Friday, July 19, 2013

River Monsters: Jeremy Wade's Reality Show

Posted By on Fri, Jul 19, 2013 at 10:39 AM

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I have a confession to make about a secret obsession I harbor: I am a huge fan of a television show called River Monsters. It stars a charmingly oddball Englishman with bad teeth (is that redundant?) named Jeremy Wade, who calls himself an "extreme fisherman," and fancies himself something of a piscine detective.

The show's enduring conceit, which never seems to vary, is that Jeremy hears about a mysterious death or horrific attack in some faraway river somewhere, supposedly caused by a fish — a "monster." So off goes Jeremy to Nigeria, the Congo, India, South America, Russia, you name it — to "investigate."

Upon arriving in, say, Nicaragua (to cite a recent example), Jeremy begins interviewing locals who may know something about the incident in question — the victim's friends, family, etc. This usually entails a visit to some obscure hut along a jungle waterway, where Jeremy learns a few details, which he dutifully scribbles into a notebook.

Next, he typically visits a local fish-market and talks to local fishermen to see if there are any creatures who might grow to sufficient size or fearsomeness to be able to kill someone. I should add here that most of these deaths are not due to anyone being eaten by a river monster, but more often by their being dragged or knocked out of a boat. But still, ooh, scary.

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At this point in every show, Jeremy will tell his viewers that that in order to prove whatever fish he's decided to try to catch can kill a man (or child), he "has to try to catch one."

Well, of course, he doesn't, really. We know that and Jeremy knows that. There are no big fish in any waters that he is fishing that are unknown to science. And if we (or he) really wanted to know if, say, a South American arapaima has or could kill someone by knocking them out of a boat, it's easy to google. But that would ruin the fun.

So, after the requisite half hour or so of set-up, Jeremy finally starts a-fishin'. Normally, he'll throw out a small bait or lure on light tackle, just to "see what might be out there." Then there will be a few intriguing catches of exotic (and to me, at least, fascinatingly weird fishes). But none of these, Jeremy will say, helpfully explaining the obvious, could "kill a man."

Then Jeremy ups the ante by a) going further up-river where no man has gone before (sort of) and b) rigging up some big-ass tackle with large chunks 'o bait. If there are tigers, bears, caimans, crocodiles, poisonous snakes, or anything else remotely dangerous nearby, Jeremy will let us know in no uncertain terms, that he is risking his life. For science.

The pay-off is, of course, watching Jeremy finally catch a giant-ass fish in the last 10 minutes of the show. Those who watch regularly can quote his catch-phrases and revel in his googly eyes and nervous tics and breathless narration. I primarily admire the man for coming up with a schtick that enables him to travel the world chasing giant fresh-water fish in the name of pseudo-science. Plus, I like pseudo-science. And pseudo-nature shows.

I'm not sure how much longer Jeremy can keep it up, though. After four seasons, he's running out of even semi-plausible river "monsters." A recent show, for example, featured Jeremy "investigating" whether a giant tarpon could knock a man out of his boat and kill him. Well, first, a tarpon is a saltwater fish and Jeremy stretched the show's concept by claiming it was in "brackish" water. Second, he was fishing from a high-tech kayak with a fly rod, using a guide. Lots of fisherman pay big money to do this. Science, it's not. Fun, I'm sure it is. Watch the video for a sample dose of the action.

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