For all its loopy fun, Finding Bigfoot just wouldn’t be as good without Ranae Holland, the show’s lone skeptic. She turns the show from a bunch of dudes looking for monsters in the woods into a real – and sometimes testy – conversation about what is and isn’t real. She brings a cool head, a scientist’s insistence on good evidence, and a gentle sense of humor to the proceedings, and that, plus her willingness to bum out the Bigfoot faithful, is what makes it all work so well.
During a brief break between a grueling shooting schedule in the United States and setting off for new expeditions across the Pacific, Holland was kind enough to take the time to talk to us about fluid sexuality, teaching kids to think critically, and, of course, Sasquatch.
AfterEllen.com: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me. You seem to be on a crazy busy travel schedule lately.
AE: You’re getting ready to go to Australia, is that right?
AE: So you’re finding yowies, then?
AE: Cool. The Orang-Pendek is the one cryptid like that that I might actually believe is around.
AE: And what is the theory behind no one having found it, or at least found bones from it yet?
As white men came across – [Teddy] Roosevelt, Daniel Boone, they’ve written about this creature, either themselves or someone they knew very well and trusted having sightings. But then again you it comes back to this argument: Is this perhaps misrepresentation or this misidentification, or is this outright hallucination, and people weaving tall tales? And where is the evidence?
And I guess their argument is that ancestral Gigantopithecus blacki remains have been found, mostly in the area of China. It’s thought to be the top contender of what would have been a possible Sasquatch on the evolutionary tree, if you care to think in that way. Collectively, some molars and pieces of jawbones that would probably fill up a shoebox. And a lot of stuff in China that’s prehistoric has been covered in construction, and it’s just being buried or it’s all underwater. But I still feel if you have this population that’s been there for thousands of years on the North American continent – the theory says they came across the land bridge – where’s the evidence? That camp, or members of that camp will say that these are sentient creatures that are burying them, or they’re doing something with their dead, but I say cataclysmic events do happen, folks. So, I don’t know. But that’s a long debate that’s been going.
I think one of their strongest pieces is the [Patterson-Gimlin] film, and all four of us were fortunate enough to go down to California with Bob Gimlin and go to the exact spot. And I, as a skeptic myself, have no problem saying that I want to believe in Bigfoot. I just don’t have the evidence here that I can say "I believe it’s real, because the evidence is there."
AE: But didn’t [Oscar-winning makeup and creature artist] Rick Baker or one of his makeup associates recently claim to have made the suit in that film?
RH: It’s so interesting, because it goes back and forth. Someone will come forward and then somebody will show that they really didn’t. And there was a gentleman who who was affiliated in some way with Patterson and Gimlin who said he was the guy in the suit, and it turned out that he was discredited for the most part.
Here’s what it comes down to: It is arguably one of the most controversial pieces of footage. Right up there with the Zapruder film and the man on the moon. And there are people who don’t think man walked on the moon, and there are people who don’t think that Kennedy was shot by one man, and there are people who do and don’t believe that that is or is not an animal. And those three things were all shot around the same time, within a matter of a few years. And those films are all controversial and talked about to this day. We’re still arguing. And I would like to say let’s talk about it. We can discuss it rationally and respectfully. But I’m just fascinated by how to this day it persists.
This whole crazy adventure that I’m on really began because I as a little kid back in the ‘70s was watching Bigfoot shows and the Patterson-Gimlin film and In Search Of… with my dad, and that was our special time. And then I move out to Washington State and became a research biologist, and then he passed, and I have vivid memories of that special time together. And I wanted Bigfoot stories where I did fieldwork, and that’s how I met Matt[Moneymaker, of the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization].
And then many years later, on a break from contracting at NOAA [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration], I was supposed to be heading back to school, and I had this opportunity and I ran with it.
To be quite frank, this is in honor of my dad’s memory. And that only lasted so far, because it’s entertainment. It’s not, for me, true science. But before the first season wrapped, I’d see 6 to11-year-olds at the town hall meetings with their dads in the front row with the guys, and I’m like “Oh, my gosh, that was me 30 years ago.” It continued. This isn’t about me anymore. This isn’t about me and my dad anymore. This is about, wow, these little — maybe these little future scientists, or these kids who want to believe, and they’re in that explorative “I can be anything” phase, and think it might be possible.
I am all about making sure that these kids can learn that they can be objective, critical thinkers. And then get them going there, but then also talking from a place of respect and tolerance. Listen to other ideas. I mean, this is what makes you a better person. If we surround ourselves with people who think like us, then how are we going to learn and challenge ourselves?
So when parents come up to me and tell me that their 9-year-old put down his Xbox and he goes out in the woods, well, there you go. I’m on board. I question myself: “What am I doing? It’s 22 degrees, I’m eating the worst food possible, I’m surrounded a lot of times with people that normally I don’t agree with (but I can still respect), It’s cold, I’m tired, what am I doing?” And then I hear those stories. That’s why I’m doing it.
AE: You’re in what seems like an awful position of having to essentially poke holes in these guys’ religion every week. How do you find a balance between standing your ground and maintaining a friendly working relationship with people you have to spend a lot of time with and regularly disappoint?
RH: It’s a difficult position, a challenging position. You know, you go on the road, and there are four of us. We are four passionate personalities, strong-willed people. And you have two who say that they’ve seen Bigfoot. That they’ve actually seen one. Cliff believes that Bigfoot is real based on a culmination of evidence for him. Myself, the evidence isn’t there. I don’t believe.
And I think when you put four eccentric people together like a family, with the amount of hours we put into the show, of course we’re going to have our arguments and disagree. But I am hoping that if anything, that the way I can communicate not only with the guys, but with the witnesses. To show somebody that they might watch me week in, week out – there are definitely people who can’t stand me, because they say “Oh, she doesn’t believe. What is she doing on the show?” You know, I’m fascinated. I want Bigfoot to be real. That little 10-year-old girl inside me wants to be a believer. But I’m not just going to be a lemming and drink the Kool-Aid, OK? What is this that happened to you?
So I think the important thing is I’m approaching this in a way that the average person who sits on their couch who hasn’t seen a Bigfoot is going to ask the same questions that I am. But I want to be able to talk to that witness and say to them, "I’m not saying you’re crazy. You had your experience, but I didn’t. What happened to you? Help me understand."
It doesn’t need to be an attack. And unfortunately, our society today is so polarized, especially in our politics, that we don’t listen to each other anymore. And I find that — I believe the children are our future. [Laughs] I want kids to have role models that you can talk about things and disagree and not attack each other. And just listen.
If we just have a monoculture and we stay there, we don’t grow. I’m very supportive of traveling and learning about other cultures and other opinions and personalities. That makes you a more well rounded person.
AE: The guys on the show talk a lot about trying to convert you into a believer. Do you feel like you’ve made any headway in getting them to think a little more skeptically?
RH: I think at times. It will come and go. There are times when they’ll understand, and they’ll go “OK, yeah.” Or I might say to them, “You guys, if you’re talking to your witness, be conscious not to say ‘Did it walk hunched over? Were its arms beyond the knees?'” You’re leading your witness and if anything, all that does is detract from your point. When you do that, and you’ve led your witness, I can’t put credibility in it. I step back and say, “That witness was led,” unintentionally or not.
And they’ll be like, "Oh, hey, good point." I think Cliff has picked that up the most. He’ll say, "Can you describe its head? Can you describe this?" And so it’s interesting, because we mix it up who interviews who, so we’ll be there at times when I’m trying to say, "Can you tell me how it walked?" And finally we’ll say "Look, we don’t want to lead you; we want you to describe it. We’re looking for certain clues, but we need to hear it from you first." And we’ll keep asking that same question. And at times we’ll slip.
I don’t I think, well, first of all, that’s really sweet of them to say the want to indoctrinate me. And I always say to them, "OK, show me." I want to see these things. I want see these glowing red eyes. I want to hear this concussive growl that could not be a person and couldn’t be another animal. I need that to come on board, to change my opinion. But it isn’t them that would do that, in essence. It would be the experience. If they’re able to get me to that experience, so be it. Well, that’s why I went around the woods in the dark.
Literally in the dark. And people ask, "Are you worried about something?" or "Are you ever afraid?" To be frank, a group of people, a small handful of us – usually there’s at least two of us, a cameraman, and a producer, so I’m in a group of four unless I can get a Zaxcom [sound transmitter] on me and I can walk away ahead into the dark. I’m not concerned about making enough noise to some degree that I wouldn’t be startling a bear or a cougar. My other concern would be would be with people who shouldn’t be out in the woods, and we’re already a bit of a group.
I’m mostly worried about poking myself in the eye with a stick or falling in a hole. People have a misconception with the night vision cameras. They say, "You’re sitting up in the tree, but you’ve got these lights on!" And they’re clueless! They don’t understand that it’s an infrared light. So if you were sitting there with me in that tree, you don’t see that infrared light. Our eyes don’t pick that up. So we truly are walking around in the dark. I’m sure there are hilarious outtakes somewhere of us walking into something – like a branch will come through and – Oof! – and we’re cursing those backpacks. You’re trying to walk up a hill through this brush, and it’s undercover, and that little bar that holds the camera gets stuck on it.
I remember one time, I think it was in Arizona. It was a beautiful night and there was ambient light from the moonglow, but I was just, like, "Give me two minutes here," And I was just kicking the dirt and yelling because I was so frustrated with the backpacks. It has a tendency to get caught up on things.