The summer of my Bigfoot obsession began with an episode of MonsterQuest on the History Channel, which had long since stopped showing shows about history. I was watching my niece—she was napping and I was half asleep on the couch. I heard a groan escape the television and crawl its way up my toes, my spine, my brain. The television identified the sound so I didn’t have to—Bigfoot, Sasquatch, the wild man of the woods.
I live in a wooded area, grew up camping and exploring the wilderness with my sisters, picking huckleberries beneath a canopy of pine. We looked for bears and snakes, never dreaming that what lurked in the shadows, particularly in the space between day and darkness, that particular almost black, was a Bigfoot. Maybe a family of them, just like us.
The summer I saw MonsterQuest I decided to cultivate this interest by reading and watching everything I could. I was fortunate—an age of reality television had produced a number of monster shows including Finding Bigfoot, an epic show in which a team of Bigfoot hunters explores an area in which Bigfoot are “known to live” and “have been recently spotted.” The team includes Matt Moneymaker, head of the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization, Cliff Barackman, a true believer with an interest in real evidence, James “Bobo” Fay, a wild haired believer who has long searched for Sasquatch, and Ranae Holland, the team skeptic.
Together they search out the monster, camping and calling out, hiking, using night vision goggles. They interview townspeople and Bobo plays the part of monster before cameras in an attempt to create an authentic recreation. They call people out. They believe when they shouldn’t.
In the eighteenth episode of the third season, called Bigfoot and the Redhead some teenagers riding go-karts claim to have filmed Bigfoot. The footage they present to the team so closely resembles the Patterson-Gimlin film that it appears immediately to be a kid in costume. It’s too correct, too perfect. There’s even a pole in their shots by which we’re asked to measure size. But the cast doesn’t assume that it is a hoax, questioning the kids and sending Bobo into the woods to do a reenactment. He’s bigger than what is clearly a teenager in a Halloween costume (like this one)—moving in a way consistent with reports of Sasquatch.
Some of the footage on Finding Bigfoot is compelling, but this is not an instance of it. I pick this episode to examine because it demonstrates a lot of things about human nature to me. First, I’m interested in how willing we (I say we because, over that summer and the ones to follow, I feel a distinct sense of comradery with the cast, whom I’ve never met) are to believe that this thing might exist. Show us some poorly executed proof, and we’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.
Next, I’m fascinated by the sense of trickery required to facilitate a Bigfoot hoax (the kids later admitted that they’d made it all up—the Bigfoot was smaller than Bobo because it was a teenager in a costume). This willingness to fool another is strange. I don’t know the intent—perhaps an attempt to make someone’s life better or more interesting by proving their belief correct. Or perhaps it is more malicious, born of a desire to make a fool of someone who’s belief is not your own. I don’t know what to believe.
For me, the show is so compelling because it addresses something I find fundamental—the need to believe in something that seems improbable. With the exception of Renae, the cast refuses to even acknowledge that Bigfoot might not exist. It isn’t even a belief they hold. Bigfoot is a reality, a fact. I’m thinking a lot about Bigfoot now, maybe because the show came back for a fourth season on November 10. It has staying power. For four seasons, I’ve watched the cast and crew look for something I’m not even sure exists. I’ve seen kids in costumes and monster stumps. But I want to believe. It’s what we all want.