Brian’s Corner: Eaten Alive

Dec 8, 2014
The Reptile Report
by Brian Barczyk

The Reptile Report - How did Brian Barczyk, star of SnakeBytesTV and founder of AnimalBytesTV, react to the sensational and controversial Discovery channel program about an anaconda eating a man?  It’s all right here, straight from Brian himself:

By now I would imagine that the majority of you know about the spectacle that Discovery channel aired last night called “Eaten Alive”. It was packaged as a show where “naturalist” Paul Rosolie would eventually be eaten alive by an Anaconda for science and conservation, whatever that means? From the start, when I heard about this I was very critical, mainly because of the sensational angle that the show was taking. Do we really need to have a human consumed by a snake in the name of conservation? And coming from a science background I can assure you there was no science to be gained by this stunt. But I was hopeful that perhaps this was going to surprise us all and be a powerful conservation message that was just packaged sensational to get people to watch.

At first I was calling for a boycott of the show, but as time neared I realized that boycotting the show was really not achieving anything. Millions and millions of people were going to watch regardless of whether myself and the few hundred people that followed my suggestion would join in my boycott. So, I decided I would take to twitter along with a few of my scientist friends and live tweet the truth during the broadcast of #EatenAlive. Let’s step back for one second and explain something about television and ratings. Some people were upset that I would give Discover channel my “view”. We have to first understand the Neilsen ratings system. You see ratings for television shows are based on what the chosen Neilsen families are watching. There are about 4000 families each year that apply and are eventually excepted that have Neilsen boxes on their television sets. The ratings for all television shows are based on what they watch. There is no way for the networks to monitor what you or me are watching. Some people think if they don’t watch a show it effects the ratings, but that’s just not the case. So, whether I choose to watch or not will not effect the ratings one iota! Now that we have that covered lets move back to the actual program.

Although I thought the sensational nature of the way Discovery channel promoted the show was terrible, I kept hearing that there was going to be an impactful conservation message here like none we have seen in resent history. I was at the ready on my twitter feed as the program began and hopeful that I would be able to champion some of the points that would be aired in this special. Was there a chance that by me promoting through my twitter feed it would help gain attention to this spectacle? Yes, but I felt that having someone that is an actual reptile expert viewing his points was better than sitting back and ignoring that it was happening. This was airing whether I wanted it to or not, so I might as well try to get the proper information out there if needed.

The show started and right off the bat I was concerned.. Within the first five minutes I heard the term “Apex predator” ten times. I tweeted that we needed to make this into a drinking game and take a shot every time we heard that term used, but I realized my followers would all be passed out within fifteen minutes. Still holding out for hope I continued on. My twitter feed was light speed as the show progressed. Hundred and hundreds of tweets, retweets and favorites were pouring in. In the six years I’ve been on twitter I have never seen anything like it. This show, good or bad, was generating a lot of interest and #EatenAlive was trending worldwide.

Sadly over the next 45 minutes there was still nothing but bad science, sensationalism and fancy camera angles building the drama of the search for the illusive giant anaconda. I really felt that Jennifer Lopez and Ice Cube were about to make an appearance any minute. This was truly more Hollywood than science. The unneeded crossing of a caiman infested pond, the explanation of the “killer” spider. Seemingly every animal in the jungles of the Amazon not only were killers, but man eaters!

It was at the 60 minute mark when finally we got our first 30 second commercial for anaconda conservation. Which I was happy to see, but still felt as if it was a way to try to validate the garbage I had been viewing the last hour. This was of course followed by some terrible commercials that were exploiting the show and I felt were totally inappropriate.

I could see where this was going within the first segment. They would build drama in search of a giant Anaconda, never actually find it and then spend the last segment faking the attempted human sacrifice. Sure enough we were graced with the continued failed attempt to find this urban legend of a 25 foot plus anaconda. At one point they did capture a 19 foot plus snake, but the sensational way they went about it certainly did not scream scientist, yet a group of actors looking to produce a high energy scene for a thriller. I also loved the fact when Paul snorkeled down and claimed to have grabbed a snake by the tail and proclaimed it to be in excess of 25 feet! Not surprisingly it got away… Go figure?

By now I was hundreds of tweets and thousands of interactions into this event. There was no hidden conservational message, and certainly no education happening in this show and the only thing left was the question ” was he going to be eaten by this snake”. Any snake expert knew the answer, but I was wondering how they would spin this nightmare.

After they finally gave up on finding the “monster” snake they headed back to base camp. I’m assuming this was somewhere that they could take a captive anaconda and attempt to make this feeding look as good as possible for the cameras. Paul suited up into what they claim was a “snake proof” suit of armor. Honestly, this looked more like something out of the movie batman rather than something that was supposedly put together by experts. My favorite part was when he refused to wear the leg protection and they claimed he could lose a leg if things went badly. Like there was ever a chance of that snake getting close to eating him. This show insults everything I have worked for my whole life.

Working with snakes for over 25 years and specifically anacondas in the past, I know that they are a finicky feeder and even if you starved it for long periods of time would not be interested in eating an adult human. Not to mention this protective suit would make it impossible for the snake to have any traction in working it’s jaws over this guys head. But sure enough just as I thought he had the snake wrapped around him. It was interesting that what we really were watching was just a series of camera angles of a snake moving around with dramatic music in the background. There were a few times the snake struck his arm, most likely from being provoked and man handled. These were defensive strikes,  not the bite of a hungry snake.
This ten minute scene culminated with the snake opening it’s mouth on the top of the helmet. Again, there is no way this snake had any chance of getting even 10% of that helmet in it’s mouth. All the while they were showing Paul’s heart rate, which I assume was fake as well, and showing their concern. I was only concerned about the snakes well-being and knew there was never any danger to this clown. Then it was over.. No man eaten, no conservation, no education.. a waisted opportunity to show the world something that could have made an impact on wildlife.

In the end the show was a major disappointment and furthers the reasons for the direction I have taken with AnimalBytesTV and trying to provide positive educational programs with a heavy focus on conservation. It’s more than obvious that the TV networks have no interest in these programs anymore and want to flood our airwaves with garbage sensational shows and feed us the line that they are based in conservation.

I’m sure millions of people watched last night and in the end the only message they took out of it was that snakes are man eaters and that Discovery had lied to them about the man being eaten. This was a miss opportunity to share knowledge with the world and open peoples eyes to not only the plight of the snake, but also the Amazon’s rainforest. My only hope it that we reached some people to hopefully make even the slightest difference.

We have a lot of work to do changing the culture of entertainment.. I hope you’ll join my in my quest to educate people about all amazing wildlife.

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