Like many people in and out my age range, I was infatuated with the Jackass franchise and grew up idolizing its cast members. Still am, still do. I heterosexually watched Ryan Dunn shove a toy car up his adult rectum with the same reverence of a youth pianist seeing a Shostakovich symphony for the first time. The model train collection in my childhood bedroom still smells like a pancreas.
Johnny Knoxville getting obliterated by Butterbean in that department store gave me irreversible trauma for not being a victim of child abuse. I thought that video was the coolest and funniest thing in the world. Still do. I remember begging my largest uncle to punch me in the face at Lowe’s while my cousin secretly filmed on his Gameboy Camera behind a display shed.
Bam Margera has publicly spiraled into a universal embarrassment who’s revolutionized the darkest depths of rock bottom, and I’d still trade lives with him without thinking thrice. Chris Pontius inspired the majority of my high school locker room theatrics, and I was the Steve-O of my college wrestling team, in the sense that I was always finding myself on my back.
Point is, six months ago, when I found out Donnie, Nick, and I were getting our own travel series where we’d have the opportunity to intersperse decaf Jackass stunts with middlebrow humor and hyper-niche Riggs references, I was moderately excited to say the most. But it wasn't until the third installment of the show that I actually felt real childlike elation about finally fulfilling my professional dreams of yesteryear.
Florida is the Jackass of places: a geographic cocktail of danger, debauchery, and drug abuse. Where the hedonism makes a night out in Vegas look like a picnic in Provo, and the tertiary characters in local news stories make the Wildboyz look like the Scibelli family. It was the perfect setting for a slapstick stunt fest, and as long as the Canadian pilsner sponsoring our American travel show was satisfied with our product placement, we'd be spending nine days there, with free reign to film whatever we wanted with whomever we wanted.
After a mild mixup in Miami, we arrived in Orlando to beautiful Spring weather and freshly-lifted Covid restrictions, which attracted an endless sea of vacation-deprived Disney tourists happily and fatly spilling out of the resorts and into the personal space of me and my cohort. It may not have been the smartest decision to come in April, but I guess that’s how the Bam Margeras of the world are made. And I’d be damned if I wasn’t on Jackass mode as soon as I entered our hotel lobby.
In the same vein as Steve-O sticking a fish hook through his cheek to become human shark bait, I brazenly stuck a flamingo earring right through my entire lobe to become local bear bait. With the stage set and the first stunt out of the way, my adrenaline was pumping and I was ready to take on the statistically most dangerous activities that Florida has to offer.
And after a night of clubbing and loitering around high schools, I was finally ready to take on the first day of filming. The only problem with Orlando though, aside from the people and things there, is that it’s an existential purgatory of humidity, congestion, and commercialism. An amalgamation of every pet peeve squeezed into a single municipality in which you have to pay to wait to fully experience. Where the kids are too young to cognitively process misery, and the "Disney adults" attempt to justify eating extra powdered beignets and funnel cakes with every meal, because they were baked in the shape of their favorite cartoon rodent's head.
This city had no redeeming qualities that could even make a show built on pain and discomfort worth watching. No, if we wanted to capture Florida’s real magic and compete with the likes of Steve and the fellas, we’d have to go much deeper into its treacherous interior and get face-to-face with fears that transcended agoraphobia.
The only problem with our crew is that we weren't really on the same page as performers or DSM-5 exhibits. When it comes to the affinity/tolerance for danger and pain, my two compadres are on polar opposite ends of the spectrum. Donnie is the type of guy who would emerge from a frozen lake after jumping off a suspension bridge through a layer of ice, and feel physically better and more comfortable than he did beforehand. Inversely, you could scream the word “wet” from a different room and Nick would slip on a dry floor and tear his meniscus. I’ve quite literally witnessed him get injured by a concept. When it comes to me, I guess I was somewhere in the middle…
Aside from the candiru fish, the only animal I've ever been truly terrified of getting attacked by is an alligator. Even when I was tucked away in Appalachia, I'd squirm and sweat through my sheets at the mere thought of falling victim to a gator's "death roll." My amygdala was constantly tormented by the prospect of drowning and gulping up mouthfuls of water while an aquatic dinosaur snaps your bones in half and wrenches your limbs from their sockets. So it only made sense that Donnie unsolicitedly signed us up for a day-long “alligator hunting bonanza” where’d we'd be getting the opportunity to “wrestle” them. Hmmm...
The titular sons from the Townsend & Sons hunting grounds were the most tried-and-true Floridians you could find these days. I’m sure that means a lot to them, coming from me. The only thing they knew or cared about was hunting gators and making money, but even still, they were hauntingly blasé throughout the entire excursion.
They didn't acknowledge our camera crew or question our garish outfits, despite the fact that we were dressed like we were about to play the vuvuzela at a '90s themed pride parade. They never once cracked a smile, raised their voices, or deviated from the disposition of Dexter. It was surreal to see someone stare at the open mouth of an unrestrained 12-foot alligator like it was a Greek yogurt lid. So when they were reeling in “our” first catch of the day and calmly told me to “come grab it,” I didn’t know if they were trying to assure me of my safety or their desire to add me to their carcass collection.
There’s a certain emasculation that comes with realizing you’re a grown man with hands too small and dainty to even grasp the narrowest appendage of an already-narrow animal. And just as my grip was about to fully give out, one of the tour guides confiscated the gator tail from me quicker than a Las Vegas security guard. Donnie called me a pussy, but what would you expect me to do in that situation? Imagine thinking you’re tougher than the sons? The fucking Townsend sons? But as I watched from afar as he clutched the beast’s back-end and effortlessly wrangled it onto shore like he was pulling a spaghetti strand out of a sink basin, one thought went through my head: I can’t go out like this.
I couldn't leave the Everglades that day without so much as even tickling the teenie-tiny tail of a little gator. What would Bam and the boys think? What would childhood me think if the only role I ended up playing in a knockoff Jackass movie was “Timid Twink #2”? Nah, this was my only chance to suppress my phobias and summon any semblance of skill or strength I had to be a star.
As I awkwardly mounted the leathery snapper like a Make-a-Wish kid with a Godzilla fetish, I briefly started pondering the pros and cons, but I knew exactly what I had to do…
“Pull one of your wrestling moves on it”
As soon as those words escaped Donald’s Labatt-soaked lips, my brain became flooded with repressed flashbacks of my old college wrestling matches. Specifically of those with one opponent in particular:
The last, and only, time I wrestled in front of a discernible crowd of fans was when we traveled to Ohio State's auxiliary gym and I was forced to sacrifice myself to 4x NCAA champ Logan Stieber’s highlight reel. I think I lost by technical fall (mercy rule) 18-0 in the middle of the second period, which is somehow more embarrassing than flat out just getting pinned in 5 seconds. I started to re-remember getting booed by the student section as I walked off the mat, as if a collective head shake or apologetic shrug wouldn’t have sufficed. I then faced the realization that this was my chance to finally redeem myself of that humiliation — to turn the tables — and that an audience of tens of thousands of more people would be seeing this upcoming match.
And with my skin covered in infectious grime and my groin tightly veiled by three-inch inseams that contorted my hernia-riddled scrotum into a Snyder snack, I felt like I was right back on the wrestling mat at the pinnacle of my opponents' glory days. It was now or never.
Long story short, I fucked that alligator completely up (score wise) and made it look as defenseless as it was. The extremely edited and cut-up scene in the final video didn’t even begin to do my domination justice. Several sets of back points from arm bars, turks, and far-side cradles highlighted what was easily the fastest technical fall in Townsend and Sons alligator wrestling history. And when I finished up the match, I felt like a proud son desperately turning to the Sons for any type of paternal affirmation and approval.
Apparently, “wrestling gators” is some type of outdoorsmen colloquialism for simply catching and subduing them? I don’t know. I didn't go to Florida to argue semantics or local lingo. But yeah, it seems like a lot have people were some combination of entertained, disturbed, or confused by that scene, so I felt the need to add some context. I promise no animals were actually harmed by any of my actions in the Everglades. Not physically, at least.