P.T. Barnum famously said no one would ever go broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. It's clear the producers of "Mountain Monsters" won't go broke any time soon.
The "reality" show, now in its second season on the Destination America channel, is hands-down the dumbest - and most fake - thing on television. What makes "Mountain Monsters" not just funny, but also a little sad, is that its stars are all West Virginians.
These "Native West Virginia sons," as they're described in the opening of every episode, have unruly beards and unkempt teeth. They sport colorful names like Huckleberry, Trapper and Wild Bill. All but one of the six men are well into middle age; three of them tip the scales at more than 300 pounds, making their hikes up hills and down hollers precarious. Buck, the youngest and heaviest of the team, has a habit of slipping and falling - and rolling - in the woods that provides some of the show's only intentionally funny moments.
The six men all claim to have decades of hunting and trapping experience, but the prey they're stalking is what makes the show so ridiculous - they're hunting monsters in the Appalachian woods.
In one first season episode, they set their sights on the most famous West Virginia "rural legend" of them all: the Moth Man. They tried to capture the notorious creature in a homemade giant bug zapper. I'm not making this up.
We've all heard of the Moth Man, but the other "monsters" they've tracked must be the best-kept secrets of the supernatural world. Among the little-known creatures they've chased through the woods are the Sheepsquatch of Boone County, the Cherokee Death Cat, the Snallygaster of Preston County, and the Fire Dragon of Pocahontas County.
Wow, what a lineup. Hopefully next season they'll come even closer to our area, looking for the Wild Ramp Creature of Bemis, the Hideous Pepperoni Roll Beast of Coalton, and the Grinning Jackalope of Death of Barbour County.
OK, I know, none of those creatures exist. But so what? None of the "Mountain?Monsters" exist, either.
Unlike other reality shows about searches for ghosts or Bigfoot, however, the "Mountain Monsters" crew never admits when it doesn't find anything. In every episode, during their "night hunts," the boys swear they've just had a close brush with a creature, but because of the trees and the darkness, the cameras just weren't quick enough to catch a glimpse of the beast.
Instead, the show plays like a hillbilly "Blair Witch Project": we never really see anything supernatural, but there's always a lot of sound effects - howling, screaming and scurrying noises - and the crew keeps coming upon "evidence" left behind by the creature, including tracks and mutilated animals (I'm not sure what PETA thinks of this show).
Trapper, the crusty team leader, frequently touches, smells and even tastes the fresh blood, urine and "scat" left by the monsters. You read that correctly: the old guy gets down on one knee and tastes the stuff. I scat you not.
Despite compiling all this "evidence" and building a different elaborate trap every episode, the hunters always come up empty-handed. And no wonder: they carry a full camera crew into the woods with them, along with television lights. They also tend to yell and whoop a lot when they think something monsterish is in the vicinity. Gee, I wonder why they never catch anything in the forest?
It should also be pointed out that the six men all wear the same raggedy clothes in every episode. Even though each "investigation" supposedly takes a week, none of them ever change their clothes from day to day. Maybe once the monsters get a whiff of these guys the creatures get scared and hide.
"Mountain Monsters" is funny and all, but the fact that it's presented as "reality" leaves a bad taste. It's depressing to see these 50-and-up guys tromping through the woods pretending to see things that aren't there, and then lying through their teeth to the camera about how scary it was.
Partway though its second season, "Mountain Monsters" officially jumped the shark - or jumped the Sasquatch, the Bat Boy or the Yeti, whichever you prefer - by having the crew claim they'd actually killed a monster.
They chased something called the Bear Beast - it's OK, I've never heard of it either -through the woods with shotguns blasting. The team didn't find the Bear Beast's body, of course - just some blood on the leaves. They figured he'd fallen into a creek and been washed away. End of story.
Did they go look for the one-of-a-kind corpse that would prove the beast existed and make them all famous? Of course not. This is "reality," not real life.
Not only are these guys make-believe monster hunters, now they're claiming to be make-believe monster murderers.
If you're in the mood for a laugh, you might check out "Mountain Monsters." But the show may just as easily leave you shaking your head. The reality show "Buckwild" taught the rest of America that young West Virginians were drunken, drug-taking idiots. Now "Mountain Monsters" teaches America that older West Virginians are lying, smelly morons.
Can't a TV show tell the truth about West Virginia, just once?