CNN’s Mike Rowe Learns How to be a Bullfighter

PUEBLO, Colo. – Mike Rowe from CNN’s “Somebody’s Gotta Do It” chatted with this week to preview his show’s upcoming season premiere on Thursday at 9 p.m. ET, which features his firsthand experience at the Chicago Invitational last January.

In Chicago, Rowe learned how to be a bullfighter from Dickies® Bullfighters Frank Newsom, Jesse Byrne and Cody Webster.

He was also taught how to load bulls in and out of the back pens by Jerome Robinson and he also participated in a series of other PBR-related jobs that can be watched exclusively on CNN later this week.

Here are some highlights from the conversation:

JF: One of the highlights of the episode has to be your opportunity to learn how to be a bullfighter alongside Newsom, Byrne and Webster. How did that experience go?

ROWE: Frank, Cody, and Jesse put me through my paces. It scared the hell out of me, to tell you the truth.

It is jarring in every way you would imagine. While I don’t have any experience at all fighting bulls, I have spent a lot of the last 10 years as a fish out of water. I am accustomed to looking around and going, ‘Oh God, now what? Or you have to be kidding me? Or really?’ All of those things certainly came to mind along with a lot of unprintable words in between them because the bull is 2,200 pounds.

I can always tell when people are saying stuff for the TV and when people are just telling you the straight up truth of the thing. Frank tells you the straight up truth of the thing. This is a big animal. Your job is to affirmatively distract him and the cost of doing that can be anything from a horn in your side to a hoof on your neck. It is no joke and you need to be careful.

This is a one-hour show and we were clowning around and having a few laughs and the guys were great, but the truth is you are sort of rehearsing with that little dummy they have built and you are realizing, ‘Good grief, I am getting winded doing just this.’ Then there is the big animal, panting, snorting and pawing at the ground on the other side of the gate. Your adrenaline is moving.

JF: Were you surprised that the idea of trying out bullfighting came to fruition?

ROWE: I was flattered, honestly, that the PBR let me do it. I was surprised the production company let me do it, that the network let me do it. I was honestly starting to think they were thinking, ‘Eh, you know, if he gets trampled, he gets trampled. Whatever, he had a good run.’

But it all worked out fine.

JF: You had one close call that fans will see in the episode, but you did escape the bulls unscathed. However, you didn’t leave Chicago completely 100 percent. It looks like you did some damage to your pinky learning how to load bulls into the back pens with Jerome Robinson.

ROWE: The pinky thing, in hindsight, is the most interesting part of the day. For me, it once again goes to prove that the big dangerous thing – the thing that you worry about and the thing you sort of prepare for  — that is almost never the thing that gets you. It is always the little thing. Getting those bulls into those (pens) and looking at those spring-loaded iron latches. My first thought was, ‘Oh yeah, that is not where I want to put my finger,’ so obviously that is where my finger wound up.

That thing slammed into it and the whole end of my pinky exploded. The thing is, you can’t complain about an injury like that to a cowboy. In fact, I turned to Frank and I showed him my hand. There is blood all over the place and obviously the nail was torn off. Frank just kind of stuck out his lower lip and held up his hand –  same hand and same finger in fact, half of which is missing on Frank’s body. I think he said to me, ‘That looks like that hurt. I will call you when mine grows back.’ I am like, ‘OK, great. Note to self. Don’t complain to a cowboy.’

JF: What made the PBR appealing to you as a topic for one of your episodes?

ROWE: PBR is great because I like featuring topics that have a very, loyal group of devotees already attached to them. Obviously, PBR fans are serious about the sport and they love it and it is also visual and interesting. I didn’t really want to focus on the guys who ride. I personally was interested in the bullfighters themselves. It is the classic unsung hero and that is something I am always interested in.

JF: What was your most memorable experience in Chicago?

ROWE: I really have to say there was a moment when I was sitting on a bull and J.B. Mauney was setting the stage for me of where the danger was. I asked him what is the worst feeling and what is the best feeling. He said the best feeling is looking out before you go and seeing those three, and I looked over and Frank and Jesse and Cody were all just standing there listening. That is the exact moment you want in the show because you got J.B. Mauney, who is getting all of the fame and all of the glamour and taking a huge risk, but he can’t do it without those guys. He wouldn’t do it.

That is really why we went there because no matter where you go, there is always a couple of people standing behind the person getting all of the glory. Part of the purpose of this show is to make sure people understand that without the bullfighters, PBR stands for peanut butter on rye or something else altogether.

JF: So can we expect you nodding your head for the gate anytime soon?

ROWE: It is funny. Ten years ago I would have let them open the gate and let myself get thrown off the thing. I am too old now. Everything hurts too bad. You sit there in the chute and it doesn’t take much imagination to imagine that thing opening up for the longest 8 seconds of your life.

Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko

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