Discovery Channel made a bit of a splash with the announcement it would air the special “Eaten Alive,” about a guy who intends to let himself be engulfed by a giant anaconda, then the network wisely decided not to screen it in advance. That’s because the more accurate title, for those who bothered to watch, would be ”Suckered In.” Part nature special, part save-the-Rain-Forest lecture, part “Predator,” the protracted buildup culminated in a staged encounter that amounted to more of a snack than a meal. Even allowing for a bit of P.T. Barnum-like showmanship, this nonsense proved hard to swallow.
Conservationist Paul Rosolie and his team traveled through a remote region of the Amazon looking, as it were, for the snake that got away: According to Rosolie, a green anaconda he encountered larger than the record size of nearly 25 feet.
Not just an anaconda, in other words, but a “mega-anaconda” of “truly monstrous proportions,” as the narration put it – which, if it hasn’t already, would make a great title for one of those cheapo Syfy movies.
Actually, just finding such a snake and learning a bit about it would probably be worthy of an hour or so, or a movie starring Jennifer Lopez. But they didn’t call this “Searching for Giant Snakes,” and the producers and Discovery sought to sweeten their haul by gimmicking-up the proceedings with the high-tech suit devised to theoretically allow the beast to swallow and regurgitate Rosolie, a bulky contraption that only made him that much more inedible.
The main event, not surprisingly (and yes, SPOILER ALERT), turned out to be a whole lot of nothing. Having failed to catch the snake he wanted, Rosolie settled for getting eaten by the snake he’s with, wearing an outfit last seen when John Wayne fought a giant octopus in “Reap the Wild Wind.”
The confused snake nibbled on his arm, and then the two engaged in a round of extended mud wrestling, complete with a lot of heavy breathing. And that actually makes it sound more exciting than it was.
Then again, this was a special so desperate to ratchet up the drama that it actually featured a headline out of the Weekly World News, before acknowledging that most “snake eats man” stories are, in fact, hoaxes.
Still, the hook was baited, and “Eaten Alive” had to pad out a two-hour block, weaving in a history of snakes – they’re in the Bible! And mythology! – chaotic footage of the search; dramatic musical cues; and slow-motion shots of Rosolie popping out of the water, vaguely resembling a “Rambo” movie.
That’s not to say “Eaten Alive” didn’t offer compensation in terms of nature footage and sheer comedy, beginning with the obligatory disclaimer that read, “Do not attempt any of the acts featured in this program.” Plus there were all those tweets flashing across the screen from people allegedly saying how impressed they were by what they were watching.
See? Find the right audience, and even the most ridiculous and manipulative TV can be educational — and without shedding any skin, reveal a network’s true colors.