“Finding Bigfoot” a Howler

June 13, 2011

Finding Bigfoot, a new series airing on Animal Planet on Sundays (10 p.m. eastern and pacific time), looks like another silly TV program aimed at the credulous. Its "special preview episode"—filmed in the "remote woods of northern Georgia," in the Chattahoochee National Forest—set forth the show's formula: make it look as much like Ghost Hunters as possible.

Thus, just as Ghost Hunters was based on the TAPS organization (The Atlantic Paranormal Society), Finding Bigfoot features the exploits of BFRO, Bigfoot Field Research Organization. Again, the show emphasizes nighttime excursions (based on the observation that Bigfoot/Sasquatch is often nocturnal). This adds a spine-tingling aspect to such outings and offers the possibility of using—tah dah!—fancy equipment. This includes "night-vision devices" and "thermal imagers," both of which can create eerie visual effects that TV-show producers can't resist. Team members also make much use of hand-held radios—"copy that"—and repeat the phrase that Ghost Hunters made famous, "Did you hear that?!"

BFRO claims to be a "scientific" organization, but its head and the show's central figure, Matt Moneymaker, does not appear to have any scientific credentials or, in fact, to use the scientific method. Like pseudoscientists everywhere, he has obviously started with the desired answer and works backward to the evidence, picking and choosing. Invariably, evidence for Bigfoot is at best inconclusive, but often it is faked outright, and Moneymaker has been taken in by at least one hoax (some would say several).

The hoax involved "the Sonoma video," a recording of a purported Bigfoot sighting in California's Sonoma County in 2005. The video was made by someone calling himself "Mark Nelson," an admitted "amateur naturist." Now naturist was once synonymous with "naturalist," but its more recent meaning is "nudist." Also Nelson said he was a member of a rock band called Total Nutcase. Nevertheless BFRO proclaimed the Sonoma footage to be genuine, and, when it was revealed to be a put-on made by Penn and Teller for their TV show Bullshit!, BFRO suggested that it was actually Penn and Teller's claim that was bogus! However, when Bullshit! aired, BFRO removed all references to the video and has never mentioned it again. (See https://www.sasquatchopedia.com/index.php/Sonoma_Video.)

In addition to wiping egg off his face, Moneymaker has had to endure sarcasm regarding his name. Critics have noted his penchant for, well, making money—for example tens of thousands of dollars infused into BFRO by elderly supporter Wally Hersom who spent some $100,000 on equipment alone. Reported cryptozoologist Loren Coleman on his Cryptomundo site (December 17, 2007), Hersom's interest had been secured when—on his second BFRO expedition—"he heard howls in the night and had rocks thrown at him—typical Bigfoot behavior, according to Moneymaker." However, I regard rock throwing as an indicator of probable hoaxing, beginning with a case in 1924. (See my Tracking the Man-Beasts, 2011, p. 67.) In any event, Bigfoot's fortuitous appearance elicited money from Hersom.

Mister Moneymaker has been criticized for conducting Bigfoot hunts with a $300-per-person fee. As a consequence, according to Craig Woolheater (posting on Cryptomundo July 12, 2007), some BFRO members quit in protest. Moreover, says Woolheater, BFRO "claims to uncover evidence on every trip—sightings, footprints, hair samples and spooky wails that could only come from any of the 2,000 to 6,000 Bigfoots it says are roaming North America." It's rather amazing how Bigfoot so faithfully shows up at BFRO events, yet remains ultimately elusive. Judging from the first episode of Finding Bigfoot, I predict the show will continue the tried-and-true Ghost Hunters formula. It is a haunting thought.