September 30, 2013
Naked, But Not Afraid Enough
By David E. Petzal
"Naked and Afraid," which ran on the Discovery Channel this summer, was a major ratings success. If you're one of the 8 adult men in the U.S. who didn't watch at least one episode, the format was this: The show stranded a naked man and a naked woman in a remote s**thole for 21 days to see if they could tough it out with only one tool apiece (tool as in knife, or machete). Both people were previously screened for survival skills and given a rating on a scale of 1 to 10.
The real attraction of the show was, of course, not to see whether somebody could light a fire in a rainstorm in the jungle with a bow drill, but whether you could see nasty bits. The answer was no. Discovery Channel pixeled out the nasty bits. You didn't see much more than you would on any public beach.
Aside from the phony nudity, I found myself struck by two things: the amount of whining that went on, and the fact that the men appeared to have psychological problems which they hadn't resolved very well, if at all. I was surprised there were no fights, or at least a stabbing or two.
As survivalists, everyone seemed reasonably competent under the circumstances, and at the end of the program, we were informed how much weight they had lost (20 to 30 pounds, in most cases) and what their new skill rating was.
This is all silly and good fun, but it has a thread in common with all the "survival" shows—the danger to the participants is completely phony.
In the course of the show, one man developed an infection from a thorn in his foot. When it got bad enough, he was taken to a doctor.
Another one drank water that he knew was probably unsafe, got sick as a dog, and went to the hospital. His female partner became depressed, alone in the yowling wilderness, and was allowed to quit before her 21 days were up.
In real life, the guy with the thorn in his foot would have eventually developed septicemia and died. The man who drank tainted water would probably have gone under and his partner, instead of being helicoptered out, would have gone mad from terror and loneliness and followed him into the next world.
"Naked and Afraid" will, I understand, be back for a second season. If it's not already in the can, as they say in show biz, I have a couple of suggestions. First, drop the pixels. The nation is ready. After the shock of the first show wears off, people will accept true nudity without a second thought. Second, alter the format so that the participants actually die if they screw up. If the pay is good enough, I'm sure that plenty of people will still sign up. No emergency trips to the doctor, no quit slip because you're unhappy. Life or death, for real.
With these changes "Naked and Afraid" would be bigger than "I Love Lucy" and "Gunsmoke" combined, and I will probably not get a bit of credit.