* * * *
Type: Outdoor show
Time: 15 minutes
Short Take: As close as it gets to performing alligators
The scene is a large open square in the wooden platform over the alligator lagoon. The cause for gathering: there’s been a mishap in the previous gator wrestlin’ show, and now there’s an opening for a new gator wrestler. Two enthusiastic backwoods kids, suited up in denim overalls and tagged with goofy country names like Bubba and Lulu Belle, will compete for the slot by feeding the resident gators with increasing daring and dramatic flair. The two are supervised by a slightly more civilized announcer, who warms up the crowd and separates the two wannabes when emotions run high and squabbles break out (such as when Bubba "flips" his chicken at his opponent – get it? He "flipped" her the bird…)
After the opening skit, each half of the audience is assigned a key word to encourage the gators to leap for the chicken parts temptingly dangled over the water, the host rings the bell, and the fun begins. Alerted by the commotion, mammoth gators swim lazily into view. Slowly, they zero in on the morsels over their heads. They begin to lunge upwards at the bait, urged on by cheers from the crowd. Alligators jump by curling their tails on the shallow bottom and thrusting upwards. A successful leap is something to see and will make a great snapshot if your timing's right.
Once the gators are suitably excited and the contestants riled up and raring to win the points that will ensure their position as Gatorland's newest wrestler, the host ups the ante. After a brief interlude that involves the use of whole chickens as boxing gloves and an explanation of the difference between crocodiles and alligators ("the spellin'," asserts Bubba, while the other eagerly corrects him: "no, my mama taught me this… crocodile goes best with a merlot, but alligator is nicest with a pinot grigio…"), the competitors retreat to raised platforms on either side of the beach, armed with several whole chicken carcasses, and commence hand-feeding the now lively gators. The thick leather belts around their waists, attached to thick chains, ensure that while a gator might make off with an arm, the rest of the contestant will be spared.
And despite the clowning and hijinks, they are clearly skilled handlers, expert in the ways of gators and genuinely respectful of the animals. There's no denying that the stars of the show are the imposing carnivores, and the banter is low-key enough to keep the gators at the forefront.
This show appeals to some of our most primordial fascinations with animals and it's an appeal that's hard to deny. Most people find this show very entertaining. Precisely how exciting the show is will depend to some extent on when you visit. During the cooler months, alligators tend to be sluggish. Under optimum conditions, the gators leap lustily, flashing their pale undersides and gaping maws as they snare lunch.
The best seats in the house. First of all, there are no seats, just a railing. If you're not in the first row, your view will be somewhat impaired. The best view is to be found along the side directly facing the small beach and platforms. Arrive about 10 minutes early to secure a spot by the rail.
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