iscovery's new series Naked and Afraid wisely put its key element — nudity — right there in the title.
Now, the show does purport to be a groundbreaking exercise in true survival documented before cameras. But it's also a show about two completely naked strangers ambling around the outdoors with their bits hanging out for all the world to see (with pixelated boxes on their most private bits, of course).
The premise is simple: For 21 days, one man and one woman are plopped down in a remote location with no water, no food, and, of course, no clothes. The two — who do not know each other and only meet once before all their clothes are stripped off — must band together to fight the elements and predators that await them. It's an extreme and naked version of Survivor. One episode featured a woman using her vagina immersed in water to catch fish (really). No wonder the show is a summertime ratings hit.
Just a few episodes in, the show is already stirring up controversy, as people have questioned how realistic the survival experience is for contestants. There's no attempt at hiding the fact that cameras are trailing the two, but there have been rumors that producers are intervening more than they let on to nurse sick contestants back to health. Whether that's true or not, the show is riveting reality television at its best, full of challenge and emotion that compels the viewer to keep watching.
In the latest episode, two survivalists battle the Louisiana bayou. There's Billy, 39, who is listed as a primitive skills expert and author with specific experience in primitive weapons and hunting. Then there's Ky, 39, a stuntwoman who claims to not be phased much by physical discomfort. The two are brought to the their new swampy home for three weeks via small boats, and must strip off every last article of clothing before wandering, naked and covered with blurry boxes, over to meet one another. Add to this that a cold front has come in and the temperature is in the mid 50s. It's truly one of the most genuinely awkward introductions ever shown on television. While nervously laughing and shaking hands, they say things like, "I see you're naked" and "I'm so embarrassed right now." But rather quickly, they move on and begin working on a plan for survival even while adjusting to genitals and breasts flopping around in the daylight.
The terrain itself is nightmarish. It's all stagnant, shallow water with only a tiny exposed plot of muddy land to build shelter on. They set to work trying to erect something out of sticks and leaves, but the bayou's vegetation lacks much of the leafy fronds that would help keep them dry. Meanwhile, Billy sets to work finding food and almost immediately finds a terrifying looking snake that he decides will be dinner. With truly impressive precision, he nabs the snake with his bare hands and chops its head off with the small knife he's been allowed to bring along. It's graphic stuff, and the first of many chopped up snakes that appear throughout the episode.
Before they can settle into their new life of sizzled snake dinners, a massive storm hits their tiny camp and floods it entirely. They've already been shivering throughout the night as temperatures have dropped consistently, and now there's no way to stay dry. While they try to figure out how to build a new, dry shelter, the pair becomes fixated on catching one of the many crawfish that have infiltrated their camp. Billy, who is having a tougher time than Ky with the emotional stress of the challenge, grows even more frustrated seeing birds and snakes easily scoop up the crawfish that continue to surround them.
Billy and Ky's feet are constantly immersed in water all day while they hunt for food. The tissue is soft and incredibly susceptible to injury and infection. Their legs and feet are also quite sore from leeches. In an act of true desperation, they even try to use bloody leeches yanked off their bodies to bait crawfish. Truly awful, terrifying stuff and not for squeamish viewers.
Miraculously, they find dry land after moving upstream slightly. At this point, they're subsisting on small bites of protein and very little water, and the effects are visible. As they near the last week, their bodies have grown sinewy and their cheeks sallow. We see their eyes grow visibly exhausted from lack of sleep and palpable tension grows between them as they try to stay united and productive. In one scene, Billy spots a large rodent hiding out inside a fallen tree trunk that he knows will provide ample food. Ky is heartbroken watching him spear the thing and we see her eyes well up as she hears it die. Billy recommends she turn away as he clubs the thing and drags it back to camp, reminding her that you "don't pass up an opportunity like this. You don't eat, you die." As they gnaw on the cooked animal some time later, they're visibly more alert and relieved to have made it another day.
Their final challenge involves meeting the rescue helicopter in an alligator-infested open water. The huge creatures are menacingly floating nearby, directly in the path of where they need to get to reach the helicopter. They swim desperately toward the chopper, climbing on board and screaming with joy the second they're out of their miserable bayou home. As they're carted away, high above the swamp, we learn that Ky has lost 18 pounds and Billy a whopping 42.5. They're covered in dirt and wild-eyed by the end, clearly out of their minds with joy that it's over.
It's hardly surprising that the contestants survive the entire three weeks. Inherently, we know that no one will be dying or becoming seriously injured over the course of filming a reality TV show. But it is shocking what these two total strangers must face together. It's also jaw-dropping to see them chomping down on reptiles and vermin to survive.
Naked and Afraid is exactly what the title so salaciously promises: a parade of butts and blurry boobs in the context of an outlandish TV challenge. There's simply no way these nudies are going to be plopped down in the great outdoors and face anything but hardship after hardship. And whether those occur naturally or are placed before the contestants by the producers, it's fascinating stuff and a smart take on a well-worn reality trope.
It's the kind of viewing that makes viewers cherish their cozy living rooms and fridges full of beautifully packaged food. Even the show's producer has noted that she was shocked so many people wanted to actually do the show when they began casting it. But a show this unique is undoubtedly going to get a lot of eyeballs on it, even if it takes slicing up snakes and battling through swamps barefoot to make it in front of the camera. And there's always going to be someone ready to strip down to their birthday suit and take on the gritty, gruesome job.
More reality show drive-bys...
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Why we can't stop procrastinating, according to science
- Why would a young person today be religious?
- 31 TV shows to watch in 2014
- He said he was leaving. She ignored him.
- Why Holy Thursday is so important to Christians
- How Captain America won over China
- Why I'm a pro-life liberal
- Texas has been holding this man hostage for 12,600 days
- Israel and Russia are getting along. Have the neocons noticed?
- 3 ways elephants and neuroscience can help you make better decisions
Subscribe to the Week