The last place I expected to find a role model for my nine-year-old daughter was on a reality television show.
On a recent night, the central air roaring softly, our family of three sprawled on the couch and watched forty-three year old Frenchman Cyril Chauquet kiss a giant, slimy alligator gar before heaving it back into the water of a remote Texas river.
“Ewwwwwwww!” my nine-year-old daughter exclaimed.
“Ewwwww!” I echoed. Kissing a fish may be a good luck ritual for the fisherman, but it repulsed us.
In each episode of “Chasing Monsters,” now in production with its third season (the first two are available on Netflix), Chauquet travels to a remote location in search of a particular quarry. In Episode 1 of Season 2, “Dagger Devil,” he fished the Mekong River in Thailand for giant freshwater stingrays.
As he searched for shrimp with which to lure the rays, I watched Chauquet bow to several fishermen he met. I listened to him laugh and speak a few words of Thai to a woman selling catfish in an open air market. There are funnier reality television hosts—”Bizarre Foods” host Andrew Zimmern’s expression when he tries a new food never fails to make me laugh—but I was struck by Chauquet’s respect for the people he encountered.
The more episodes we watched of Chauquet’s adventure angling series, the move I approved of him as an example for our nine-year-old daughter of a good global citizen. He has participated in ritual ceremonies in remote villages to ensure a good catch, and consulted with a local shaman.
I feel good about watching the show as a family. Left to her own devices, our daughter would watch ASMR, K-Pop videos and pet rescues all day on her laptop. Cyril doesn’t swear (in this way he often sets a better example than I do); there’s no nudity on the show; and the action is just gross enough to entertain my tween without being so graphic its gives her nightmares.
The world has changed radically since I was growing up in the 1970s watching the country smarm of “The Walton’s,” a show set in the mountains of Virginia about a family with seven children. Back then the benign presence of President Jimmy Carter filled the White House. He modeled a culture of kindness and tolerance that now feels sadly distant.
In “Dagger Devil,” Cyril caught a giant stingray. It looked like an enormous tarp and the rippling motion of its body, emerging from the murky river, mesmerized me. The host respects the creatures he captures, teaches viewers about them and their habitats, and even helps with conservation and research efforts.Chauquet collected stingray venom to help a local scientist create an anti-venin for the rays’ toxic stings.
Choquet practices catch and release and takes care not to injure the fish he finds. However, if the village he’s visiting needs food, he’ll offer them his monster catch for dinner. It’s a touching and generous gesture of care for one’s fellow human beings.
“How many languages does this guy speak?” I wondered as my daughter, curled next to me on the couch, tried to mimic the Thai greeting she heard. As we work our way through the first two seasons of “Chasing Monsters,” I’ve heard Choquet speak his native French, as well as English, Portuguese, Spanish and serviceable Thai.
I studied French for eight years and was able to use it on several trips to the country. Speaking the language was a sign of respect for the French people, but also a point of pride. I didn’t want to be an “ugly American,” a person ignorant of a culture’s language and customs. Chauquet’s show reinforces my values.
As she begins fourth grade at a new school, where she’ll learn Spanish and French, her father and I will continue to educate her too. We’re looking forward to watching Season 3 together. Opening her mind to a more expansive view of the world beyond America’s borders; connecting with other cultures where they are; respecting and caring for the environment. These are the big fish I want to teach my daughter to catch.