We all have goals. Some of us want money, others seek love, fitness, peace or fame. Paul Rosolie wants something else. For the past two years, the naturalist and author has a goal that quite possibly no man in the history of the world has ever had: to be eaten by a giant green anaconda. Discovery Channel, no fools they, agreed to help him on this quest and outbid other networks for the opportunity to document his journey. Rosolie and a camera crew spent six weeks in the Amazon seeking a hungry-hungry anaconda and along the way encountered piranhas, electric eels, giant crocodiles and other deadly creatures (preview video below). The resulting two-hour special, Eaten Alive, has been criticized by animal activists and Rosolie, author of the widely praised eco-adventure book Mother of God, has been slammed as a snake-torturing opportunist. Below, the man who wants to be eaten by anaconda gives surprising answers to EW’s burning questions in this exclusive first interview.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why?
Paul Rosolie: I’ve worked in the Amazon for 10 years, as well as India and Indonesia and other places, and it all goes back to the loss of biodiversity, plants and animals. I’ve seen entire 1,000-mile stretches of rainforest burnt to the ground where every single plant and animal is destroyed — and no one pays attention to that. I’ve seen scientists spend their entire lives trying to rally public opinion and support, and people just don’t care. People care about animals. They don’t make the jump to caring about the habitat the animals live in. What’s interesting is that PETA has something like 25,000 signatures [now 40,000; protesting Discovery’s special] from people who care about a snake — which is awesome. But those people don’t realize this is one snake when there’s millions of snakes and other animals are being incinerated right now. Yet a petition to protect the standing Amazon rainforest has — wait for it — 159 signatures.
So how did the rain forest concern segue to being eaten by an anaconda?
I’m seeing the Amazon disappear. Anacondas, as an apex predator, are a part of that. I said, “I want to do something completely crazy.” I’ve studied anacondas for years. They’re a misunderstood species. People hunt them and kill them. And I said I want to do something that’s going to grab people by the eyeballs. So I wanted to do something that would sort of shock people and force a dialogue about what’s going on here — and it’s working. People all over the world have been calling me saying they hope I get ebola, that they hope I die, that they think I’m heinous and inhuman and horrible, and that I’m “the Hitler of animals”—
Somebody called you “the Hitler of animals?”
The Hitler of animals. And this is great though because each person is yet another supporter, they just haven’t seen the show yet.
I’m told you’ve wanted to do this for a long time.
It’s been something I’ve been working toward for two years.
Isn’t there another dream, possibly one that doesn’t involve being eaten by a giant snake, that would have been better to pursue?
No. There’s not. Only because my dream is to protect habitat. And in order to do that you have to get people’s attention. Nothing else that I could have done would have gotten more attention than this.
How big of an animal or object can an anaconda consume?
That’s another thing. Everybody keeps [saying] an anaconda can’t eat a human, that it’s physically impossible. I’ve seen an anaconda break a wild boar in half. I’ve seen an anaconda constrict a black caiman, which is a crocodile; they grow up to 15 feet. Anacondas eat animals much bigger than humans. Once you collapse a human ribcage — they squeeze before they eat — we’re actually much smaller than some of the animals they’re eating. And I know of people who have been eaten. The cook who tours with us in the Amazon — his father was eaten by an anaconda. So it’s not a myth. When you’re in these small villages and your mom gets eaten by an anaconda, they’re not running to get a camera.
Tell me about the carbon-fiber snake-proof suit.
Ah, the suit is incredible. And the making of the suit is one of things that sets the show apart. Inside I’m completely sealed off. I’m able to breathe in there. I swallow a pill with a machine in it that broadcasts my vitals to the scientists keeping me alive. I’m protected from the stomach acid of the anaconda, and it’s a completely crush-proof suit. We tested the suit with trucks which squeezed the suit with tug-boat ropes and we couldn’t break the suit. We tested it to 90 psi — which is previously what an anaconda has been recorded having constricted.
I assume one issue is, the more protection you add to the suit, the less appetizing you are to the snake.
That’s partly true. We were worried about that. But I don’t know if you’ve ever felt a crocodile, but their scales are like plates of armor. They’re very nasty and hard, but these anacondas eat them. So I figured I was like a crocodile, texture wise.
How did you find the snake?
During our expedition in the Amazon, several times we encountered this anaconda with the girth of an oil drum. The problem was we couldn’t restrain it. There was no way to capture this snake. We had a 10-person team and couldn’t hold onto it. That started spooking us — it was 26 feet and 400 lbs. We decided to test the suit on a more normal-sized snake.
How big was the snake you ended up using?
I believe it was 17 or 18 feet. She was pretty big.
My understanding is there was a lot of wrestling with you and the snake — like, she tried to crush you several times.
The snake did not want want to eat me, at first. She wasn’t interested. But once I showed myself as a predator and she got spooked, then she defended herself. She nailed me right in the face and the last thing I saw was her mouth wide open before everything went black. And then she wrapped me and I felt the suit cracking and my arms ripping out of their sockets. It was absolutely terrifying.
So how long did that go on?
It was over an hour. Once they have you, they do not let go.
What are the respective merits of head first vs. feet first?
Snakes swallow stuff head first. That’s how they do it.
Oh. So it’s not really up to you.
It’s not up to me at all. Jimmy Kimmel was joking about that [on his ABC late-night show], saying “Paul says he has to go head first; trust me, you don’t have to go head first.” Trust me, Jimmy, you do have to go head first. If you think of a deer, anacondas eat deer all the time. A deer’s head and neck are very narrow and then [the body gets wider]. An anaconda slips over that very nicely.
Now Discovery has been vague about how far you get inside the snake. How far do you get?
I am actually not allowed to say anything. I can tell you that the thing beat the shit out of me and constricted me. As for as actual consumption went, I’m not allowed to say.
The special is called Eaten Alive, so there is sort of a promise there. How far into a snake does one need to get in order to qualify as “eaten,” do you think?
Well, the story of this is an attempt. When you say Nik Wallenda is going to cross the Chicago skyline, they didn’t promise he was going to make it; they promised he would attempt it. So the show is called Eaten Alive and that’s what we worked as hard as we could to do. As for what happens, you’ll have to watch.
So hypothetically, once you got entirely inside a snake, what would you have done in there?
I’m being careful how much I’m saying here, but the plan was once she got to my waist, they’d pull me back out — that’s partly for my safety, partly for the snake’s. Because once she got past my waist it would be difficult for me to get pulled out.
Personally, once my head is beyond a snake’s mouth, I’d feel eaten.
Yeah, that was everybody’s benchmark — if your head goes in, that’s a major success. Some were like, “You gotta let it go to your ankles!” I didn’t want to rip my whole body out of the snake. I was trying to protect myself and the snake.
What happened to this particular snake?
Alive and well. Trust me, I’m much worse off. She beat the shit out of me.
Is this something you will do again?
That remains to be seen. I’m still recovering months later. The reason I did this is to get attention to start a conversation about something I care about. If [necessary], I will feed myself to more snakes.
Have you considered being eaten alive by other things. Like getting swallowed by a whale?
I don’t know how that would help me protect anything. But being eaten by an anaconda — I see a direct link to protecting the ecosystems I care about.
Finally: If you could listen to Nicki Minaj’s song “Anaconda,” or watch Jennifer Lopez’s movie Anaconda, which would you choose?
I’d rather be eaten by an anaconda than do either of those.
Eaten Alive airs Sunday, Dec. 7 on Discovery Channel. Here’s an exclusive clip: