‘Eaten Alive’: The Boredom and Disappointment of Discovery’s Ridiculous Snake-Eats-Man Special

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If you’re going to run a television event special titled Eaten Alive, in which the only premise (and the only draw) is that a man will get eaten alive by a giant snake, then, at the very least, that man has to get eaten alive by a giant snake. It’s basically the 2014 version of Chekhov’s gun. Last night, to kick off Discovery Channel’s “Mega Week” (whatever that’s supposed to be), the network aired a two-hour (!), one-off special about snake researcher/conservationist Paul Rosolie, a man whose lifelong dream was to be ingested by a giant green anaconda snake. It didn’t happen.

I’m not saying that I wanted to see a man get eaten by an anaconda, but of course I wanted to see a man get eaten by an anaconda! I mean, if Rosolie is going to do it anyway, then why not watch? The special was made under the guise of raising awareness about the destruction of the Amazon Rainforest, because, as Rosolie put it in the press release, “People need to wake up to what is going on.” But it is very hard to wake up during such a boring, boring Discovery Channel special. (Literaly: I tried to watch it with a friend last night, and we both fell asleep during the first hour; I had to finish the show this morning.)

So, right, in order to “raise awareness,” Rosolie decided to get eaten by a snake, and Discovery decided to film it. This wasn’t the first time Discovery had tried to make “revolutionary” television but just ended up falling flat on its face: October’s Rival Survival put two senators — a Republican and a Democrat — on an island together so they could work together and survive. What resulted was one of the most boring programs on television, devoid of all interest and conflict. It was a total flop. Eaten Alive had much higher stakes and a much more sensational concept, but the dull results were pretty much the same. For much of the episode, Rosolie and his crew hang out in the jungle, trying to find this snake but mostly just walking around. Sure, there are some beautiful visuals, and it does bring attention to the rainforest… but c’mon, that’s not why we’re here. We’re here to watch a guy get eaten by a snake.

According to Discovery Channel’s official description, there’s a whole backstory about Rosolie’s previous expedition into the jungle, where he was “very close to capturing what he believed was the world’s largest anaconda, a 25 to 27-foot behemoth that slipped through his hands and nearly dragged him to the bottom of the floating forest,” and now he’s trying to find that same snake so it can eat him alive. That premise would make a much better fictional Syfy movie than a Discovery documentary. Rosolie and co. never find that particular snake, so he has to settle for a different, smaller one — because if you can’t get eaten by the snake you love, get eaten by the snake you’re with.

But there is no eating. Instead, there is a lot of wrestling with a snake in the mud, strange writhing around with this poor creature that just wants to, like, slither around with his friends and not get pinned down by a weird man in a ridiculous outfit (I should mention that they built a specialized crush-proof suit to ensure that Rosolie wouldn’t die inside of the snake). It’s very anticlimatic, even when the snake angrily snaps at Rosolie’s helmet. After some rolling around, Rosolie calls for help because his arm is being crushed. And that’s about it. For someone who was totally willing to be eaten by an anaconda, hang out in said anaconda’s stomach, and then be regurgitated back up, it’s kinda funny that he’s so scared of a broken arm.

After numerous, inevitable complaints on social media about Rosolie not getting eaten, Discovery Channel was basically forced to release a statement defending the special by reiterating that it was an attempt, and no promises were made. As for Rosolie, “it was his absolute intention to be eaten alive” — which may be the most unintentionally funny statement a television network has made this year. On the one hand, it’s a little crass (and definitely reflective of the current state of television) that we’re angry because a man did not get eaten by a snake — but it’s what Discovery was promoting, and it’s what we bought into because curiosity wins above all. Discovery Channel may be putting out some of the most boring “sensational” programming out there, but we keep watching because, well, we get the snake-eating-a-man (or, in this case, failing-to-eat-a-man) programming that we deserve.