We open with some grainy home video footage of a Bigfoot-like creature known as the Honey Island Swamp Monster followed by night vision footage in Honey Island Swamp in Slidell, Louisiana, as Wolter tramps about doing his best Finding Bigfoot impression. “What’s that noise?” he asks in a stilted line reading. “What’s that smell?” Then he shoots off a flare that conveniently was captured from a distance in a perfectly composed camera shot that was obviously staged. The artifice of the show becomes more blatant with each passing episode as fakery, scripting, and recreations increasingly substitute for “real” interactions. We then cut to the opening credits.
Wolter is in Louisiana to interview locals about a foul-smelling swamp monster said to resemble Bigfoot. I know the creature only because it was featured on The Secret Saturdays years ago; otherwise, I would never have heard of it. Wolter repeats claims from the Yeti episode that Bigfoot and his kin are remnant populations of Gigantopithecus, an extinct but very large ancient ape. The show omits the traditional Louisiana story that the creature is—and I can’t believe I am writing this—the result of a crashed circus train whose cargo of chimps escaped into the swamp and interbred with local alligators.
Wolter looks at a cast of the creature’s alleged track, which resembles an alligator track, and he simply takes it at face value, assuming that it belongs to a bipedal ape that has evolved to live in a swamp. The granddaughter of the man who first reported the creature in 1963, Dana Holyfield, shows Wolter 8 mm film of… Well, a commercial break interrupts the revelation.
After the break, Wolter looks at film showing something that resembles a gorilla moving through trees, and Wolter declares it to be exciting evidence for the monster, though it could equally be someone in a gorilla suit or someone in a dark coat. Wolter suggests that the giant squid and the coelacanth prove that cryptids still exist, and he repeats the canard that the Kraken is a true account of encounters with a giant squid (though before the mid-1700s the Kraken was described as just a fish) so he meets with cryptid researcher M. K. Davis in Yazoo City, Mississippi. Davis believes that he captured the creature on thermal imaging via drone. The show then presents “disgusting” images of eviscerated pigs whose deaths Davis blames on the swamp monster. Wolter compares their injuries to Jack the Ripper and speculates that the pigs’ bodies were placed to “send a message,” but there are many other explanations for dead animals than a secret Bigfoot communique. The show declines to present any evidence that the dead pigs were killed by an ape, so we may safely discard them except to note that this is yet another instance of body horror substituting for argument.
After another break, Davis tells us that he fled from the dead pigs, worried that the monster would kill him, too. When he returned, he claimed that the dead pigs had been replaced with an old pig skull. Since he didn’t conduct a systematic review of the land, he probably just ran across something he missed the first time. Davis shows Wolter thermal imaging of the monster, but it doesn’t convince me, or even Wolter, who asks how Davis knows that the image is of an ape and not a human. Davis admits that he has no answer and that it could well be a person. “It would be kind of ridiculous for another human to be across there, but I was out there.”
Davis and Wolter examine Choctaw legend of Shampe, a wild man figure similar to wild men legends found the world over. Shampe is an ogre-like monster with an overpowering odor, and Wolter suggests that this is a memory of Gigantopithecus crossing the Bering Strait land bridge to take up residence in the Louisiana swamps. Wolter cites only one form of the legend, calling it a hairy, ape-like creature, but the oral tradition isn’t as cut and dried. Other stories say it is hairless and resembles an overlarge human who whistles as he walks. Choctaw oral stories claim, contra what we hear here, that the Shampes have all migrated back to the Western United States. According to dictionaries, the creature’s terminal vowel is pronounced, but Wolter and his friends do not pronounce it. Fun to be able to pick and choose only the parts of stories that help your ratings.
Wolter then prepares to spend a night alone in the swamp hunting for the monster.
In the fourth segment, Wolter goes out into the swamp. As with America’s Lost Vikings earlier this year, this episode follows the template of devoting the last third of the show to watching the middle-aged hosts tramp about outside enacting he-men wilderness fantasies. Wolter declines to use a live pig as bait because “it doesn’t seem right” to chain it up in a swamp to be attacked. Instead, he uses a side of pork. In a staged interaction with a cryptozoologist, Wolter refuses a gun, saying that he isn’t there to kill the monster. The rest of the segment is Wolter’s video diary of sitting in the swamp while nothing happens. If you thought regular-flavor scripted Wolter was bad, stream-of-consciousness Wolter looking like a reject from a found-footage Blair Witch Project rip-off is beyond boring. At least when Josh Gates used to do this on Destination Truth, he had the good sense to crack some jokes. Instead, we get footage of Wolter claiming to get a whiff of a bad odor and, panicking, shooting a flare gun into the sunrise to signal cryptozoologist Ken Gerhard to join him. You will likely recognize Gerhard from the many shows he’s hosted or appeared on across the cable television fever swamp, including the History Channel’s Missing in Alaska and the Travel Channel’s Legend Hunters. Cable TV is a small world of a very few faces repeating bullshit endlessly, like a more verbal human centipede.
In the fifth segment, Wolter tells Gerhard that he discovered—you guessed it—swamp gas! Yes, the infamous foul-smelling swamp gas is the origin of the claim that the Honey Island Swamp Monster stinks. Wolter suggests that this discovery does not disprove the existence of the creature but admits to having found no evidence for its reality.
As the show grinds pointlessly to a halt, Wolter hears from Dana Holyfield that she still believes the creature is real. Wolter claims that “researchers around the world are closer than ever to finding the truth” about Bigfoot and his cousins. Giving up his quest after a single night, Wolter shares a bowl of swamp gas chili with Holyfield, and Wolter laments that he has once again failed to find what he was looking for. He says that he is “satisfied” that swamp gas explains most sightings but is “open” to the idea that giant apes exist in the bayous of Louisiana.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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