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.
— E.J. Snyder (@ejsnyder333) June 8, 2015
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.
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 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:
— Jason Szabo (@jtszabo83) June 17, 2015
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.
— Naked And Afraid XL (@NAXL) June 19, 2015
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?