TODAY   |  January 05, 2012

Meet the ‘Boys’ who wrestle (and kiss!) alligators

Paul Bedard and Jimmy Riffle, the stars of Animal Planet’s new reality-TV show “Gator Boys,” bring one of their scaly and reptilian friends to Studio 1A.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> back now at 7:40 with two guys who use their bare hands to catch one of the oldest predators on earth, alligators. we'll meet the stars of an exciting new reality tv show in one of their cold-blooded friends in a moment but first nbc's kerry sanders has a behind-the-scenes look at the new world of man vs. alligator. kerry , good morning.

>> reporter: well, good morning, carl. they were almost wiped out by hunters, but today it's estimated there are more than a million alligators in the state of florida , which means sometimes those alligators get too close to people. but now there are two guys who have made it their mission to protect the alligators from being killed when those alligators get too close to civilization. gator trapping and wrestling is as old in florida as the seminole indians .

>> every gator for himself.

>> reporter: but not like this.

>> that's paul bedard, a 43-year-old triathlete who can hold his breath under water up to four minutes, enough time to lass oo nuisance gators, too close to civilization. in a back yard pond, fresh water canal, in the family swimming pool. typically in florida gators like these are captured and then harvested. their meat and hides are sold to the highest bidders. but the so-called gator boys say they capture and then protect every wayward intruder they find.

>> i've been around gators a long time. not a lot of people do this.

>> honestly people think it's a joke when i say this but it is about public safety .

>> reporter: paul and the barefooted jimmy swim and capture gators unlike traditional trappers in florida . no fishing lines, no hooks, just their bare hands at times a rope. and just as often the so-called gator boys don't see but sense where their target has submerged. jimmy's gator fascination began when he was but a toddler. and it took off from there.

>> i actually started working with alligators when i was 11 years old.

>> reporter: wait a second. your mother let you go near alligators when you were 11?

>> she didn't like me too much.

>> reporter: jimmy has been bitten seven times.

>> i've been bit in the side of this hand, in my pointer middle finger .

>> reporter: it takes but a moment's calculation.

>> you've been bitten how many times?

>> let's not get into that. i don't ask you about your failures. don't ask about mine, okay?

>> reporter: paul admits he suffered at least 23 bites. remarkably he still has all of his fingers and toes.

>> doesn't really sting as much as you would think.

>> reporter: it all looks so easy until you try it.

>> all you need. you put that on and you're an alligator expert.

>> reporter: dressed and ready to go.

>> whoa.

>> reporter: experts at my side.

>> get close to him.

>> reporter: my adrenalin is pumping.

>> don't think. just go.

>> oh! that hurt! ah!

>> he's the king.

>> how do i get out of here?

>> we're going for lunch. we'll be back in about a half hour.

>> reporter: hey!

>> maybe an hour.

>> reporter: did i forget to mention? the gator 's jaws were sealed shut with tape before i ever started. okay. so i cheated. but certainly not going to go in the water with these, for good reason. nobody should try this. statistics gathered by the state of florida since 1948 show that there have been 300 plus unprovoked attacks in the state, 22 ending in death. so gators are not something to play around with. carl?

>> kerry , i am not messing with you ever again. that was good stuff. nice pushup, too. kerry sanders in homestead, florida . as kerry said they are the stars of animal planet 's " gator boys" and this as 3-year-old american gator named junior. good morning to you both.

>> good morning.

>> i know you've been asked this before but do you have some kind of death wish ?

>> no. it's just kind of just doing things that we've kind of figured out different ways to do it and it's not like you go in there blindly and jump on them. there is a method to the madness.

>> you are a college educated guy from new england. why this line of work?

>> just kind of happens. you don't set out to do it. you start working around them and kind of fell in love with them.

>> you just don't wake up in a morning and say i want to wrestle an alligator. just something you want to do your whole life.

>> talk to me about a couple of the close calls you've had. you've been in instances where you've been under water and charged at. your shorts have gotten caught.

>> yes.

>> you say you ended up like scrambled eggs.

>> yeah. every once in a while you'll get a gator -- usually under water they're passive but once you try to make the attempt to catch him he can -- he'll figure that you're not there for good intentions.

>> right.

>> and get a little aggressive. i've been in some hairy spots where i've been under roots and going up for air when a gator attacks you and you get kind of stuck. that's why i wear shorts like that.

>> talk to me about some of the shows you put on. that part is entertainment and part to raise money for this cause, right?

>> it's called alligator wrestling just doing techniques of working with the alligators and like you said, raise money for our program to buy more nuisance alligators and the way we do that is throwing dangerous stunts and putting our heads in the alligators' mouth, our hands. basically putting ourselves on the line for the enjoyment of the crowd.

>> when these animals get large, and they do get large, right, they'll go through thousands of teeth over time .

>> absolutely.

>> what kind of damage could they do if things reel wint wrowint -- really went wrong?

>> crush your neck, break your skull, anything.

>> he could take off a finger no problem.

>> he is only 3?

>> about 4 years old.

>> he already has 80 teeth.

>> they're born with 80 teeth and die with 80 teeth but they just get much bigger and stronger as they get older.

>> and you'll kiss him?

>> yes.

>> right now?

>> do you want to try?

>> no. that's okay. i'm good. thank you. though i would love to hold him really quick.

>> underneath the arms.

>> just keep the head away.

>> at this point i want to keep my head away from his head.

>> you don't want to kiss him unless you bought him dinner and told him you love him.

>> talk dirty a little bit?

>> no. he is only 4.

>> don't try this at home.

>> yes. if you have gators at your house you're probably all right.

>> paul and jimmy, thank you, guys.

>> all right.

>> all right.

>> gator boys premieres on animal planet sunday night. up next,