‘Gator Boys’: Jimmy Riffle on the bite that lasted 8 minutes
By John Soltes
HOLLYWOOD SOAPBOX — Animal Planet’s Gator Boys follows the alligator rescue efforts of Jimmy Riffle and his business partner Paul Bedard. Together, the gator team helps local residents with pesky reptilians and also dispels any misconceptions about our scaled friends (or enemies?). When most people head to the office for another 9-to-5 slog, Riffle and Bedard head into tricky situations with large-toothed animals that turn off most people.
Here, in Hollywood Soapbox’s second and final exclusive talk with the Gator Boys, Riffle talks about his toughest alligator case of all time and the education needed to allay the public’s fears.
Questions and answers have been slightly edited. Click here for Part I, a talk with Paul Bedard.
What should audience members expect from the upcoming season?
Us going out, rescuing alligators, and a lot of action, a lot of mud, and getting dirty and wet, and very dangerous situations.
How did this love and fascination of working with alligators begin?
Actually I started volunteering at a place called the Native Village. … I stayed there from 11 years old to about 24, 25 years old. And when I first started, I didn’t expect it to escalate. Animals have been a passion of my life since I can’t remember, especially alligators.
When did it click for you to turn this fascination into an actual business?
When I was at Native America, I met Paul through there. I met Paul at a very young age. Him and I always talked about doing something, and we hit it off pretty quickly, Paul and I. We’ve been trying to do what we’ve been doing for the last seven to eight years. But we were able to finally get it going just recently.
Paul Bedard and Jimmy Riffle — Photo courtesy of Animal Planet
From a viewer’s perspective, it looks like you don’t have much fear. What’s going through your mind?
Most of the time, which is good about working with Paul, we’ve been with each other for so long, we don’t have to tell each other what to go do. If I go after the tail, Paul goes toward the head. It’s good not having to tell your partner to do something when you’re in the middle of the action. That’s the best thing with Paul and I. We work with each other very, very well. When we get into situations like that, nothing crosses your mind. You don’t think about getting bit. You just think about doing a job and getting the alligator caught up as safely as possible for him and us.
Is saving alligators still what drives you to go out to each case?
It definitely keeps us going. Paul and I, we think we’re doing a really good thing rescuing the alligators. It keeps us going, not knowing what the next situation is going to hold. Like we said before, we’re not against other trappers, we just do what we do, and that’s going out, rescuing alligators and doing our thing.
Has it been a challenge to have the camera crew with you on these cases?
Before the film crew got to us, it was just Paul and I and a couple other guys. Before we didn’t have to worry about that. Now that the film crew is there, you kind of have to have everyone’s back, because right in the middle of danger, if the cameraman makes the wrong move, that alligator could jump toward him. We have to get in the middle of that. It definitely adds a whole new level of having to deal with the animals that we do.
How has the show changed your life? Do your family and friends like seeing you on television? How about yourself?
It’s definitely something different. I never thought that I would be doing that. I’ve always grown up watching the animal shows and thinking it would be cool. Our friends think it’s pretty neat. But the only good thing about it is that my friends they’ve known me for a long time, and if I start getting out of place, they put me back into it.
It’s something different to see. It’s cool. It’s really neat seeing yourself on TV. We still go out there and do what we started to do, and that’s going to rescue alligators. We never changed that. This doesn’t change anything like that. It just gives us basically the push to be able to keep doing what we want to do.
Jimmy Riffle and Paul Bedard on Animal Planet’s hit show, ‘Gator Boys’ — Photo courtesy of Animal Planet
When you get to a house or office building, are the people on site just scared and look at these alligators as enemies? Do you have to educate them a bit?
On most catches, they’re afraid. It’s basically being uneducated on alligators. It’s just like if your mom and dad were afraid of snakes, they would put that fear into you. It’s the same concept. We get somewhere, and they’re like, ‘Yeah, I’ve been raised being afraid of alligators.’ So it’s just being uneducated about them. Once we settle them down, they get up close and personal, they kind of have a whole outlook on alligators (after) we leave.
What was your toughest case? Perhaps one with a bad injury?
Before the show started, I’ve actually been bit seven times by alligators. And my worst bite, I was doing a show for about 80 people. It was sort of a baby shower. Figure that one, right? We were at the Native Village, and I got bit by a 9-foot alligator and he hung on for about 8 minutes. That was the worst 8 minutes — not worst, but the most painful 8 minutes of my life. We had to use a crowbar to actually pry him off. Injury is definitely something that can happen, but it’s just part of the job. But you do not wake up in the morning thinking you’re going to get bit or hurt. You just go out every day and do what we do.
Gator Boys will return with new episodes on Sunday, June 17 at 9 p.m. Click here for more information.