On the Discovery Channel Sunday night, we witnessed a simple man with a dream.
Paul Rosolie, an aggressively handsome man with a burning desire to feed himself to a serpent, ventured deep into a mysterious part of the Amazon to try and find a very large snake he said he had met years before. Not content with the path Steve Irwin and other naturalists and documentarians have carved, Rosolie wanted to be the first human to be eaten by a snake and document the process.
Rosolie's dream is a 2014 take on the moon landing, with more anacondas and camouflage, but no moon.
The result was a 2-hour special called Eaten Alive which kicked off Discover's "Mega Week," an extravaganza dedicated to the massive creatures of the world. Here are 10 questions you might have about how a man gets eaten alive by a green anaconda...but lives to tell about it.
1. Did a man actually get eaten alive?
After donning a special suit and wading through the Peruvian rainforest — a place called the "Floating Forest"— for 60 days, Rosolie says that he fulfilled his fantasy of being eaten by a snake earlier this year.
But despite Rosolie's and Discovery's insistence on calling what happened to him "eaten," Rosolie wasn't actually eaten alive by an Amazonian monstrous beast. The way most of us would define eaten would be for Paul to have been swallowed up and cut out of the snake's belly. This did not happen.
Rosolie was constricted, sure, but then he was, well, aggressively bit and maybe tasted. He was not swallowed whole. Nor did his encounter with the snake resemble any kind of eating.
The process also looked a bit like Rosolie was harassing the snake:
And another shot of Rosolie being "eaten":
2. Did he die?
No. He's still alive.
3. What kind of snake did Rosolie want to feed himself to?
Rosolie fed himself to a green anaconda (Eunectes murinus) — a non-venomous constrictor that's considered the largest and heaviest snake species. Reticulated pythons are longer.
But it isn't just any green anaconda, Rosolie wants us all to know. In a Captain Ahab-ish recollection, he says he once encountered a giant green anaconda, the biggest he's ever seen, and grabbed onto it. It allegedly dragged him and several men down into the depths of the water, and he had to let go.
4. How can a snake eat a person?
Anacondas' top and bottom jaws can work independently from each other. So Rosolie says that, in theory, those jaws could pry far enough apart to consume an entire adult male. The acid in the snake's gastrointestinal track can break down muscle, bone, and even teeth, so Rosolie's plan was to get eaten by the snake, then have the snake spit him back out before he was digested.
However, his plan was totally foiled by two big problems:
- Rosolie could not find the snake he had spent 10 years pining after.
- The snake he had access to was simply too small to eat him whole.
"It is extremely rare for a human to be eaten by a snake. However, there are some hunter-gatherer societies in the Philippines that may be attacked and killed relatively frequently by Reticulated Pythons. The key word here is 'relatively', for example I believe there were six fatal attacks recorded over about 40 years," Dr. David Steen, a wildlife ecologist at Auburn University, told Vox. "Humans are larger than most snakes can safely eat."
That was obvious in the last five minutes of the show, as Rosolie struggled on the ground, enwrapped by the body of the snake, as it futilely tried to eat his head.
I guess calling this "Getting Squeezed Really Hard" didn't sound as enticing. #EatenAlive
— Bobby Frasor (@BFrasor) December 8, 2014
5. Why is Discovery doing this?
While Discovery Channel has traditionally been known as educational, it and its sister networks have, more recently, waded into stories that are disingenuous to pump up the ratings. One of these specials was a fictional documentary about the possibility of mermaids existing which aired on Animal Planet in 2012.
But perhaps the best known example, and Discovery's giant ratings bonanza, has been Shark Week.
For the past two years, the channel's Shark Week event has been dominated by programs that both attracted massive audiences and turned out to be fake. Produced by reality-TV giant Pilgrim Studios in 2013, Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives featured a scientist claiming a 50-foot shark called Megalodon had killed 4 people in South Africa. All shark experts agree Megalodon went extinct millions of years ago, so Pilgrim Studios invented the scientist and hired an actor. They made up the deaths and faked the footage, only providing a short disclaimer that scenes were "dramatized." It was the most-viewed Shark Week program since Shark Week began in the '80s. So Discovery did it again the next year, with faked footage of a fatal attack by a fictional 35-foot shark called Submarine.
Rosolie's being eaten alive seems to have been in the same vein of disingenuous programming.
"The Discovery Channel has a terrible recent track record of airing sensational shows full of misinformation," Steen said. "There are no verified accounts of Anacondas killing anyone (let alone eating them) so the entire premise seemed more than a little questionable."
6. Why did this man want to be eaten by a snake?
Rosolie says that he wants to find and be consumed by a green anaconda because he cares about the conservation of the Amazon. He also claims on the show that he "is doing this because of rapid deforestation." Rosolie thinks the floating forest is one of the "most important places our world has to offer."
"It all goes back to the loss of biodiversity, plants and animals. I’ve seen entire 1,000-mile stretches of rainforest burnt to the ground where every single plant and animal is destroyed — and no one pays attention to that," Rosolie told Entertainment Weekly.
In practice, though, Rosolie and his crew spend six weeks in the "darkest corner of the Amazon" hacking their way through this endangered forest with machetes and invading a naturally undisturbed habitat.
"Aside from a few lines claiming that the Amazon is an amazing place that is under threat, the link between this show and actual conservation is tenuous at best," Steen said. "Many people already fear snakes, I don't understand how trying to get eaten alive by one is going to help their reputation or their conservation."
7. Is this special real?
That's the thing. It feels very staged and dramatized.
There are a lot of elements that make Eaten Alive feel a little bit shady, and sensationalized. There's a lot of editing, shaky camera work, and thunderous sound effects that obscure the action.
And we also have a lack of facts. Trying to find Rosolie's certification as a herpetologist or research he's done on anacondas is difficult. His team mostly consists of people who call themselves naturalists and conservationists. Also, it's unclear where in Peru this "Floating Forest" is located.
There was also a disclaimer noting that the snakes featured in the show were all under the care of a herpetologist. Its unclear whether or not this means if this was staged, but it's possible that the snakes featured in the show came from a zoo or research facility:
Herpetologists have also been voicing their concern with the dishonest storytelling.
"My guess is that they are calling the people that are in charge of the care of the captive anaconda herpetologists and these folks stuck around to watch," Steen told us. "However, nobody ever made clear what the threshold would be for stressing out the snake or what they would have to see to conclude that the snake was in danger."
8. What do snake experts and scientists have to say?
They're not very happy. A few scientists on Twitter voiced concern about both Rosolie's behavior and the scientific material presented during the show. Here are a few examples:
This just in: #EatenAlive is playing audio of frogs and toads from North America.
— David Steen, Ph.D. (@AlongsideWild) December 8, 2014
Man, those snakes sure are "aggressive" & "deadly" when you put on a giant metal suit & try to stick your head in their mouths. #EatenAlive
— David Steen, Ph.D. (@AlongsideWild) December 8, 2014
Several scientists were upset not by Rosolie's behavior but the misrepresentation of facts by Discover on the show. Sarah Keartes, a science writer for Earth Touch News, wrote—before the show even aired— five reasons that Rosolie would not be able to be eaten by a snake.
"I was extremely disappointed that when given an opportunity to produce a show that would highlight the amazing biology of this animal, that Discovery went with a production that is only based on fear and sensationalism," Dr. Stephen Secor, a scientist at the University of Alabama who studies animal digestion, told Business Insider. The most upsetting factor of the program for the scientific community is that Discover made no attempt to teach or explain and instead sensationalized one of nature's greatest creatures.
9. Does this have to do with Nicki Minaj?
No. Unfortunately, Eaten Alive has nothing to do with the anacondas referenced in Minaj's song. But here it is anyway.
10. If Paul wasn't "eaten", what did everyone watch for two hours?
There was a lot of Paul and his team jumping into streams and onto snakes. There was also a sequence where they crafted an Iron Man-like suit for Paul to wear:
Even though Rosolie wasn't actually eaten and the show could have been called Not Eaten Alive, he still made the media rounds and promoted his consumption.
In reality, Rosolie threw himself on top of the snake in a controlled environment —the show did not say where the snake came from. Rosolie allowed it to wrap around him and squeeze him until his arm was about to break (because Rosolie took off his armor). Once he felt unhappy, though, a team of people came in to relieve Rosolie from the snake.