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‘Survivorman’ Bigfoot Edition: Fact, fiction, or fan-fiction?

Les Stroud vs. Sasquatch! Fake reality star vs. real fake!

Every February, to help celebrate Darwin Day, the Science section of AiPT! Comics cranks up the critical thinking for SKEPTICISM MONTH! Skepticism is an approach to evaluating claims that emphasizes evidence and applies the tools of science. All month we’ll be highlighting skepticism in pop culture and skepticism of pop culture.

Today we welcome biologist Scott Talarczyk to discuss a lesser-known reality show Bigfoot hunt, but one with the same amount of success as the rest.

I have a confession to make. It’s something of a guilty pleasure of mine that I think many people share but don’t want to admit. It’s something I’m willing to bet people do all the time but few have the courage to say they do it.

Yes, I wash my hands BEFORE going to the bathroom. If you think about it for awhile, it just makes sense. Oh, and I also love watching Bigfoot documentaries.

That’s right, I’m a Bigfoot fan. I love watching people stumble into the woods with their night vision goggles, head mounted selfie sticks, plaster cast buckets, motion capture cameras, and an endless amount of naivete — I mean wonder! So to that end I decided to review one of the more notorious shows available, Survivorman‘s Bigfoot season.

Before beginning, let me expound on a few tidbits I’ve picked up about Bigfoot over the years that I think are universal. It’s between 7 and 9 feet tall. It inhabits primarily undeveloped, deciduous forests. It smells bad. It has deep crooning calls and performs ceremonial wood knocks. It has a distinct, pronounced pressure ridge in the mid-tarsal region, also known as a mid-tarsal break.

Also, its skeleton disintegrates immediately upon death. Their scat disappears like hot dogs at a comic book convention. If anyone captures one on camera, their recording device loses 10 to 15 megapixels instantaneously. Their merchandise helps the tourism industry and profitability in multiple towns and cities.

Aired on the Science Channel in 2015, Survivorman star Les Stroud treks us through the British Columbia terrain in search of the elusive primate. If you’re unfamiliar with the show, the premise is: “No food, no shelter, no fresh water, no tools … no camera crew. One man – alone in the wilderness.”

The opening pans over the vast, beautiful landscape of Klemtu in British Columbia, followed by excerpts of natives telling tales of their encounters with the beast they refer to as Bukwas. It’s mentioned that hundreds of different names are known by many different cultures for Bigfoot, but it’s made clear that “it is here, and everyone knows it”.

This is a great opening as he immediately sets the table in a way that backs off any skeptic. Not by producing evidence of course, but by invoking the beliefs of the native peoples, there’s a sense of cultural sensitivity and spirituality involved. It’s kinda like when you get together with a group of people you don’t know too well and someone starts talking about their psychic adviser; you kinda have to shut the f*ck up.

Stroud starts off giving a few tracking techniques and general outdoors-man tips. He happens upon a few heaps of bear scat. Strangely, the evidence of bears existing was found easily enough. Stroud mutters something about the “stages” of accepting the existence of a species involving hearing stories, finding body parts, etc. He numbers them as if they were a part of the Scientific Method, although I’m pretty sure he’s just pulling them out of his ass. Evidently Bigfoot is still in stage one. Stroud states it’s exceedingly rare to find predator bones and that he’s never found a bear skeleton.

Later on he happens to find, and I sh*t you not, a fulling intact vertebra of what “we’re all guessing” is a sea lion.

Let’s unpack this discovery. First off, who’s we? I thought it was one man by himself in the wild. Secondly, the bones are pearly white and look like someone literally took the plastic skeleton from a high school biology class, removed the limbs, and tossed it on the bank of this lake. There’s no blood, tendons, flesh or anything that would indicate that this is a real carcass.  And third, he just said predator bones are exceedingly rare. I guess he meant terrestrial predators, as marine predators tend to die in abundance on land.

In the second act, Stroud starts off taking a plaster cast of God-knows-what as he continues his trek up the volcano in the highly dense forest. Did I mention he’s climbing a volcano? No? Well neither did he until now. I think he lost track of his own bullsh*t narrative.

At this point, Survivorish-man is setting up for the end game. He strategically places apples, makes wood knocks (he hits a tree with a stick), establishes a pee corner, plants audio recorders, and pulls out the high beam spot lights from his lakeside tent. As night falls, he executes more wood knocks and the stage is set. What matters now is the showdown between Stroud and the elusive Sasqua…   aaaaand it’s morning again. Nothing happened. Or did it?  Seemed uneventful, but what about those apples …?

Hey, did you know that the MARSIS (Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding) orbiter discovered sub-glacial lakes on Mars last year? I mention this not just to comically juxtapose a real scientific breakthrough in this review, but also to point out the irony that at the same moment in our technological history we can detect underground bodies of water on a planet 34 million miles away, we can’t find this big, smelly ape f*cker in our own backyard. I mean, sh*t. Anyways, let’s get back to a guy who I want to say actually ate a moose’s eyeball once.

 

Okay, so here comes Act 3, as Stroud sits in his half-way-up-a-volcano, lakeside tent. Interestingly, we get an update on the apples that were placed in front of a motion capture camera along with the sandwich. What sandwich? Sh*t if I know, he just brought it up. Of course equipment tends to malfunction in the presence of Bigfoot, so as soon as we knew of said sandwich, it mysteriously disappeared. Oh, and a f*cking bird ate the apple. The whole thing, supposedly, as it went missing. This sequence does prove something though. The name of the show should be Crazy Guy goes on a Picnic in the Woods.

The climax of episode one is Stroud claiming he heard a large tree falling over or some large rocks being thrown down the hill. He’s visibly shaken and claims if it were any other camp site, he’d just be amazed by the natural setting of the forest. He does a few more tree knocks while claiming that if he gets a response, he might have to evacuate before nightfall. Some decent acting by Stroud is backed up by an ominous score which did give me a real feeling that he was in danger — or perhaps, I just wanted to believe he was. By the end of the program I was admittedly ready for something to maul this guy.

Overall, the decent production value and presentation by Stroud does keep your attention, for the most part, throughout the episode. As with most of these types of shows, just seeing a beautiful, vast, and untouched landscape can be the real bright spot, and Survivorman has that in spades. They do a good job keeping the viewer on edge with stories of the Bukwas and reminding you that this is their territory. It can get a little too Blair Witchy at times, but if you’re a Bigfoot fan, it’s an acceptable entry to the genre, and worth an hour of your time.

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