Yes, they are fearless, manly men who pounce on alligators and wrestle them into submission, both in and out of the water. But the stars of Animal Planet’s Gator Boys have a surprising affinity for the reptile.
“Our job is to catch nuisance gators – ones that wander into people’s yards and swimming pools,” series star Jimmy Riffle tells PEOPLE. “But Florida state law prohibits us releasing any gators longer than four feet into the wild. We don’t want to have them destroyed, so we find reserves for them to live.”
Adds costar Paul Bedard, “I think a lot of people connect with the conservation aspect of what we do. I have a great respect for alligators.”
Their work caught the eye of Animal Planet executives, who gave them their own show. Now in its third season, Gator Boys is one of the cable network’s most popular programs.
“We get a lot of great feedback from people of all ages,” says Bedard, 46. “I think a lot of people enjoy what we do.”
That is, except for the alligators.
“I’ve got bitten so many times,” says Bedard, “I lost count at 25.”
Riffle, 28, also shows off scars from his numerous bites. “One grabbed my hand and we had to remove it with a crowbar,” he says. “Yeah, that one really hurt.”
Don’t Try This at Home
The Gator Boys invited PEOPLE to see them in action at the Everglades Outpost Wildlife Rescue, a wildlife reserve in Homestead, Florida.
Riffle put his hand inside an 8-foot gator’s mouth and showed off the animal’s 80 jagged teeth before giving a lesson on wrestling alligators. (Tip: Stay away from the swinging tail.)
So, what should you do if you’re chased by an alligator?
“People think that gators run 25 miles per hour. They don’t. They run about 10 miles per hour in short bursts,” says Riffle. “You can outrun a gator, but don’t run zigzag. If you do, they’ll just run straight towards you.”
Another misconception: that gators will try to attack you on land.
“Sure, anything can happen,” says Bedard. “But generally, when you’re on land, they’re six inches tall and you’re six feet tall. They’re not going to mess with you. You’re more likely to get attacked when you’re swimming. They’ll see your head sticking up out of the water and think you’re the same size as a nice duck.
“That happened to me, and I had to elbow the gator in the throat.”
Perhaps this is a good time to talk about alligators’ soft spots: the eyes, nostrils and a fleshy area underneath its jaws.
“Use an elbow,” says Bedard, “and he’ll let go.”
The new season of Gator Boys premieres on Animal Planet on Sunday night 8 p.m. EST. In the two-part episode, the cast goes to Mexico to help launch a no-kill crocodile rescue at an aquarium in Mazatlan.
“I love what I do,” says Riffle. “I feel like we’re helping people understand these animals, and we’re doing the right thing.”