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Originally published Sunday, October 30, 2011 at 5:31 AM

Seattleite stars as skeptic on Sasquatch series

A two-hour special, "Finding Bigfoot: Birth of a Legend," airs Oct. 30 on Animal Planet. In this outing, a team of Sasquatch hunters, which includes Seattle's Ranae Holland, traipses through a California redwood forest to visit the site where the Patterson-Gimlin footage of a supposed Bigfoot was filmed 50 years ago.

Special to The Seattle Times

On TV

'Finding Bigfoot: Birth of a Legend'

9 p.m. Sunday, Animal Planet

Tonight in Prime Time

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There's something comfortably predictable about Animal Planet's "Finding Bigfoot." Each week, a team of Sasquatch aficionados research reports of Bigfoot sightings and spend a night in the woods searching for the hairy creature. And each week they come away without proof of Bigfoot's existence; yet they remain undaunted, ready to go back out again.

It's not an unfamiliar television format, one popularized most recently by other paranormal cable series like Syfy's "Ghost Hunters" franchise and A&E's recently concluded "Paranormal State."

The first season of "Finding Bigfoot" aired during the summer, drawing an average 1.2 million viewers, making it one of Animal Planet's top series. A second season is in the works for early next year, and a two-hour special, "Finding Bigfoot: Birth of a Legend," airs tonight at 9.

In this outing, the team, which includes Seattle's Ranae Holland, traipses through a California redwood forest to visit the site where the Patterson-Gimlin footage of a supposed Bigfoot was filmed 50 years ago.

The "Finding Bigfoot" team is made up of three true believers and one skeptic. Holland, a research field biologist/ecologist with a degree in aquatic ecology from the University of Washington, is the skeptic.

When she's not out searching for Bigfoot, Holland makes her home on Lake Union. For now her place is sublet while she's on the hunt.

"I have not been home very much," she said earlier this month during a break from production in southwest Virginia for a season-two episode. Production wraps in early December.

"Then I get to come home. Some of my friends are chefs, so I'm looking forward to getting some fantastic Seattle food. Then I can recharge my batteries."

A South Dakota native, Holland, 41, worked as a field-biologist contractor before "Finding Bigfoot," often spending time collecting research samples in the wilderness.

Connection with father

Her interest in Bigfoot dates back to watching "In Search of ... " and 1970s-era Bigfoot movies with her father. Although she's a fan of the mystery of Bigfoot, she does not believe the creatures exist.

"I can't wrap my head around that there's a bipedal primate running around the woods of North America. ... There's not enough proof to say I believe," she said.

"But I'm fascinated by the idea of the phenomenon and intrigued by the reports. ... I'm curious by nature and I'm a problem solver. So I say, 'Here's the mystery, let's figure it out one way or another.' "

Holland said her role on "Finding Bigfoot" is to make sure the show's true believers "are not pulling stuff out of nowhere." She wants them to apply scientific methodology to their expeditions.

After Holland's father died in 2003 and she found herself in the woods, she went online to find reports of Bigfoot sightings. That's how she established an email and phone relationship with Matt Moneymaker, founder of the Bigfoot Field Research Organization and one of the stars of "Finding Bigfoot." He gave her access to the group's database of Bigfoot sightings.

"I love to find out Bigfoot stories wherever I'm doing field work," Holland said. But she had no aspirations to appear on TV before "Finding Bigfoot" and initially rejected invitations.

After seeking advice from respected science community colleagues, she gave in.

"They were like, 'Why not?' And I said, 'But if you Google my name, "Bigfoot" will come up.' And they said, 'You know in your heart you're a skeptic, and anyone who knows you knows how you feel and that you love Bigfoot stories,' " she recalled.

"And being on the show has not affected me professionally at all."

Voicing viewers' doubts

"Finding Bigfoot" executive producer Keith Hoffman said Holland's skepticism is a key ingredient in the series.

"She represents the viewer a lot of times," he said. "Viewers want to see people who don't just totally believe."

"Finding Bigfoot" does not take itself too seriously; hence the inclusion of a badly computer-animated Bigfoot in some re-created scenes. And the show's cast has a sense of humor. In tonight's episode, Holland is encouraged to let loose with a Bigfoot call.

"It wasn't so much a call as it was a yodel," she says afterward. "I am a quarter Norwegian, after all."

In the show's first season, one episode was filmed in Washington's North Cascades; the team visited a site on Silver Star Mountain where a photo was taken of what's purportedly a Bigfoot.

There are no plans to return to the state in season two, but Holland is hopeful another Washington episode could be on tap if the series is extended to a third season.

"I hope we'll get back there," she said. "That is a hot spot for [reports of Bigfoot] activity."

In the meantime, Holland said she's having fun tramping woods all over the country with the "Finding Bigfoot" crew. She especially enjoys when the show invites locals to town-hall meetings to discuss their own Bigfoot encounters.

"Doing this Bigfoot show at times makes me feel close to my dad," she said. "Seeing 10-year-olds come to the town halls with their fathers really brings my relationship with my father full circle."

Rob Owen: RobOwenTV@gmail.com

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