It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of paranormal reality TV shows, for perhaps obvious reasons. And over the years, I’ve taken a lot of shots at them here in the blog. But in the interest of fairness, I felt that I had to come clean and admit to some guilty pleasures, as there are some paranormal shows that I do enjoy watching. Like…two shows. So with that in mind, I present to you the first of a series of articles on my guilty pleasures. First up: Finding Bigfoot. Keep in mind that I’m more comfortable admitting that I watch WWE programming (yes, professional wrestling) religiously than admitting to this, but I had to get this off my chest. (And of course, now that I’ve written this, I’m hearing rumors – which I cannot yet verify – that the cast just wrapped up filming their final season. Sigh.)
Finding Bigfoot is a show that has been controversial since day one, so much so that I didn’t even tune in when it premiered. Accusations flew almost immediately that the producers had enhanced (or flat-out faked) some of the alleged “evidence” that was collected during the filmed Bigfoot hunts. Not a good thing, and certainly not good when those allegations come from the stars of the show. Over the past few seasons, I’ve been very hard on the show, as I am with all paranormal reality shows, but once the ruckus caused by the fakery calmed down, I actually had the patience to give the show a serious try. And while I still had many, many criticisms, I actually discovered a few things I liked about it, things that I don’t really see in most of the other paranormal “reality” shows.
The cast is likeable: Well, for the most part. Sorry, Matt Moneymaker, you can be annoying at times. A lot of the time. Okay, most of the time. But even with your annoyances, you’re much more likable than practically any other “founder” or “lead investigator” on TV these days. Mr. Moneymaker may be an annoying know-it-all, but he doesn’t come off as a giant apathetic egomaniacal douche, or a giant egomaniacal douche who only exists to appeal to teeny boppers. But the rest of the cast is what makes the show palatable.
Cliff Barackman is a bright guy, witty, and he seems very sincere, genuine and likeable, even if his beliefs do tend to blind him at times. The same can be said for James “Bobo” Fay, for better or for worse. Bobo is just a big galoot that you can’t help but like. Again, too much of a believer for my tastes, and his critical thinking can be muddied by that most of the time, but if I could ever go Bigfoot hunting with one person in the cast, I’d want it to be with him. He just seems like a genuinely good guy with a great sense of humor, and also very knowledgeable.
Ranae Holland, the skeptic of the group, is the most relatable person on the show and just enough of a believer where you can get behind her skepticism. She wants hard, indisputable evidence, and until she gets that, she won’t be convinced. But just enough of her believes that something could be out there, and that’s the kind of healthy skepticism that we don’t see enough of these days.
The cast is real: Watch the show just once, and you will know immediately that these are real people with a real interest in Bigfoot. There are no frustrated actors here, no young airheaded starlets who can barely pronounce words they should know if they are “experts” in their field, no mimbos who answered a casting call and are desperate for any gig to get them away from their job as a waiter at Denny’s. Most paranormal shows these days can’t claim to have been on the air as long as Finding Bigfoot while not having succumbed to the “focus group curse,” where most of the main cast is excised and replaced by the aforementioned pretty faces in a blatant attempt at ratings.
Focus on eyewitness accounts: To me, this is one of the more interesting parts of the show. Frankly, I’ve had enough of ”investigators” tramping about and claiming paranormal experiences, while two cameramen, a boom mike operator, a producer and a director follow them around. I’m much more interested in hearing accounts from people who live in these areas and who have nothing really to gain by admitting to seeing something strange. And I like that the investigators go to the actual locations where these accounts took place in order to try to recreate the encounter and see how plausible it might be. Do other shows do this? They used to, to a lesser degree, and I wish they would do it more often.
Is this a perfect paranormal TV show? Far from it. It’s still a “reality show,” which means it’s pretty far from anything approaching reality. It is formulaic. It’s frustrating. I mean, why would a bunch of Bigfoot “experts” go around tramping through the woods, making loud noises, in an attempt to find a creature that they themselves describe as shy and elusive? It relies too much on audio evidence, most of which probably originates from known animals (and I know recently, one episode edited in a coyote howl because the “actual” evidence they heard was not picked up by microphones).
Editing and the quest for ratings will always make these shows subject to fake or enhanced evidence, scripted moments, and a skewing of reality in general. Most of the cast is far too eager to believe that eyewitnesses are telling the whole truth, or that an odd sound in the woods is Sasquatch and not just a deer or other local animal. While I have been impressed with how often they do debunk something or see plot holes in an eyewitness account, they still come off as far too gullible. But I do enjoy the show from a purely entertainment standpoint. And it’s also a good show to fall asleep to late on a Friday night…