Reality Bites

Reality Bites: Swamp People

There are a million reality shows on the naked television. We're going to watch them all, one at a time.

I have to admit, I was initially confused about the premise of Swamp People. From my cursory knowledge of the show going in, I assumed the assembled bayou denizens only killed alligators (those figuring so prominentlty in the promotional materials).

This was inaccurate. For, as it turns out, these guys will kill just about anything.


According to the History Channel Web page for the show, there are approximately 1.5 million alligators in Louisiana (or one for every pair of breasts bared on Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras). As they're no longer endangered, the state's Department of Wildlife and Fisheries allows licensed hunters to purchase tags for the 30-day hunting season. Hunters are given a certain number of tags for each 30-day season by the department. Since these tags must be bought in advance, "tagging out" by season's end is a high priority.

In the episode I watched ("Swamp Justice"), one pair of hunters find themselves dealing with poachers stealing alligators off their bait lines. At least, Joe and Tommy assume they're poachers. I suppose the perpetrators could be overzealous animal rights activists, except nobody's really too concerned about evil dinosaur-looking beasts. In any event, the pair promises swift swamp retribution should they catch the interlopers.

Huh. Maybe the hillbillies in Deliverance just thought Ned Beatty was a poacher.

Meanwhile, Junior and his son Willie look...well, they look a lot like you'd assume swamp folk do, right down to the missing teeth. They're having a difficult time catching any gators, and so are forced to seek alternatives. Willie goes out at night to catch water snakes to sell to LSU for research, while dad heads out to catch bullfrogs.

Due respect to the Atchafalaya way of life and the distinguished culinary pedigree of frogs' legs, but unlike the Dude, I can't abide. Hell, I'm having a hard time suppressing my gag reflex just writing this.

The third group consists of Albert "Butch" Knight and his sons Kentwood and Anthony. Pickings are slim for them as well, though they do eventually land an alligator...gar and a four-footer. Butch's sons have left their day jobs to help dad during hunting season, which is actually pretty cool. I find myself getting a little misty, until the skinning begins.

But the real stars are the gators. Joe and Tommy, who otherwise spend a great deal of time bitching at each other, eventually land a 12-footer. It's hard sometimes to conceive of how fucking massive a beast that big really is, but...leapin' lizards. Bringing in a thousand pounds of pissed-off reptile is no mean feat. And they get even bigger.

Giant crocodilians aside, there isn't much to the show. Other episodes presumably offer a glimpse into the hunters' home lives or what they do the other 11 months of the year. But aside from a few glimpses of Willie's kids or Junior and Mrs. Junior frying up frogs' legs (hrgh), we're left with lots of water, cypress trees and gators. Seems like that would get old, week in and week out.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar