Discovery Channel’s happy family holiday special Eaten Alive aired Sunday, rewarding viewers for their two full hours of viewing by ensuring that they spent quality time in the company of others instead of wasting that time doing something else that might not have been as satisfying, such as buying things that have labels which accurately reflect their contents.
The editing used the close ups and shaky camera work and lack of a clear picture looked like the work of The Amazing Race‘s editors, who could make a race between an elephant and a statue look riveting. But the end result was that Paul Rosolie was not eaten alive. Instead, he was kind of squeezed by an anaconda, which also put its mouth on his helmet-covered head, but he bailed at that point. If an ice cream cone that’s been licked once and then gets dropped on the ground qualifies as “eaten,” then he was eaten.
But this was never about being eaten! It’s totally unfair to judge a special called Eaten Alive by whether or not someone was eaten alive. No, it was about the rainforest and conservation, which, if you look in the Discovery Channel Dictionary, which says “guaranteed ratings gold” next to every entry, including “conservation,” “lying about extinct sharks,” and “firing Mythbusters.”
“Paul created this challenge to get maximum attention for one of the most beautiful and threatened parts of the world, the Amazon Rainforest and its wildlife. He went to great lengths to send this message and it was his absolute intention to be eaten alive. Ultimately, after the snake constricted Paul for over an hour and went for his head, the experiment had to be called when it became clear that Paul would be very seriously injured if he continued on. The safety of Paul, as well as the anaconda, was always our number one priority.”
Safety, yes! That’s why they produced this special: safety.
Also, attention. Discovery has actually admitted this from the beginning, because the network is about transparency. Here is a quotation from Paul Rosolie in its initial press release about the special:
“I’ve seen first-hand how the Amazon Rainforest is being destroyed. It is so rampant that we may be the last generation with the opportunity to save it. People need to wake up to what is going on. What better way is there to shock people than to put my life on the line with the largest snake on the planet, the Green Anaconda?”
Yes, I really can’t think of any other way to shock people, except maybe not being eaten alive in a show called Eaten Alive. But I digress, because we’re talking about the Amazon and the rainforest. Here’s what Paul Rosalie said to Entertainment Weekly recently:
“I’ve seen scientists spend their entire lives trying to rally public opinion and support, and people just don’t care. People care about animals; they don’t make the jump to caring about the habitat the animals live in…. So I wanted to do something that would sort of shock people and force a dialogue about what’s going on here—and it’s working.”
Admitting this was about shock value is remarkably honest, and he’s right! It did work. Today, people are talking about the rainforest and snakes and the environment, and people who watched the special were so inspired they are not at all concerning themselves with discussions about how a once-reputable network appears itself to have been consumed and regurgitated by the elusive Ratings Whorus snake.
Update: 4.1 million people watched the show about rainforest conservation, on which a captive snake also hugged a guy, which makes it the highest-rated nature program since the awesome Life in 2010, and really those two shows are basically the same thing, an epic, stunningly shot documentary about life on earth and two hours of misinformation about anacondas and the rainforest.