‘Naked and Afraid,’ true adventure
Discovery reality series puts a couple through the ultimate test
June 19, 2013
To rephrase an old advertising line, with Discovery’s “Naked and Afraid,” you’ll come for the naked, but you’ll stay for the afraid.
A reality show in which a man and a woman are stranded in the wilderness with no clothes and minimal gear, the show quickly wears out the shock value of nudity but hooks us with the extreme conditions the survivalists endure and the extreme emotions those conditions provoke. In marked contrast to most reality TV, the situation and the behavior feel real.
In the premiere episode, airing this Sunday, June 23, at 10:20 p.m. (the regular time slot is 10 p.m.), Shane, a 40-year-old survivalist from Connecticut, and Kim, a 22-year-old survival instructor from Minnesota, are dropped off in the jungle of Costa Rica. Descending from their jeeps, they get undressed and walk up a path to meet.
After a fist bump, Kim says, “Shall we talk about the fact that we’re both naked?” and suggests they check each other out right away.
They each get one survival item: Shane has chosen a fire-starting kit; Kim a machete.
The items come in shoulder bags. Kim occasionally uses hers as a fig leaf. She later weaves loincloths for the two of them and makes herself a leaf bra. The usual blurring takes care of the rest.
The two get a map that will help them locate a riverbank where they can make camp. If all goes well enough, at the end of three weeks, they’ll use the map to find a rendezvous point several miles downstream where they can take a helicopter home.
As is usually the case on reality shows, personal differences emerge quickly. Shane, who says he was raised in foster homes and boarding schools, seems to prefer solitude and has a particular problem with people of Kim’s age, who he says are self-centered.
As they try to find the river, Shane starts to resent her for not asking him about his own life. Kim tells the camera that Shane talks too much.
After choosing a suitable spot to camp, they construct a sleeping platform and shelter far faster than the average “Survivor” tribe could. They want to sleep off the ground because of the numerous poisonous critters scurrying around.
The episode opens with a frightening sequence showing what happened when one of the show’s producers was bitten on the foot by a poisonous snake while scouting locations. The ghastly post-surgical photos spring to mind later when we see the nearly naked Kim and Shane stomping about in the bush.
After they get settled in, it rains for the next four days, which makes hunting for food difficult. Shane says he can’t stop shivering.
In the course of the three weeks, we see the two catch only two sources of protein: Shane uses a stick to pin down a fer-de-lance, which is the same species of snake that bit the producer. As they butcher it, we see its little heart still beating. Kim catches a turtle in the river.
Since at one point we see Kim chewing on something else, there may be a lapse in reporting. One hopes that the editing isn’t deliberately trying to make the ordeal seem harder than it was.
The reptile meat doesn’t help that long. Shane is miffed because Kim says his snake is a baby. Kim apparently gets food poisoning from the turtle.
By the end of the three weeks, they seem to have truly suffered. As they make their way along the river to the pickup spot, one of them is weeping in despair.
According to the narrator, a panel of experts judges the participants before and after the three weeks, scoring them on “skill,” “experience” and “mental.” These scores are averaged out to a primitive survival rating, or PSR. If this exercise were skipped, it wouldn’t be missed.
Otherwise, “Naked and Afraid” makes pretty good calls. Maybe getting all the silliness and exploitation out in the title allowed the producers to concentrate on basic entertainment.
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