By Rowan Kavner | LSU Student
DENHAM SPRINGS, La. - From holding gators to cradling babies for pictures, the rise from unknown swamp dweller to regional TV star has been swift for Austin Yoches and Blake McDonald.
The cousins, who live on a houseboat they built in Bayou Pigeon, are featured on Season 3 of the popular History Channel show "Swamp People," which follows the duo, among others, through the Atchafalaya swamplands as they hunt alligators.
The route to fame, however fleeting it becomes, was not complicated. Yoches and McDonald, who are in their 20s and grew up in Livingston Parish, went to an open casting call audition to try to get on the show. The producers liked the cousins, especially after checking out their swamp boat.
"Me and Blake had our own boat since we were about 8," says Yoches. "Our grandpa's been doing it his whole life, and we've been out there doing it since we were in diapers. We grew up doing it. It's all we've ever known."
They still make their living by hunting alligators, crawfish, frogs, catfish, or whatever else they can harvest in the swamp.
Not much has changed for the duo, since they premiered on the show Feb. 23, other than fan attention. Yoches and McDonald were present for photos and signing autographs at Denham Springs Antique Village Spring Festival. Folks waiting in line to take pictures with pair ranged from infants to the elderly.
Though the cousins feel comfortable in the swamp, Yoches said he enjoys the time he can get to see his fans throughout the community.
"I still work my butt off every day, craw fishing or whatever in the swamp. I get to come out here on the weekends, have fun, meet new people, new friends."
The cousins have younger viewers who are avid fans, such as 11-year-old Chaz Morgan, as well.
"The gators are so big, and it's impressive how when they're shot, they come back to life," Morgan said. "I also like the characters, Blake and Austyn."
It surprises the pair how many people recognize them from the show.
"I'm just glad all those people actually get to watch the show and see what we do, because a lot of people don't get to experience what we do," says Yoches.
McDonald puts the newfound fame more succinctly.
"It's different, but it ain't too bad. We like it. It's cool."