: no one found any verifiable. Bigfoot DNA or anything else even close to being worthy of the 10 million prize. Team Dudebro, however, is able to walk away with the booby prize — I mean, the $100,000 research grant. I hope they spend it all on vaginal secretions and cow blood. I will say this: Team Dudebro truly did embody the Squatcher mentality. They were totally invested in the hunt in a way the other teams weren’t, by which I mean they not only knew all the bullshit theories but they also were perfectly willing to put each stupid one of them to the test, not to mention mock, deride, use, and backstab as necessary to find their fantasy ape. Does that make them the best scientists? No , but I guess it does make them the paragon of Squatching. So congrats, Squatchers. These fine fellows are representing for the community. Be proud. Or nauseous.

As Daniel Loxton and I pointed out in our book Abominable Science, this is the prevailing problem with all of cryptozoology: amateurism in the worst sense of the word. Most of the “squatchers” not only don’t know the basics when tromping through the woods, but have no real training in field biology, so they constantly mistake any unfamiliar sound or sighting or other sign for Bigfoot. Instead of making the proper scientific assumption that “this is unfamiliar; therefore I must find out what it is, and look at many possible explanations”, they make the usual mistake of the sham scientist: “this is unfamiliar; therefore it must be explained by supernatural things like Bigfoot, UFOs, aliens, or ghosts”. Nearly every “find” they make is treated as if it can’t be a natural product of a known animal, and therefore must be Bigfoot. As we showed in our book,  a survey of the “Bigfoot sightings” literature reveals largely a long parade of “I don’t know, therefore ‘Bigfoot'”.  The other side of this is a telling observation: trained wildlife biologists (who spend a lot more time in the woods than the amateur “squatchers”) never find evidence of Bigfoot—because they are competent and know how to recognize scat and animal calls, and also because they operate with the assumptions of scientists, not sham scientists.

About the only redeeming feature of this show (compared to most of the garbage on cable TV that presents the paranormal as real) was the judges, especially Dr. Todd Disotell. After an entire episode of amateurish bumbling and idiocy, the teams each had to present their evidence and justify why they think it’s important. Since none of the evidence ever pertained to Bigfoot, it revealed an amazing window on their bizarre thought processes. Episode after episode, they finished with Disotell calmly but firmly saying what their DNA actually showed. Disotell and Reagan tried again and again to clearly outline what constitutes scientific evidence, explain the importance of careful collection procedures, and why they needed really good evidence to meet the challenge. Instead, the contestants bitched about how unfair the judging was, as each team dropped out, one team at a time, through the entire 8 episodes.  I don’t know if the amateur “squatchers” and believers out there really got this message about science and evidence (especially since the show itself was extremely credulous, bragging about how many “sightings” had been reported in each area), but at least the scientific evidence wasn’t ignored completely as in most paranormal TV shows.

However, if the information about the ratings is accurate, not that many people found the show compelling, or else they hated the loss of mystery when scientists shot down the “evidence” in each episode. For whatever reason, the show didn’t do well in the ratings, with nearly every other show in its time slot beating it, so don’t expect another season of “The $10 Million Amateur Hour”. I sure won’t miss it.

3 Responses to “The $10 million Bigfoot bust”

  1. Ed Graham says:

    If they were looking for Mermaids, I might watch.

  2. Chad Spurling says:

    My boys watched “Finding Bigfoot” for a few episodes after we got satelite T.V. We have been in the woods enough, hunted enough, to know that they aren’t going to find anything. With all the hunters and outdoorsman in the woods in the places these people are going, somebody would have bagged one of these things if they were real.

  3. Oneyearmuse says:

    Thought I’d share this with you all, quite funny in places. It always amazes me when they find a single print, does Bigfoot only have one leg ;) or does he hop a lot. I’m not a scientist but I definitely have basic common sense, it just beggers belief the stuff they come out with.

    Hope you guys can access BBC iplayer: