“A lot of people don’t realize, there are monsters in your backyard,” said Michael Merchant, 50, of Hampden, one of the two Maine residents starring in the new reality show “10 Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty,” premiering 10 p.m. Jan. 10 on Spike TV.
“In Maine, there are a number of legit Sasquatch sightings,” he continued. “And the people who tell the stories will give you chills.”
In the new reality show, Merchant will team up with Kat McKechnie, 39, of Bowdoinham, to compete against eight other teams for a $10 million prize. Their mission: to uncover evidence of Bigfoot while searching the most remote corners of the Pacific northwest, where sightings of the creature are most common.
On Wednesday, I chatted with both contestants during a phone interview monitored by Spike TV. (There are certain details about the show, including the results, that they simply can’t reveal.)
Merchant, who studied biology at the University of Maine in Orono, is an expert survivalist and researches all manner of cryptids, legendary creatures that are rumored to exist but for which conclusive evidence is still missing. He has been all over the world looking for Bigfoot, casting tracks or footprints and interviewing numerous eyewitnesses, and he claims to have had two sightings.
“I’m hyperfocused on critters,” Merchant said. “I was really lucky to grow up in Tenant’s Harbor, a little coastal town. Both my families came from the woods and Down East. So I grew up with it, spending time outdoors. I am probably sleeping outdoors more than I’m sleeping in.”
No stranger to reality television, Merchant has also appeared on Discovery Channel’s “Out of the Wild: Venezuela,” in which he hiked 70 miles through rugged Venezuela jungle; as well as Animal Planet’s “Infested” as a herpetology expert.
His team member, McKechnie, has an entirely different skill set. Co-founder of Maine Ghost Hunters, McKechnie and her team of paranormal investigators have been featured on A&E Biography Channel’s “My Ghost Story” series. And in 2012, the team launched their own reality show, “ZeroLux Paranormal,” which airs on WPME.
“I love the mysteries of life. I can’t get enough,” McKechnie said. “If [Bigfoot] is real, I definitely want to be the one to bring that science to the table.”
And believe it or not, that’s what “Bigfoot Bounty” is all about — science.
Each week, the teams present what evidence they’ve gathered and their theories to scientific experts Dr. Todd Disotell and Natalia Reagan.
Disotell holds a PhD from Harvard and is a biological anthropologist who runs New York University’s molecular primatology lab. He has been a part of research teams that have discovered several new species and subspecies of primates. And Reagan is a primatologist with a Master’s degree in anthropology. She specializes in primate conservation and has a wealth of experience tracking monkeys in the wild.
DNA evidence will be processed utilizing Disotell’s state-of-the-art mobile DNA lab that can obtain DNA results in the most remote locations within a day. In the case proof is not found, the team that presented the most compelling evidence and theory will be given a $100,000 research grant to continue their search.
“I’m going to tell you, it’s science based,” McKechnie said. “They send you out into the woods with a directive: go bring back science. And if you don’t bring back science, you’re going home.”
“I would encourage everyone from Maine to watch the show and make their own decisions,” Merchant said. “I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised.”
Expedition leader Dean Cain, a widely-known actor known for his role as Superman in the 1990s TV series “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman,” will also sit on the judges panel. Cane is an avid outdoorsman and hunter. Throughout the series, he will assist the teams, helping them use their skills to the best of their abilities.
“We can’t say where we went, but the locations were epic, extremely arduous, dangerous — this wasn’t fake shit,” Merchant said. “They’d drop you off in places where people could die.”
“Just when you think you have a hold on something — like ‘yeah, I got this’ — the next day, you realize you understood nothing,” McKechnie said. “You think, ‘I’m in a nightmare. I don’t know what the hell is going on.’”
The $10 million grand prize, underwritten by Lloyd’s of London, is one of the largest cash prizes ever offered in television history.
“It’s a good thing there are laws against homicide. I’ll just throw that out there and leave it at that,” Merchant said, then paused. “I’m kidding. It’s very stressful when you’re in a competition and you want to win. I think people should want to watch it because it’ll be extremely entertaining what people have to go through.”
While they had their share of disagreements during the competition, Merchant and McKechnie made a dynamic team, they said.
“Mike is extremely high intensity, has a lot of drive in what he’s doing,” McKechnie said. “He this approach I think a lot of other teams don’t have. They were just sort of wandering around the woods. Mike was just in tune with the environment.”
“I agree with Kat,” Merchant said. “Kat’s super organized, and on top of that, she has a degree in geology … and she is amazing at seeing critters and hearing sounds that haven’t even happened yet. She’s hear things I couldn’t hear. Really — she’s an auditory prophet.”
Both felt they had a leg up on the competition because of their Maine roots.
“Yankee ingenuity,” McKechnie said. “If something would break out in the woods, it’s amazing what Mike can do with paracord.”
Both contestants are back in Maine and actively searching for Bigfoot. Merchant asks Maine residents to contact him with any Bigfoot sightings through his Facebook group “Zen Yeti.”
“I think that there is a monster living in the backwoods of Maine,” Merchant said. “And I think quite a few people have seen it and are hesitant to say anything because they fear being ridiculed.”
“Who’s going to want to be like, ‘Hey, I live in northern Maine and I saw Bigfoot’?” McKechnie said. “What do you think the responses are going to be? … For me, it’s an exciting subject. I just hope some day it’s not going to be taboo and everyone can talk about it — kind of like ghost hunting. Hopefully Bigfoot will be heading in that direction so we can have a bigger picture of the sightings in the state.”
“10 Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty” is produced by Charlie Corwin’s Original Media (“Swamp People,” “Ink Master”) with Corwin, Mike Riley and Emmy Award-winner Jon Kroll (“The Amazing Race,” “Big Brother”) as Executive Producers.
Fans can join in the conversation about the show by following @SPIKETV on Twitter and using #BigfootBounty. Sneak peeks of upcoming episodes, blog posts, full episodes, biographies and more can be found at bigfoot.spike.com.