Gator Boys' Jimmy Riffle and Ashley Lawrence on Fear, Subtitles, and Mississippi Mud
For most people, wrestling deadly swamp-dwellers is the stuff nightmares are made of, but for the Gator Boys, it's all in a day's work. These South Florida-based wranglers are famous for capturing nuisance alligators in the Everglades, and last year the antics of Paul Bedard, Jimmy Riffle and team became Animal Planet's newest hit, capturing close to 1 million viewers.
Believe it or not, the group are actually animal rescuers. Where other trappers kill gators for their meat and skin, the Gator Boys relocate 'em.
For season two, due to construction underway at their home base of Everglades Holiday Park, the team spent some time in Mississippi instead. The new season premiered last night. Cultist spoke to Jimmy Riffle and team member Ashley Lawrence on life in Mississippi, fear, and subtitled Southern accents.
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Cultist: How did you get into this field?
Jimmy Riffle: It all started when I was younger. My mom's brother used to bring some smaller alligators to the house, wild pigs, and it kind of got me into liking wildlife. At 11, my mom got me a volunteer job at a zoo, the native village. I started catching gators and wrestling gators and it started from there and turned into what it is today.
Ashley, what's it like being a woman in a field like yours?
Ashley: You know there are definitely unique challenges working in any field where it's sterotypically a male dominated type of field. I do get a lot of silly questions, a lot of silly looks from people that are confused at why I would choose to do this. When you're working with dangerous animals it's kind of like, the animals sort you out. If you can't do it, you figure it out pretty quick. If you're not strong enough or smart enough, you can't fool yourself or anyone else because the animals will sort you out. It's when I'm standing around meeting people when things get a little irritating. Sometimes there are sideways comments and things, but when you're in the moment of working with the animals, I think people are amazed or impressed but people hold their tongues.
What kind of skills do you think it takes to do what you do?
Ashley: I think I've gotten away with what I've been doing because of my ability to read animal behavior. I don't know if it's that I had a knack for it or it's something that I can focus on really well. Because I can read the animals to a certain degree, I think it saves me the unnecessary wrestling. Whether it's horses, cows or gators, if you can read the animal and anticipate, you can often manipulate them in different ways that makes it a lot easier.
Jimmy:You just gotta know what you're dealing with. I've been working with gators for a long time. Just being able to read the alligator, read their body language, body positions, basically anyone could do it; you just have to start somewhere. If you've been working with them for a good amount of time you just have to be able to read their body language.
How was Mississippi compared to South Florida?
Jimmy: It was a big change, Florida to Mississippi. In Florida you go into the mud and 12 inches, a foot down you find cap rock, lime rock. When we got to Mississippi we didn't know what to expect. The mud, the terrain -- there was no bottom to the mud. When you have a large gator coming at you and you can't move, that definitely adds a lot of danger. The water was very dark and murky, which made it very difficult for Paul. The people are very different. I never had a gun pulled on me when we were trying to catch a gator on someone's property till I got to Mississippi.
Doesn't seem like you're ever scared, but what's the scariest moment you've encountered?
Jimmy:We've been working with them for so long it's not that I'm afraid; I respect the animals. The scariest time when I actually did get bit, I've been bit seven times, but my worst bite was by a nine-foot gator. He bit me in my right thumb and he held on for eight minutes and we couldn't get him off. He tried to roll, he was shaking back and forth. My mentor was on the back of the gator at this time; he wasn't able to do the complete roll, so I had eight full minutes to think about what was going on. It felt like two hours.
Ashley:I mean, I'll be honest -- working with this group, we've been good at keeping most situations pretty under control, which is great. Most people watching us think it's really intense, it's really crazy, but a lot of times you don't realize it's intense until after the situation is over. You have to stay so connected and in tune to what's going on. After, you go, "holy cow it's crazy!"
What do you think will surprise people the most about this season?
Jimmy: The change from Florida to Mississippi, the captions with people talking. Really and truly though, I would say the different scenery. We were able to add some airboats into this. Just a lot of different stuff that we weren't able to do here in Florida. It was a really good learning experience for us because I got a feel for different areas. I think the audience is really going to enjoy the twists, the change of it. This season there was some blood, so you know people love that, of course.
What's the status with filming? Will you be returning to South Florida?
Jimmy: Paul, he's pretty much at Holiday all the time right now. It's kind of in the middle, we're not positive, but we feel pretty confident that we will be. But if not, we definitely have a place in Mississippi that allowed us to film our new season. We became really good friends with these guys, so if we need to we can continue there.
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