Between his impassioned belief in an undiscovered monkey and a surname which conjures some cheesy, as-seen-on-TV self-help guru, you may expect insincerity, maybe even fakeroo-ness, in the personality of Matthew Moneymaker, the lead host of Finding Bigfoot on Animal Planet.
As you tune in, episode upon episode, warmly enshrouded in your sasquatch-themed fleece throw and hanging on every moment of the best bigfoot programming¹ available to the basic cable subscriber, you may be waiting for Moneymaker to slip up and reveal his true, deceitful nature. Perhaps you think you can detect in him a showman’s guile— something of the carnival barker, or Old West flimflam artist— and you are waiting to be proven right. Maybe you think of Moneymaker as little more than a man wearing a trenchcoat festooned with wristwatches of dubious functionality and origin.²
If you’ll pardon the pun: you may think a scam is afoot.
But you are wrong, I think, and none of that is true, I would argue. Moneymaker, despite the outlandishness of his claims about an undiscovered North American primate (and the probable accuracy of his last name as on-camera talent on a hit show) is absolutely, positively serious about what he says. Moneymaker 100% believes in the existence of bigfoot— and he wants you to believe it, too.
Of this (if nothing else) I am certain.
In fact, so sincere is this belief that (as I pointed out in my last recap) even his appearance has changed over time, becoming ever shaggier and more wild, as if his very features were devolving into physical evidence of the cryptid in whose veracity he has poured so much of his life-force.
Which is why some of the over-produced, smoke and mirrors, “THERE’S SOMETHING IN THOSE BUSHES OMG!!” stuff that the producers concoct grates so much.ᶾ I truly think there is a gem of a serious program within the raw material of Finding Bigfoot, just waiting to be unearthed, and it is at least partially comprised of Matthew Moneymaker’s puffy-faced zeal. And this past Sunday’s episode was a sterling example of why I think that.
To recap: the team is visiting Florida because a well-known bigfooter named Stacy Brown Jr. invited them. Specifically, he invited them to Myakka River State Park, host to a number of recent squatch reports/sightings. In the SUV, Ranae talks about the environment of central Florida (more on Ranae being scientific later) while Matt and Cliff discuss the term “skunk ape,” the name for bigfoots ‘round these here parts.
Right off the bat they go on a night investigation with Stacy, where nothing much happens, except Bobo saying: “There’s these rich millionaires all over the world buying yachts and going to Aspen, Cabo, St. Lucas… and they could get a swamp buggy and drive around with a therm and REALLY live. You can’t get no better.” No you cannot, Bobo. No you cannot.
So the team holds their usual “town hall meeting”⁴ at a local rodeo grounds, which attracts a decent crowd of local “rednecks” (Bobo’s descript., not mine) who as Bobo points out, “…are outdoorsmen, hunters, fishermen… a lot of potential bigfoot witnesses.” And sure enough, every hand in the place goes up to rap about ‘squatch. Of these, three are selected for follow-up: two father-son combos, and a craggy-faced dude named Jeff.
Father-son combo #1 meets with Bobo, and their interview is actually pretty adorable. They look like the dorky-nature-lover redneck varietal rather than the off-roading-while-drunk one, and they had gone so far as to build a little footbridge to aid the team in reaching the sighting location. I think their encounter was mostly fabricated by the father in an effort to bond with his sire over something thrilling… but hey, if that’s what it takes to keep the boy out of redneck juvie for a few more years? You do you, pops.
Meanwhile, Matt and Ranae meet with craggy-faced Jeff, and that interview is where things get fun.
Jeff claims to have seen Bigfoot not three days ago, 20 meters away from him, while on a walk. He reports having said “Hey” to it before it disappeared into the woods. As they begin recreating the scene, Ranae gets into the weeds (literally) about the sighting and begins asking stickler questions, like: why would the bigfoot walk through the underbrush and foliage instead of the path of least resistance, a game trail, that would have more quickly put it out of line-of-site? Jeff answers: “Game trails are used for casual movement by animals that are not feeling threatened. When they feel threatened they are going to seek cover as quickly as possible. I’ve seen this with deer and hogs…” To which Ranae replies: “Well one thing to take into account with your theory is those are prey animals not predators. And bigfoot would be a predator, so. My fifteen years of doing field work in Alaska with brown bears, which I would assume have a somewhat similar relationship with humans— I mean, they’re an apex predator, but they don’t wanna be close to people— is they actually do use game trails.”
After Ranae says this, Matt looks like he has been slapped directly in his furrowed-brow face, and at his next alone-on-camera he retorts: “Ranae claims to be a bear expert, but I AM a sasquatch expert, and I can tell you bears and sasquatches have completely different interactions with humans… sasquatches are highly intelligent, and they’ll use their intelligence to throw people off their trail.”
Such back-and-forth debate is a hugely refreshing change of pace. Too often F.B. seems like it’s trying to convince the audience, rather than acting as an impartial forum for the weighing of relevant evidence. Every show needs its Simon Cowell butthole-contrarian, and on Finding Bigfoot that contrarian is the (not really butthole, actually pretty patient and nice) Ranae.
…who continues the firefight when she, Matt, and Bobo meet with Father-son combo #2, who bring to the powwow some video and still images they had recently captured of medium-sized brown blobs in a field. Matt and Bobo make much of the media, as well as the fact that there were dead and broken-legged hogs around that day, theorizing that sasquatches will often Tonya Harding-style⁵ snap the legs of their prey and return later. About this Ranae says: “Mike commented on finding all these pigs with broken or missing front legs. Immediately Matt and Bobo are thinking, ‘That’s a sasquatch,’ breaking their legs so that they can’t run away… whereas I believe it could easily be an alligator, because alligators are real animals.” Ouch, girl.
Ranae is not always so aggressive, and it is a wonder to behold. It acts as a needed balance to the brash credulity of Matt, Cliff, and Bobo. A dialectical exchange between convinced parties makes for far better television than CGI bigfoots⁶ and sudden explosions of horror movie music.
At episode’s end, in his final voiceover summary, Matt offers a ecstatic review of everything that happened in Florida, all but declaring a couple of noises heard during their final night investigation to be incontrovertible proof of a new species… as usual.
But all that the episode proved to me is that Gigantopithecus has strong and faithful allies, something I already knew.
Maybe what it really needs, out there in the swamps, is an equally strong foe.
¹Which you do in order to better enjoy these recaps, of course.
² Except those hot watches are even hotter little bigfoots!
ᶾPart of the show’s amped-up style is a truly awful, arguably the worst in the world, CGI bigfoot.
⁴Always love that they call their bigfoot meetups “town hall meetings,” as if they were discussing a water bill or music education initiative.
⁵Only the timeliest of references for MY recaps!
⁶Seriously: the worst.