MerPeople (2023): Season 1, Episode 1 - No Dead Mermaids - full transcript

A landlocked mermaid struggles to find work. Former Weeki Wachee mermaids reminisce about the glory days. A merman tailmaker open his dream aquarium.

Are you wondering how healthy the food you are eating is? Check it -

Oh my God.

We checked the pH.

Did the pH get changed?

Chase down the pool guy.
Make sure he didn't put too much chlorine.

- Open. Open more.
- Force your eye open.

How do we find an
eye wash station?

Ah… fuck!

Twenty years ago,
I was the first professional

freelance mermaid in the world.

Now, there's thousands
around the world.

Mermaiding is growing
at an exponential rate.

This is
a half-billion-dollar industry.

There are pageants, conventions.

There are competitions,
auditions, shows.

There is mermaiding going on
probably in your own backyard

if you know where to find it.

The thing that frustrates me
about the public perception

of professional mermaids
is that we're just playing dress-up.

You're gonna invest thousands
of dollars in the equipment,

hundreds of hours
of time in the training,

and your first gig
might pay $100.

At its core, mermaiding
is a danger art.

Holding your breath,
blurry vision, dangerous animals,

ocean currents,
being so cold all the time.

I get emails
from people telling me

they want to be a professional mermaid,
and my first thought is,

"Oh, you have no idea
what you're getting yourself into."

Being a full-time
professional mermaid is a rare thing.

I think I'm one of the few who
actually get to do something like this.

And while it definitely
is a dream job, it is hard.

It takes more
than a costume to become a mermaid.

You need to have amazing swimming skills,
breath-hold skills, personality skills.

You have to
have a specific look.

If you train
hard, and you're good enough,

and you nail one of these auditions,
yeah, you could get a job at an aquarium.

There's venues
and jobs available.

But for every opening,
there are thousands of mermaids applying.

I am in Arkansas.

And unfortunately, in Arkansas,

I'm just shit out of luck
when it comes to being a mermaid here.

Really doing what I want to do,
and that is be an underwater performer.

We're reaching. Let's
go here. Four sets.


I'm always looking
for more ways to grow as a mermaid.

And I can't really grow much
as a mermaid in Arkansas

'cause I feel like
I'm trapped in this box.

I'm a landlocked mermaid.

As far as I know,
I was the only Arkansas mermaid.

Until I met Mermaid Pixi.

Now, how do I
make a bigger splash?

'Cause it's like,
I know I can do the headstand, but…

Pixi and I have developed
a really great mermaid friendship.


We call each other

And together we do
whatever we can to mermaid.

We have four inches.
I didn't think it'd be this full.

I know.

Jog with that.

Most pools
do not allow mermaid tails.

They see it as a safety issue.

But there is this one pool
that occasionally lets us swim

in this little corner while they're doing
water aerobics classes.

your midsection is a washcloth.


You know,
we take what we can get.

I was probably around 11,

and, uh, my stepdad at the time,

he said to me,

"You know, there's this place in Florida
called Weeki Wachee Springs

where they have
mermaid shows."

And the moment he said
the words "mermaid shows,"

it just hit me
like a ton of bricks.

Mermaid shows?

Wait, I could potentially grow up
and get paid to be a mermaid?

That's a job?

Best job I ever had.

Where do
I start? Fairy tale.

I wanted to be a
mermaid. I got my wish.

I was a Weeki Wachee mermaid
from 1967 to 1968.

If I could do it again,
I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

Because Weeki Wachee

is one of the most magical places
on the face of this Earth.

When you drive to Weeki Wachee,
they've got all those mermaids out front,

and all those big flagpoles,
and then there's the big statue

with the Adagio on top,
and it's just like…

"What is this place?"

Fed by a huge underwater spring,

Weeki Wachee has the largest
underwater theater in the world.

Millions of people enjoy
the fascinating beauty

of this submerged
theater wonderland

at Weeki Wachee Springs,
Florida's underwater Grand Canyon.

"Weeki Wachee"
means "winding water."

Weeki Wachee was a huge spring

just out in the
middle of nowhere.

And that water
coming up out of there

is so pristine and
pure and ancient.

It's like being in the womb
of Mother Earth.

There is something magical,
absolutely magical about that water.

I went in and saw the show,

and I was just blown away.

And I knew I had to do it.

I walked into Weeki
Wachee as a tourist.

I walked out of Weeki Wachee
at 13 as a transformed…

"Get out of my way.
I don't know how I'm gonna do that,

but it's gonna happen."

I was 17 years old.

And, at that time, a girl's place
was to be a wife and a mother.

We were outside the box.

We were mermaids before
it was "the thing" to be a mermaid.

We were the dream
of the little girl.

To me there was just nothing else like it.
I get goose bumps just talking about it

'cause it's just really
so very special to me.

Why do I need geometry?
I'm gonna be a mermaid.

I would do anything to be able
to go back into that fairy tale.

I'm Mermaid Chè Monique.
I am a mermaid model

and the founder
of the Society of Fat Mermaids,

which is a size-inclusive community
designed to celebrate fat bodies.

Normally when I'm in a merspace,
people are really excited to see me.

Everybody's so pretty!

Like, it's not uncommon
for people to cry when they meet me.

Excuse me…

Are you Chè Monique?

I am.

My family told me that
there was no such thing as a fat mermaid.

We know that's not true.

I know!

I follow you on TikTok, Instagram.
It's an honor to meet you.

Oh, thank you!

You just make it
okay for me to be me.

- Oh.
- And I love you for that. Can I hug you?

Thank you so much!

- Thank you.
- You're so sweet.

I do a lot of, like,
what I call mertivational videos,

where I might go on
TikTok and be like…

I love you all.

I… love how
dedicated we all are

to making the larger world

and our merworld a safe
and magical place for each other.

These merjobs
require so much of you.

Like, from training
to just, like, the physical demand.

And I've been working on,
like, my mermaid push-ups,

doing tricep dips,
and doing everything I can,

because I would love to join
the Circus Siren Pod.

They are like this elite
mermaid performance troupe.

As a whole,
they're intimidating.

I used to call them
the mean girl mermaids.

I decided, "If I'm going to be one,
I'd better stop calling them that."

They kinda just
protect their brand in a way,

and part of their brand is
that they are, like, exclusive and elite.

But, like, they kind of are.

I've always really railed against
the concept of being elite,

and yet it seems to have happened anyway.
Whether I want it or not.

I think what makes us different is just
that we really care about the art form

and what artistry and magic
we're putting into the world.

My performers are
more about creating a world

the public's not gonna
get to experience anywhere else

than about the personal
wish fulfillment of being mermaids.

The reality of mermaiding
is it's really physically demanding,

and it takes years of training
to do this properly.

When you mermaid professionally,

you are weighed down
by the tail and the water.

You are unable to breathe.

You are blind underwater.
You're deaf underwater.

And your job is to make it look
easy and magical.

- I thought that was pretty excellent.
- Well, thank you.

Most people who get into
professional mermaiding are working

one to two other jobs to support
just the entry ramp into mermaiding.


Oh, Mother.

Shello. Shello.

It's only every couple of years
that we actually do auditions.

If I had the work, I'd hire all of them.
I want everyone to live this dream,

but I only have so many clients
and so many tanks to fill.

All right, welcome
to our auditions!

Congratulations on making it this far.
There were 54 applicants,

uh, and less than 20 of you
got invited to audition.

It was already some
fierce competition,

and I'm really excited to see
what all you guys can do.

Who knows the first
rule of my company?

- No dead mermaids.
- No dead mermaids.

The first half is gonna be
a lot of just exertion,

and, I'm going to be honest,
to wear you out a bit.

What we do is pretty hard.

I want to see that we've got
the endurance built up to get through it.

All right, guys, you can go ahead
and get in your tail, and get in the pool.

Everybody in the deep end.
We're treading water.

This is one of the most dangerous,
difficult art forms I've ever done.

Here's what we're gonna be doing
this time. Backflip down the wall,

underwater return.
All right, let's see it.

At the level we're doing,
the depths we're doing it at,

it takes an incredible amount of skill,
an incredible amount of training.

This is a longer combination.
It's a three-skill combination.

What I want is
from the deep end,

gonna do a pencil dive down,
so vertical entry,

then I want a front flip
and barrel roll as you surface.

All right, when you surface, you're gonna
put your hands on the side of the pool,

and you're gonna lift up
and get your butt on the side of the pool.

Other side. Very nice.
Thank you so much, number two.

All right.

Thank you.

You can go ahead
and de-tail, dry off, warm up.

We're gonna meet
and discuss our observations.

I would suggest maybe doing
weightlifting or something else

to build the muscle
and the endurance.

I think it's mostly just
strength-building and polish.

Your backstroke-backflip-return
was a little rough.

- Okay.
- You got through it.

Wait. Is that the time
I hit my face against the wall?

- No, that was a different time.
- Okay.

The biggest concern is being able
to lift yourself out of the pool.

It's a strength and practice thing,
but for us, it's a safety thing

'cause you have to be able to get out
of the tank under your own power.

Mermaid tail-making
is still very much a cottage industry.

And people get very loyal
to their tail-makers.

There's even entire performance pods
where they specifically only ever use

this tail-maker or that tail-maker,
and that's part of their look.

Three of the bigger companies out there
are Merbella, MerNation, and Mertailor.

And Mertailor was actually
one of my earlier inspirations.

I remember before I bought
my first mermaid tail,

looking at Mertailor's photos
and being like,

"One day… One
day I will afford that kind of tail,

and I will go to that artist,
and I'm going to get my tail."

I am Eric Ducharme.
Also known as the Mertailor.

I would love to be the biggest
tail-maker in the entire world.

I feel there's a sense
of creating the industry.

And I want to see
Mertailor on top.

And be like,
"Wow, Mertailor."

"Mermaid tail, Mertailor.
Mermaid tail, Mertailor."

I want to see that.

I will never forget
my first visit to Weeki Wachee.

I was sitting in the
underwater theater.

The hues of blue
just started trickling in,

and all of a sudden…

I just was so captivated
at that moment.

And then this enchanting mermaid
just swam by and stopped, blew a kiss,

and then more mermaids appear.

And that was the ta-da moment.

That was the moment where

I became the Mertailor.

I was obsessed with
Weeki Wachee Springs.

I wanted to be
there all the time.

Mermaids became my entire life
at a really young age.

Growing up, Eric
had a lot of challenges.

I was a very artistic child.

We realized early on
that Eric had Tourette's syndrome.

Classmates were very rude,
cruel, judgmental.

I didn't have a lot of friends.
I just stayed away from people.

By about four or five,

he was wrapping his legs up
with fabric of some sort.

Then it became
plastic bags and tape.

As the years went by,

I started to get to
know the mermaids

through standing in the theater
and talking to them.

It's like, "Oh,
Eric's here again."

He was always hanging out
with us older girls.

And it was sweet,
and we certainly took him in.

He'd be there when we were
choreographing all of our numbers.

And I really wanted a tail.
I really wanted a tail.

I met Barbara Wynns.
She was the mermaid queen.

The first time I met Eric,
I was sitting in the back of the theater.

He walks up beside me
and he's sitting there going,

"Miss Barbara, can I have a tail?"
And I'm like, "What?"

And I remember there was
a destroyed tail that had no zipper.

I went to the scrap piles,
grabbed it out, and I said,

"Put this in your backpack.
And don't you ever bring it back."

And I was just beyond thrilled.

Brought it home, fixed it up,
and that became the tail.

That's just how it started.

When I had the ability
to sew and make tails,

I would bring
them for the girls.

They would put on the tails
and wear them during the show,

and they would
bring them back to me.

Then at 16, I was offered a position in
the underwater theater to be a performer.

That was unheard of
because you had to be 18 years old

to be a performer
at Weeki Wachee.

I know I've watched
this boy just evolve.

And see this
brilliance come out,

and to see how calm
his body gets when he's in control.

He's totally in command
of his body and of the Tourette's.

You... You
would never know.

At a very young age,
I started doing research on

how do I start this path.

How do I become a
Weeki Wachee mermaid?

So, I emailed them directly.

They never replied to me.

And ultimately, eventually,
it evolved past just Weeki Wachee.

It became more of a personal
career path that I dream of.

- Hey!
- Hey. Thank you so much for doing this.

Yeah, totally.

Okay, so here's your pirate hat.

I have your little bag
of pirate loot here.

Some doubloons.

You can give that away
to kids freely if they approach you.

- Oh!
- Oh, wait.

- The handle just snapped off.
- Dang it!

That's gonna
make it really hard.

As a mermaid in Arkansas,

there's really just
not much work here for me.

But whenever
I really put myself out there,

I can get party gigs.

But they don't
really pay the bills.

This is where it gets tricky.
We've arrived a little late,

and I'm already seeing kids,
and I really don't like them to see me

before I get my tail on.

Over here!

So you can pull
the zipper up by using the string.

Once the zipper is
all the way to the top,

you want to tuck…
this back into the tail, okay?


All right.

I got the string right here.



- Oh no, did it break?
- Yeah.

Why is everything
breaking today? I'll figure it out.

No, like, it came off the zipper.
Like, um, the zipper broke on one side.

Shut up.

No, like, seriously.

No… way.

There's no way to fix that.

Are you kidding me right now?

You live 15 minutes away.

I can run home… run to your place
and grab another one.

You're gonna need my house key.

- Oh my God. This is horrible.
- Okay, here. I'll run, real quick.

I'll be back.

I don't know what she's doing.


It looks like she's
kind of stressed out.

Mermaid lesson one thousand,
one million, gazillion.

Always bring an extra
tail to a paid gig.


- Mermaid, mermaid, mermaid!
- I found another one.

Oh my gosh.
All these kids are gonna leave.

They're gonna leave
before the mermaid comes out.

It's broken. I can't… I can't wear it.
And I can't go out there without the tail.

Without the tail, I'm just a girl
in a wig and some leggings.

I always wanted to be a mermaid.

Though it wasn't
easy for me growing up.

My mom and dad divorced
when I was just a baby,

and my dad went into prison
when I was pretty young.

The weight of the
world can be so intense.

You know, day-to-day life,

and Mermaid Sparkles
is an escape from all that.

It really makes me feel like I'm making
a difference in the world somehow.

I feel like I have purpose.

I feel like a ray of sunshine.

Mermaid, mermaid, mermaid!

All right.

Oh my God. Thank
God. Thank God.

Here we go.

Alrighty, y'all, are we ready to see
Sparkles the Mermaid come out?

Y'all got to make sure she can hear you.
Can she hear you? Come on!

Make sure she can
hear you. There we go.

All right.

- Careful.
- Yep.


Duck down. There we go.


You look even prettier!

Oh my
goodness! Thank you!

Well, are we ready to swim?


That is a pearl.

Do you know pearls
are made in clams?

When I see
all the children's smiling faces

and just the way their eyes light up,
it really is a special experience.

Special experiences
don't pay the bills though.

So if I really want to be
a professional mermaid and pursue this,

I may just… have to move.

Weeki Wachee was
really having a hard time financially.

And then the state came
in and swooped in and bought it.

When the state came, they're like,
"You can't do this. It's unsafe."

"You can't do
that. It's unsafe."

For example, there's
an underwater tube

that the performers would jump in
to enter in and out of the theater.

And it went down 16 feet,
and then it went out 60 feet.

I hated that tunnel.

And it teaches
you to face your fear.

Because I really
did not like small spaces.

So I dropped down
and went into one of the airlocks,

which is basically a metal box upside down
with compressed air being pumped in.

Well… something went wrong
with the compressor during the night.

So, when we got in
there, we both decided

it was time for us
to head for the surface,

'cause there wasn't any air
to be had down there.

It was really tough.

prepares her student for the deep dive

to the bottom of the spring
117 feet below the surface.

Equal to the height
of a ten-story building.

Inhaling air from the hose,
and then forcing air into the mask

to balance the increasing
pressure on their ears.

The only reason
I left Weeki Wachee

was because I kept having nose
and ear infections,

and I was spending
too much time at the doctor's office.

Basically, it was too dangerous
for me to continue.

If you can't clear your ears,

you blow all
the blood vessels in your face.

I've had multiple ear infections,
multiple sinus infections,

probably swam at times
that sinus-wise I probably shouldn't have.

I came down with
a really severe sinus infection,

and I was told by management
at Weeki Wachee

that if I decided not
to come into work,

I would be fired
no matter what doctor said.

So my dad called
up, talked to my boss,

then my dad was like,
"Fine. Well, he's done."

So my dad essentially
resigned for me.

So I was never fired
from Weeki Wachee. I quit.

And I remember crying

because I didn't think
my time at Weeki Wachee was done,

but it was done.

And he was not happy.

He was very sad.

There is absolutely
nothing else in the world

like swimming in Weeki Wachee.

The springs are magical.

They're pristine.

And you can say
that you don't have

the desire to go back,

but deep down inside,

the feeling of swimming
in the springs and performing

will always be there
in the pit of your heart.


Sometimes we can't get back
those special things.

And maybe that's
why he works so hard.

To try to get back
what he had there.

Or better.

Or better.

Even before I was a teenager
and working at Weeki Wachee,

I was always trying to figure out
how I could have my own

world of Weeki Wachee.

So I was always trying to figure out how
Eric could have his own mermaid show.

Two years ago, we
bought this building.

It had been a furniture store
for the last 25 years.

You know, one might say,

"How are you gonna turn that
metal building into this magical oasis?"

And my answer would
be like, "Watch me."

The back will be production.

The front's going to be
an educational aquarium.

And eventually, we're gonna
put a tank and do mermaid shows.

I can tell Eric's getting antsy.

He's ready for the next thing.

And the next
thing is… a tank.

It is really scary
because this is a very expensive project.

This tank is well over $100,000.

Last night he said,
"I've been waiting for so long

for this to
finally happen."

It's everything to him.

Ever since I met him,
that's all he's ever dreamed about,

was just being able
to have that tank to do shows.

We hadn't done a dry run
to take this building apart yet.

I'm panicking that we are not gonna
be able to get the tank in the building.

But what I was thinking of most

was how Eric would feel

if this didn't go the way
it was supposed to go.


All right.

Oh, no, they're not
gonna roll it like that.

For now, go here.

What about here, bub?

- Is it gonna make it?
- Yes.

- Take it down a bit.
- I had to twist the other one.

Go straight for now.
Get that other one in here.

- We'll have to pick it up again.
- All right.

When they finally
got it into the building,

it fit perfectly.

Got it lined up
into the space on the wall.

I asked Barbara if she'd come.

I wanted her to be part of it.
I wanted her to be there.

She was always at Weeki Wachee,

and I wanted her
to be part of the aquarium.

You know, she got
me into the water.

I didn't think it was
gonna be big enough.

- What?
- I didn't think it'd be big enough.

- I know. I'm gonna send it back.
- You can do pin rolls in there.

I'm gonna send it back
and get a bigger one.

You what?

She was the mermaid queen.

She still loves Weeki
Wachee deep inside.

- Okay, now I might cry with you.
- I know.

I think this is big.

- I think it's big too.
- It's ample space.

- I love it.
- It's ample space.

- I'm so excited!
- Okay, water now.

It was a beautiful moment.

It was an exciting moment.

You did good.

You did good. I'm
proud of you, boy.

My little seven-year-old merman.

"Miss Barbara,
you got a tail I could have?"

I think the person
that's gonna be in that tank

that first day
is gonna be that little you.

- Probably.
- Your little mini-me.

The excitement's getting there.
It's not 100%. There's no water yet.

Till tonight.

All of these dreams
as a child are just unfolding.

And now, I want to create
my own world of mermaids.

I want to create
the best underwater performances ever.

Oh my gosh.

- That tank is so gorgeous.
- It's beautiful.

I like the little stingray theme thing
that they've got going on.

How many gallons
did we say that was?

Thirteen thousand gallons
of Caribbean salt water.

That is epic!


If I could live under there,
I'd never leave.

Eric the Mertailor is huge
in the mermaid community.

He's so epic.

He is opening up his
own mermaid aquarium

where he's going to be
throwing his own mermaid shows.

And he's holding auditions.

And I'm going for it.

I've never swam in a tank before,
and I'm really, really, really excited.

There are mermaids coming from
all around the country to these auditions.

Everyone wants to be
a Mertailor mermaid.

So the competition
is going to be really stiff.

Good morning, everybody.
My name is Eric.

I'm really excited
to have you all here today.

I've waited 15 years
for this very moment

to audition the first group of people
to be performers for Mertailor.

Today's auditions have nothing to do
with mermaid tails.

It has to do with your individual
comfortability in the water.

When I see you underwater,

if I feel like I have a connection
through the window,

then that's how I choose.

If you're in the water
and I find that you're freaking out,

I'm gonna ask you to
get out of the water,

and at that time
your audition will be over,

and then you'll be asked
to leave the premises. Okay?

- All right. You guys ready?
- Yes.

Anybody been in a tank before?

- Anybody?
- No.

- So this is everybody's first?
- Yep.

Does anyone know
how many spots they're hiring for?

- I have no clue.
- It's like The Mermaid Games.

May the best fish win!

All right.

Let's send in the
first three individuals.

All right,
one, two, and three…

Oh, it's also salt water too,
so way different.

I want you to
try it one more time.

Keep that back leg
towards the back of the tank, bent.

Bent. Straight, not bent.

When you do this right,
you should be in excruciating pain.

You have two
minutes if your number's on the tank.

I'm Tristan.

I'm Sparkles.

- Sparkles?
- Yes.

- I think I follow you on Instagram.
- Oh, you do?

- What's your merman name?
- Red River Merman.

I noticed when the aquarium
opened in January,

that he said
there were gonna be auditions.

So, then very quickly,
I zeroed in on every video

of Eric doing underwater ballet,

and then I just, like, blasted
the internet and my Instagram

with, like, copying him,
like, literally move for move,

just, like, trying to give him a résumé,
you know, every time.

And, uh, every time
he likes one of my videos,

it lights my world up.

I'm the dude with
all the ballet videos.

Okay. Aw… Do you
actually dance ballet?

- Yeah.
- Epic.

- Dolphin is a straight leg.
- This is the one where I lock my knees.

- All the way around.
- All the way around.

same thing, all the way around.

Great job.

Try it again. Keep
your legs together.

Try to be relaxed
and don't look like a duck.

This is not gonna work.

We can send in the next group.
That would be fantastic.

She just lost a nail.

The fish are trying to eat it.

Hey, Chelsea. Do
you see the nail that's floating?

The parrotfish.
One of the parrotfish have it.

He spit it
out. Thank you.

- This can't be real life.
- I know.

About to jump in the tank
for the first time ever!

I don't know whether to cry
or laugh or melt.

I'm more nervous
about the Weeki Wachee mermaid.

She's, like, mermaid royalty.

Oh, I know.

Perfect. Perfect.

Oh, I love her arms.

Oh, did you see her turn?

Know how many people
can't turn in the water?

All right, ladies,
thank you so much.

We're gonna
bring in the next two.

This is
literally my wildest dream.

Let's see what you got.