An upcoming TV show is offering $10 million for irrefutable proof of Bigfoot and people are lining up for their shot at making television history.

According to a story in The Hollywood Reporter, “Spike TV announced Thursday a 10-episode pickup for 10 Million Dollar Big Foot Bounty, a new reality competition that's offering what would be the largest cash prize in TV history. The only catch is that the titular $10 million, backed by insurers of the bizarre at Lloyd's of London, can only be awarded to a contestant that provides irrefutable evidence that that Big Foot exists. Scientists, zoologists, trackers and actual Big Foot hunters are among the competitors the series is lining up, with casting already underway. Teams will present their evidence to Big Foot ‘experts’ in attempt to win the prize. And the 10 episodes will follow different teams tackling the search with different methods.”

Okay then.

It’s not clear what, exactly, the evidence might be, but presumably it would have to be better than what we already have, such as eyewitness stories, footprints, and fuzzy photos. Of course Bigfoot’s existence cannot be determined by a group of Bigfoot “experts.” When new animals are discovered (as they are every now and then — typically insects and new small subspecies lingering in remote areas), their existence is established through meticulous research published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, not a panel of judges in a “reality TV” game show format.

The $10 million is, of course, a publicity stunt. The fact is that anyone who actually captured a real Bigfoot, alive or dead, could earn far more than $10 million. Its finder would be very rich, very famous, and possibly credited with one of the greatest scientific finds in decades. Still, it’s enough to get people’s attention.

This is not the first time that a large cash prize has been offered for proof of the existence of the mysterious and unexplained; the non-profit organization James Randi Educational Foundation has a long-standing $1 million prize offered to anyone who can successfully prove they have psychic or paranormal abilities under scientifically controlled conditions. So far no one has won the prize.

Various rewards have also been offered for hard evidence of other creatures including Scotland’s Loch Ness Monster, as well as America’s own Lake Champlain creature, for which great showman P.T. Barnum once offered a $50,000 reward, dead or alive. All these rewards and prizes have two things in common: they all generated public interest in the monsters, and in the end they all failed to find any evidence.

Claims of “conclusive evidence” of Bigfoot have circulated for years, sometimes in the form of supposedly mysterious DNA, hair, or blood samples (which are invariably inconclusive, faked, mistakes or from known animals) and other times in the form of supposed dead bodies (which invariably turn out to be frauds and hoaxes). People have been searching for Bigfoot for well over a half-century, and during that time many of the potential wilderness hiding places have been logged and explored, and technology (including cameras–these days nearly everyone carries a high-definition camera on them at all times) have greatly improved. Still, no good evidence has emerged.

It’s not for lack of funding or resources (several searches for Bigfoot and Yeti have been well-financed, and anyway searching for Bigfoot requires nothing more than hiking boots and plenty of free time), nor is it for lack of effort (thousands of both amateur and “professional” Bigfoot hunters have spent decades searching). Instead, the most likely reason for the failure is that the creatures simply do not exist, and that the apparent evidence for them rests mostly on mistakes, hoaxes and wishful thinking. Thus it seems likely that Lloyd’s of London’s money is safe.

On the other hand, just because all previous efforts have failed to find good evidence doesn’t mean it won’t be found. It’s possible that months or years from now Bigfoot will be found, and its discoverer will cash the check he or she so richly deserves. As always, time will tell.

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