EJ and Kellie carrying the backpacks and baskets they made. Creative Commons: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lwpkommunikacio/14811729496/in/photostream/

How to Survive Naked and Afraid

When Discovery launched Naked and Afraid in 2013, I didn’t plan to watch it. Survival shows are not new, and the provocative title didn’t appeal to me. Survivor, for one, has been around for more than fifteen years and was responsible for the concept of being “voted off the island.” Reality shows have been with us for decades. Naked and Afraid just sounded like more of the same.

For whatever reason, I ended-up recording the first episode, which was broadcast on June 23, 2013. The routine hasn’t varied much:

  • Two people were taken out separately into the middle of nowhere
  • Once there, they each stripped and hiked out to meet their partner
  • Together, they checked-out the two survival items waiting for them in a bag along with their diary-cams
  • Their job was to survive for 21 days, and trek on that last day to the extraction point shown on a rustic map.

Though I have no interest in subjecting myself to this type of wilderness challenge, I’ve noticed several overarching principles displayed by those who complete the 21 day challenge. I have recognized how research, preparation and execution are as important for life in general as out in the wild.

Do Your Research

Know Those who have Gone Before

Some episodes have included one or two survivalists from prior episodes. Inevitably, they are recognized, suggesting that participants watch prior episodes as part of their own preparation.

Two of those survivalists who came back for seconds built an epic raft for their epic trip down the river to their extraction point.

Get to know your Destination

The beginning of some episodes shows the survivalists at home before they leave for their destination. It becomes clear that they know which country they are headed for, and therefore have an opportunity to learn at least a bit about where they’re headed.

Be Prepared

Prepare for the Rain and make it your Friend

Many teams have arrived at their site without a cloud in the sky, and then been caught unprepared by a torrential downpour that goes on for days. Some of those same teams have nearly died from thirst, or from drinking contaminated water.

You know the rain can come. Build a shelter, but also be prepared to catch the abundant, clean drinking water as it falls from the sky.

Toughen Your Feet – and then make Sandals

One of the first episodes showed a survivalist nearly sent home when one of the innumerable thorns his team faced managed to inflict a major infection that required medical attention. Another episode found one of the survivalists with very tender feet, while the other didn’t care at all about the rough rocks they had to walk on.

Do yourself a favor: Spend some time walking around outside in your bare feet to get ready for Naked and Afraid. Once you get there, you’ll do well to make coverings for your feet.

Bring a Knife. A Big One.

One of the team members nearly always brings a big knife, like a machete. It’s especially useful for hunting, and cutting down materials for shelter. I expect that even those who are injured by one are still glad they chose it.

Don’t Bring a Magnifying Glass

There’s no “right” set of tools on Naked and Afraid. However, one notorious “wrong” choice was a magnifying glass. Though the survivalist who decided to bring it as her survival item had both practical and sentimental reasons for bringing it, it didn’t work out, and she ended-up tapping-out after 14 days.

If you Can’t Take the Heat…

…get acclimated before you head out to some tropical island. Of course if you live on a tropical island, you would do well to expose yourself to a cooler climate. At least some of the survivalists were seen getting acclimated before heading to their destination.

No Clothes? The Shock Wears Off

Many of the women do create clothing of some sort. Sometimes it’s due to modesty, and sometimes it’s for protection from the elements. Maybe a mix of both.

A post shared by A.K. (@00ak21) on


A behind-the-scenes episode shared that it also makes life easier for the technicians that spend weeks pixelating (computerized blurring) three weeks of footage.

Regardless of what the survivalists are or aren’t wearing by the end of the 21 days, most report that they stopped noticing the nudity shortly after they leave the starting point.

Make it Happen

Don’t Make a Fish Trap

Several teams built a fish trap. Few actually caught anything. Considering the amount of time it takes to build one, and the low success rate for the survivalists, this isn’t a good bet for future teams.

Go For The Snakes

High protein, and easier to catch than most of the animals the survivalists have encountered. In fact, none of the survivalists have been poisoned by one as of this writing, though a producer was badly injured by a fer-de-lance on a scouting trip.

A Vegetarian? Seriously?

Vegetarians can do well on this show if they are able to locate protein from non-animal sources, but they handicap themselves in this survival scenario. They are also handicapped by the PSR (Primitive Survival Rating) used to gauge the survival skills and capabilities of the survivalists before and after their 21 day challenge.

Cook Your Food Enough – but not Too Much

One episode included the survivalists catching a snake when they were essentially starving. They cooked it in an improvised smoker – until it was inedible. Talk about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

In another case, snails were under-cooked, resulting in one of the survivalists being afflicted with parasitic worms.

Think Outside the Box

A mosquito net can of course protect from the bugs, but it also does double-duty as a fishing net.

A hammock can also be deconstructed into cordage.

Some contestants have brought a cooking pot to make sure they have something they can use to collect and purify water in. Of course they can cook in it too. Another survivalist suggested this option after-the-fact:

Great Tools Aren’t Enough

One survivalist approached the challenge with the greatest confidence. A self-described “ball of awesomeness” who planned to attack the challenge “bare and ballsy,” her team was also the first to receive three survival tools instead of the usual two. (One tool that each of them selected, plus they were provided a fire starter. Previously, if a team had a fire starter it was because that is the item one team member selected ) She was also the first person allowed to bring glasses. Still, she tapped-out after seven days. Maybe the availability of extra tools lead her to attempt a quest she wasn’t really prepared for?

All Publicity is Good Publicity

It’s been said that There’s No Such Thing as Bad Publicity. Is that really true? Most participants share social media contact information with their biographies. Without a great deal of effort, I’ve compiled a Twitter list of over 70 Naked and Afraid survivalists.

Most that I’ve reached-out to via Twitter have responded – even those who weren’t able to finish the 21-day challenge. Even most of those who weren’t portrayed positively on the show don’t shy away from the fact that they participated. After all, most people understand that the vast majority of the survivalists’ time in the wild was never seen by the viewers. Editing 21 days down to 40-some minutes leaves a lot to the imagination, and those who are willing to share their stories get to fill in the blanks.

An Even Bigger Challenge

If the hardest challenge isn’t hard enough, go even bigger.

Discovery topped itself by sending 12 survivalists out for 40 days. Naked And Afraid XL is on season 3, alongside the regular Naked And Afraid.

Hopefully each survivalist has watched prior episodes and picked-up some of these tips.

Back to Reality

Most of us will never find ourselves in the wilderness without even clothes to protect ourselves. However, we regularly face challenges that may stretch us beyond what we think we can handle. Sometimes it feels like we won’t even survive until the weekend.

How would you approach one of those extreme challenges?


15 thoughts on “How to Survive Naked and Afraid”

    1. My name is Jeff Spencer of apply for the show for the past two years and the new guys on this season or a bunch of pansies I just don’t get how they get to get on the show and people like me that one to do it and we’ll try too hard to do it don’t get on the show Jeff Spencer to 227 at gmail.com naked afraid don’t forget about me

  1. Actually, the magnifying glass could have been used to start a fire. Pity she didn’t seem to know that! I often wonder why participants don’t slather themselves with mud to prevent sunburn and to keep off the mosquitoes. They are supposed to know this stuff, after all. I am surprised practically no one brings a mosquito net (which can double as a fishing net) or a space blanket, which can be used to retain heat, as a shelter cover or as a ground sheet, depending on the need. And why don’t they use the carry bags they are given to make things like clothes or sandals? Why don’t more of them go fishing? One guy ate grubs that he could have used as bait to catch fish. I think many of them leave their brains behind and forget the basics when they are out there.

    1. You make a great point. It’s not just the choice of tools, but knowing how to use them to best advantage. The mosquito net is a great example of a took that can serve multiple functions. Someone brought a hammock, which could also be taken apart for cordage. So far as their brains… I don’t expect I’d be on top of my game either after going without food for several days. I’m impressed that the majority of the folks complete the Naked and Afraid challenge!

    2. I have discovered that contestants are not allowed to dismantle their carry bags because they contain equipment for the microphones that are contained in their necklaces.

      1. I guess some concessions need to be made for the technology required to produce the show. Maybe in a few years they’ll figure-out a way so they don’t need to drag the bags with them the whole time. Then again, I understand that the team responsible for all of post-production pixelation (blurring) appreciates the bags. (More coverage by the bags means less pixelation required.)

  2. Do you ever notice that some form you ffood just “magical appears just before extraction” do they put it out there for them?
    If you noticed, they was a a turtle just sitting near camp or the snake they need and even fishing basket will have fish, the rocks they set up seem to catch something, etc…… it is too much for a coincidence.

    1. A bigger mystery is how most of them starve even when surrounded by food, despite being trained in wilderness survival. I keep expecting them to do much better.

    2. I’ve noticed that very thing Patty. Most of the survivalists do manage to find protein, often without looking very hard for it, right when they need it most. It hadn’t occurred to me that there was something nefarious going on. Maybe someone should dust that turtle, snake or giant snail for prints before they get cooked.

  3. The new season of naked and afraid the guys are pansies I have subscribed to this show and nobody will pick me I am a six foot seven white male 49 years old and I’ve never seen a bunch of new males that are a bunch of pussies on this show then this year so far

    1. It does seem that the women out-did the men in the first couple episodes this season. Then again, all of them out-did whatever I would have been able to muster, so I’m reluctant to throw stones.

  4. Once again my name is Jeff Spencer 227 at gmail.com I apply for the show in the past two years I would love to do it I would be really good at it and we get good ratings I am a six foot seven white male 49 years old team player everybody loves me all the men on here I think they know it all they go prepared I can go now prepared and make this show and with my partner I just wish you guys would accept me and get ahold of me and let me do this show I’ve tried and tried and tried and tried trust me you love me

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