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Published July 12 2012

Benshoof: Gator wrestling show back on at fair, so learn how to protect yourself

WEST FARGO – In what seems to be a trend for my column, I have yet another confession to make: alligators creep me out.

In the past month, two Florida residents were attacked by the scaly, scary reptilian beasts, resulting in both people losing a limb.

The most recent Florida attack happened to be on the same day the Red River Valley Fair rolled into town, and what just happened to be new to the fair this year? A gator wrestling show.

Though “experts” might claim we never have to fear alligators up here on the prairie, I know better. I know what terrors might lurk in the cloudy depths of the mysterious Red River.

I needed to be prepared to handle a gator in case I ever found myself facing one, as is the stuff of my nightmares (right up there, in fact, with Alex Trebek asking me a question about Star Trek on Jeopardy! and not knowing the answer, but that’s a story for another day).

But then, as I reported in the paper on Wednesday, there was no wrestling to be had on this day, thanks to what appears to be a hoax phone call.

Host Jeff Quattrocchi has resumed his full show for fairgoers, so you have until Sunday to check out what’s been the fair’s most popular attraction so far.

The whole concept of gator wrestling started with Native American tribes in Florida, first as a method of hunting and catching the animals for food, Quattrocchi told me after Tuesday’s show.

Once tribes realized tourists would pay to watch the spectacle, gator wrestling turned more into an attraction, leading to the kinds of theme parks where Quattrocchi started his career.

Quattrocchi says he’s one of only two such traveling gator handling shows in the country. He attributes that small number to the fact that, as you might imagine, gator wrestling is just a tad bit dangerous.

That’s something that Quattrocchi has experienced all too often.

“I got bit my third week” of being a gator handler, he told me. “I’ve been bit a bunch of times. It’s dangerous.”

These bites can be significant, he says, showing me a noticeable scar on his arm (the result of a filmed attack that’s garnered more than 240,000 views on YouTube and quite possibly could have cost him a limb).

Seeing Quattrocchi’s pain on tape was more than enough to convince me to abandon my pursuit of gator wrestling, even before I could get some actual tips from him on how to handle the animal. Perhaps for now I’ll plan my defense against the gator menace from land.

So rather than taking down an alligator at the fair on this day, I went and wrestled a really mean-looking Greek gyro instead.

It didn’t stand a chance.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sam Benshoof at (701) 241-5535