Discovery’s intriguing new docu-series Naked and Afraid is like Adam and Eve meets Darwinism. Two strangers, one man and one woman, are dropped off together at a remote locale without food, water or clothing. The game is simply to survive for 21 days. The participants are all survival experts who were carefully screened for both their physical and mental health before embarking on the extreme test, and it soon becomes clear why.
Naked and Afraid has a forthright feel to it that borders on a psychological and physical study, even though participants remain with a production crew, unlike the grueling series Survivorman, which featured just one man with a camera. There’s no prize per say (except to complete the excursion), which makes it feel more like a traditional documentary than one that relies on wacky personalities to carry it through a season.
At the start of the screener episode, viewers are told that while scoping out part of the Costa Rican rain forest for production, executive producer Steve Rankin was bitten by one of the most venomous snakes of the region. His quick evacuation and horrible foot wound are then shown, cementing the fact that there are actual stakes to the program. The participants of this episode, Shane (a forty-something former angry punk) and Kim (a spacey 22-year old), are told they can opt out given Steve’s experience, but they soldier forth.
The series’ nudity gimmick ends up being just one part of the overall survivalist situation. Blurring keeps Shane and Kim from being exposed to America, but they still seem pretty comfortable about being exposed to each other (and the camera crew), even though Kim eventually fashioned some twine and fig leaves for them. After that, the nudity only became an issue when they took a tumble or were subjected to four days and nights of rain, which left them nearly freezing.
Naturally, human beings start losing a foothold in the top of the food chain when stripped of tools and clothing. Lacking hardly any body hair or natural weapons like claws, and walking upright with exposed genitals is no way to be travel, particularly not in a place where everything is looking to kill you (including some very agitated howler monkeys). Still, Shane and Kim prove their resourcefulness and how survival is possible, if largely unpleasant, by building shelters, fostering fires (which ends up almost killing them at one point) and feasting on the occasional nibble of snake. Though they talk through some of their tips and tricks, it’s not as involved as Bear Grylls‘ narration in another Discovery survivalist series, Man Vs. Wild.
Naked and Afraid is fascinating because it pushes participants to the very brink of what their bodies are capable of. Through the course of an hour viewers watch the two become gaunt and haunted as they are lucky to eat once or twice during the three weeks and sleep maybe a few winks every 48 hours or so, not to mention the bouts of food poisoning and cuts or scrapes that could lead to infection. The series also rates the participants’ “survival ranking” before their journey and afterwards, to see how much they learned and proved of themselves throughout the event which looks, frankly, horrifying.
Each episode ends with the duo (if both have lasted without opting to go home — the participants play for and are motivated by pride and showcasing their skills), making their way to a nearby extraction point and biding adieu to the hellhole from whence they came. Their relief is shared by viewers. Watching the two face the extreme conditions from the comfort of home, possibly naked but definitely not afraid, is as close as most will want to come to the experience.