(Updated below with new statements from Discovery and PETA)
Note to Discovery Channel: When you call a show “Eaten Alive” and hype it as a dude getting, um, eaten alive by a giant snake…you might want to make sure, you know, that it actually happens.
Because on Sunday night’s two-hour spectacle, it didn’t. And viewers were pretty mad.
The guy in question (conservationist/snake expert Paul Rosolie) panicked when the snake started to put its mouth around his head and began to crush his arm, so he frantically called for his team to shut down the whole operation. They did, and a group of experts rushed in to pull Rosolie out of the snake’s grasp. This was to the dismay of many viewers, who tuned in and expected more grisly action, leading to tweets like these:
“Super disappointed in this Eaten Alive show.. I just sat here for two hours to see a snake lick the top of this dudes head,” tweeted another.
But really, who are we kidding? Any buzz is good for ratings, and therefore, Discovery is likely perfectly fine with the outcome. For those who missed it: Discovery, jazzed about its ratings for other live, death-defying stunts, billed the two-hour “Eaten Alive” special as something pretty spectacular. Rosolie would hunt in the Amazon for a deadly anaconda; don a special protective suit; bathe himself in pig’s blood to attract the animal; and be consumed (and maybe regurgitated?) by the aforementioned snake for everyone’s viewing pleasure.
Of course, it made tons of headlines and PETA immediately condemned the act, even though Rosolie insisted the whole stunt was to draw attention to preserving the Amazon. The special was pre-taped, and the network assured that both Rosolie and the snake — who has the capability to regurgitate food it doesn’t like — would make it out alive.
Still, it was pretty highly-hyped: “On ‘EATEN ALIVE’…naturalist and wildlife filmmaker Paul Rosolie enters the belly of an anaconda in a snake-proof suit,” reads the Google description under Discovery’s Web site when you search for the show, which of course is false. In a press release, however, the network was more cautious, saying “Rosolie’s goal was to persevere through the constriction and potential ingestion deep into the belly of the beast.” (Emphasis is ours.)
Viewers may have noticed something was up when first 90 minutes of the special was all about Rosolie’s team’s hunt for a killer 25-foot anadonda that Rosolie spotted years ago on another Amazon expedition. He really wanted to try to get eaten alive by that creature, which he thinks is the largest snake in the world. But it didn’t pan out, so the team was forced to use a back-up snake.
If that wasn’t a foreshadowing for the disappointment to come, well, you are probably not familiar with the disappointing expectations of reality television. The only snake-eating action was in the last 10 minutes, when Rosolie approached the snake in the water. The anaconda — nearly 20-feet long and terrifying — circled around him and then started to constrict. Rosolie was fine at first, and then we got a crazy picture (via Rosolie’s helmet camera) into the snake’s throat.
All of a sudden, Rosolie started to freak out because the snake was crushing his arm. “Are you okay?” one of his team members asked through the headset, a question that also was mocked on Twitter.
No, Rosolie was not okay, and the team had to rush in and rescue him. And that was it — though Rosolie promised at the end of the special that his hunt for the largest snake in the world still isn’t over.
So, yeah, pretty disappointing cliffhanger. On the 15-minute “Discovery News” special afterwards, the host asked Rosolie about the negative reaction from animal supporters about putting a snake through all that stress, though he didn’t bring up people’s disappointment that he was still…alive. Several tweets scrolled through the bottom of the screen as some people noted it was a fascinating thing to see on TV.
And then there were lots who still felt cheated by the lack of snake digestion:
UPDATE, Monday at 12:45 p.m.:
Discovery Channel released a statement about the lack of eating and regurgitation of Rosolie:
Paul created this challenge to get maximum attention for one of the most beautiful and threatened parts of the world, the Amazon Rainforest and its wildlife. He went to great lengths to send this message and it was his absolute intention to be eaten alive. Ultimately, after the snake constricted Paul for over an hour and went for his head, the experiment had to be called when it became clear that Paul would be very seriously injured if he continued on. The safety of Paul, as well as the anaconda, was always our number one priority.
And PETA has also weighed in on the dangers of the whole debacle:
Last night, despite protests by conservationists, biologists, herpetologists, and decent people everywhere who oppose the abuse of wildlife, the Discovery Channel aired the inexcusable torment of a captured wild green anaconda and several other snakes. The animals were removed from their water habitat and transported to a filming location, and the chosen snake was deceived into using her precious energy reserves to constrict a human being pretending to be a pig, all for a publicity stunt.
Under natural conditions, anacondas go weeks and even months between meals, eating only when necessary for survival and expending the tremendous amount of energy required to attack, constrict, and consume large prey only when the payoff outweighs the risk. Paul Rosolie and his crew put this snake through undeniable stress and robbed her of essential bodily resources. She was forced to constrict and then not allowed to eat.
Study after study has shown that entertainment features such as this one that show humans interfering with and handling wild animals are detrimental to species conservation. Rosolie knows this. Discovery knows this. Yet they chose to contrive and air this shameful stunt for ratings anyway.