Television producers have a long history of poking fun at those Americans who call the swamps, hollers and mountains home. Come to think of it, rednecks, crackers, hillbillies — pick your preferred insult — may be the last unprotected class in the country. They’re still fair game for public mockery.
Which is part of the reason why Animal Planet’s “Hillbilly Handfishin’ ” is such ticklish fun. Program hosts Skipper Bivins and Trent Jackson drop city slickers into Oklahoma’s muddy waters to teach them how to catch catfish with their bare hands and feet. The hosts appear to prefer models and “hot chicks” in wet clothes as guests, which is possibly where the interests of TV producers and rednecks intersect.
But this Sunday, “Hillbilly Handfishin’ ” will feature a pair of Frenchmen — chef David Barigault and waiter Michel Paccagnella from Bistrot du Coin — who will try their hand at catching fish. As the video above implies, the Frenchmen seem to have a hillbilly gene buried deep in their DNA.
Barigault heard from Bistrot du Coin’s general manager that “Hillbilly Handfishin’ ” was casting about for French guests. The GM had no interest in the opportunity himself, but Barigault couldn’t resist the call since he’s a regular viewer of Animal Planet.
“Things like that, you can’t wait on it. You have to do it,” Barigault says. “It’s Animal Planet. It’s not like ‘Fear Factor’ or crazy things like that. . . .This is going to be safe.”
“As soon as we watched David and Michel’s casting tape, we knew they would be larger-than-life characters,” noted Keith Hoffman, the show’s executive producer. “They are truly fish out of water in the middle of Oklahoma, and their carefree personalities and sense of humor really sold them for the show. David and Michel are the first international team to appear on Animal Planet’s ‘Hillbilly Handfishin,’’ so we were also curious if Skipper and Jackson would be able to understand their heavy French accents and vice versa.”
Barigault says that even though he was familiar with handfishing, he still found the actual practice difficult. He spent four days trying to capture the slimy fish. He grabbed one on the second day of shooting, but it wasn’t until the final day — after Jackson had sort of challenged his manhood — that the chef finally pulled a catfish from the muddy waters. He was exhilarated by the experience, he says.
“I’m really an inside guy. I don’t show too much of my emotions,” Barigault says. “But that feels good. . . . That was a very, very strong feeling.”
Such a strong feeling, in fact, that Barigault didn’t really notice the pain of the fish’s sandpapery teeth cutting into his hands. “It hurts,” he says. “The emotion is so strong, you don’t feel the pain anymore. . . . You only see the fish.”
Truth to tell, Barigault is not a fan of catfish. He doesn’t like the taste. So he was relieved that he didn’t have to cook his 15-pound catch for the show. What did he do with it?
“I gave it a big kiss and let it go,” he says.