Sunday night, the Discovery channel aired a special called "Eaten Alive" wherein snake expert Paul Rosolie was supposed to be, you know, eaten alive by an anaconda. Viewers were ticked off when the two-hour-long special ended with Rosolie bailing out as soon as the snake started to squeeze his arm, leading to his swift removal from the anaconda whose belly he was meant to explore on camera.
But while some viewers were annoyed by the bait-and-switch nature of the program, most snake-lovers were angered by the very premise of the show.
"When I heard about the planned special, my initial impression was that the Discovery channel could not possibly stoop any lower and this was surely the death blow to nature programming on television," said David Steen, a wildlife ecologist at Auburn University who specializes in snakes.
Steen watched the program, but only so he could follow along with real science for the show's viewers on Twitter.
The Discovery Channel has been pushing the special as a promotion of anaconda conservation — a way of showing the world how majestic the animals are, and urging viewers to help protect them. But Steen wasn't convinced.
"I just cannot understand how anyone can claim a show like this would support anaconda conservation," Steen said. "So many people are already irrationally afraid of snakes, I don't understand how trying to make one eat you will help their reputation or their conservation."
And while Rosolie (who didn't respond to request for comment) has told the media that the snake was well looked after and is in good health, the fact remains that she was force-fed a meal that could have injured her — and for an experiment that carried no scientific merit.
While it's possible for a very large snake to eat a human, there are no accounts of Green Anacondas doing so. Rosolie was covered in a carbon-fiber suit to protect him from the snake's crushing power, and coated in pigs blood to make him more appetizing.
But even though snakes are great at regurgitating their meals, swallowing something as large as a grown man — and one covered in a hard protective suit — would have put the snake at risk of choking, both while swallowing her dinner and throwing it back up.
If the aim had been to get a unique look at the digestive processes of a giant anaconda, there would have been much safer and simpler — though less gimmicky — way to do so: A camera stuck on an actual pig, for starters.
And Steen believes that the snake, while she may not have been harmed, was probably in distress when Rosolie managed to get his head into her mouth.
"My impression of the snake's interaction with Paul Rosolie was that the snake was striking in self-defense, not because it was attempting to eat him. The situation was probably stressful at best for the snake," he said. "I just did not feel that the snake wanted any part of this and I was sorry that it was on television."
In an interview with the Telegraph, even Rosolie seemed to admit that the snake was biting defensively — not trying to make a meal of him.
"When I went up to the snake, it didn't try to eat me right away," Rosolie said. "It tried to escape. And when I provoked it a little bit, and acted a little more like a predator, that's when it turned around and defended itself."
That anaconda don't want none unless it's actual food, hon.
So at best, this would have been kind of cool. At worst, it would have ended with a snake choking to death on a conservationist who'd suffocated inside her. And that's television, folks. This seems to be another nail in the coffin for Discovery, whose "science" programming seems to have gone the way of Shark Week year round.