One of the judges from Spike's new "10 Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty" calls Rick Dyer's assertion that he shot and killed a Sasquatch last year "completely worthless."
"Dude, I'm not going to take your word [for] it or your crappy picture. Show us real data," says Todd Disotell, a professor of anthropology at New York University who also runs NYU's Molecular Anthropology Laboratory.
Of course, Dyer's case is probably hurt by the fact that he was responsible for a Bigfoot hoax back in 2008, not to mention that he was a used car salesman before that and plans to go on tour with the now-stuffed body (which he says he shot in Washington, not San Antonio, as originally reported). "The second profit pops into science, science goes squiggly," concluded Disotell. "It's strange that he chose to have it taxidermied rather than have better-preserved live samples sent for testing," said Natalia Reagan, a primatologist who co-judges "Bounty" with Disotell and actor Dean Cain.
Disotell and Reagan bring years of lab and field research experience to the hunt for Bigfoot in the new series. Disotell established the terms for what would be considered definitive proof of Bigfoot so that Lloyd's of London would insure the $10 million stakes of the show.
The contestants are an assortment of Bigfoot hunters, or "Squatchers," along with survivalists, paranormal researchers, and ordinary hunters and trackers. Their different methods lead to conflict and sometimes even cooperation through various challenges designed for this particular kind of search.
The scientists likened visiting with the contestants to "a primatological study," according to Reagan, "where you see the coalitions form and the infighting and who's going to band together next week." But living with them also gave her a respect for their passion, and even though some of their theories were far-fetched, she was open to them. "[Science] is not static. It changes and adapts. It evolves. And so to hear their theories, maybe my take on things will change and evolve."
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The scientific rigor is what sets this show apart from most of the other Bigfoot shows that have been on TV. Part of Reagan's job was "to teach [the hunters] the correct collection protocol," so if something were found, it could be considered incontrovertible proof of Bigfoot's existence. She said Disotell "didn't test any sample that wasn't collected properly."
Real scientific methods were surprisingly compatible with the reality-show format. "It's exactly the same laboratory techniques and even field techniques that we use in my anthropological research. There's no difference. We collect scat, hair; we dart, trap. We do whatever to get a biological sample from primates in the wild and then try to figure out who they're related to. Are they something new?" Disotell says, "That's sort of the hunt for Bigfoot."
Conservation biology — the field that led Reagan to the disappearing forests of Panama to study spider monkeys — is ideal for the search because it studies endangered species that are also elusive. By using environmental DNA — "saliva when they take a bite off a tree," Reagan explains, or blood from a mosquito or a leech — and camera traps, which she calls "the TMZ of the natural world," the search for mythical creatures gains more real-world credibility.
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Disotell and Reagan are both familiar with using the media to further science education. Disotell has appeared on "Monster Quest" and "The Daily Show;" Reagan hosts a show called "Science! It's Your Friend" on YouTube. They're hoping that by being involved with a show meant as entertainment, they can impart some real information about science. "If you can trick people into learning something," says Disotell about a lesson he learned as a teacher, "they learn it much better than if you force-feed it to them."
"10 Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty" premieres Friday, Jan. 10 at 10 p.m. on Spike.