The latest twist on the survival reality show genre strands a pair of male and female strangers in the jungle for 21 days without food, water, and — shades of Adam and Eve — not a stitch of clothing. Appropriately titled “Naked and Afraid,” the Discovery series premieres June 23 at 10:20 p.m. ET, following “Skywire Live with Nik Wallenda” before moving to its regular 10 p.m. timeslot the following Sunday. We got the scoop on the series from Executive Producer Steve Rankin, who described his encounter with a particularly deadly snake in harrowing detail.
MNN: How did you get the idea for the show?
Steve Rankin: It was developed over a long period of discussion with Discovery Channel and Renegade 83. The network was looking for a unique and authentic survival show that would provide an unparalleled challenge for the survivalists. The show taps into our innate instincts to survive.
What inspired it and what approach did you want to take?
Adam and Eve came onto the Earth naked. So the idea for a man and woman being left out in the wilderness naked stems from there. We wanted to show that when you start with nothing, you have to use every ounce of survival instinct and all of your experience and skills in order to survive. We wanted the challenge to be really authentic, tough and put people down to the primal level as much as possible. We wanted to get the audience to ask themselves the question, "Could I really do that?"
Was it difficult to find contestants who were able to undertake this and be willing to be nude with a stranger of the opposite sex?
It took several months of research to find people who were suitably experienced and willing to take on the challenge. They had to have the right mindset and aptitude to take on something of this nature. Some people were put off by the idea of spending three weeks naked with a member of the opposite sex, but most people we interviewed were OK with the idea once the concept was explained to them.
How did you find them?
We used our extensive contacts with the survival community, contacted people individually and scoured the Internet for interesting characters.
How did you decide how to pair them up?
We looked to combine people on the basis of personality compatibility, supportive skill sets and variety of backgrounds. It was important to get the blend of survival skills and experience as well as having a couple who would hopefully get along. All people who were shortlisted had physical and psychological evaluations as well as the usual background checks.
Shane and Kim in Costa Rica. (Photo courtesy Discovery)
What were the biggest challenges they faced?
The environment was the third cast member each time. Whether it was the conditions or the threat from the indigenous wildlife. It obviously varied country to country. So it may be hyenas and Cape Buffalo in Tanzania or snakes in Costa Rica.
Where else did you shoot besides Costa Rica? How did you choose the locations? What were you looking for?
Locations are: Costa Rica Tanzania, Maldives Islands, Panama, Borneo and Louisiana. Each location was chosen on the basis of offering a variety of environments and some specific challenges in each region. For example, the availability of water was a huge issue for Tanzania while it was not in Panama. Costa Rica has huge biodiversity and the Louisiana swamp has huge numbers of snakes and gators, giving the survivalists opportunities to get food and also presenting them with geographical and environmental challenges. Another factor was the temperatures. As the survivalists had no clothing, it would not be possible for them to survive in cold weather climates.
Did the crew have to be survivalists too?
All crew were chosen for their experience and skills in filming in extremely challenging conditions all over the world. It takes a special kind of person to drag a camera through the swamp or the jungle for days on end.
Were there any serious injuries? Close calls with wildlife?
Many injuries, mostly minor, but could have become life threatening. A cast member had to receive urgent medical treatment for a badly infected foot which put them in danger of developing septicemia. As for anyone quitting or being evacuated (apart from me), you'll have to watch the show! There were lots of close-up encounters with the wildlife. Snakes in Costa Rica were the biggest threat, hyenas in Africa, caiman and snakes in Panama, snakes and gators in Louisiana. Sharks in the Maldives and more snakes in Borneo.
Tell us about being bitten by the fer-de-lance, no doubt a painful and scary experience.
I was hiking through the jungle on a scout two days before we were due to start shooting. I was scrambling over a huge fallen tree. When I jumped down the moment I touched down on the ground I was bitten on the foot by a fer-de-lance [a pit viper]. I jumped away and looked back to where I'd landed and just spotted the snake slithering away. Our guide identified it as a fer-de-lance. I had to hike through the jungle for about 20 minutes with help from the crew. They got us out to a trail where they lashed together a stretcher from tree branches, ponchos and back backs. The guys carried me for about two miles to a track to meet up with a vehicle that had been scrambled to meet us. Thankfully we had GPS with us and were able to give our position. The pain was excruciating. It started in my foot and the overwhelming sensation was that my leg was on fire with huge stabs of pain occasionally overwhelming me. I was taken to a waiting helicopter that had been scrambled to collect me. The drive was awful. Every jolt and every bump on the track caused more waves of pain to pulse through my leg. It was a 30-minute flight in the chopper to San Jose, where the medical team was waiting for me.
Once there I was given antivenin, a huge dose of antibiotics and pain relief. It felt like I was over the worst but my leg swelled up alarmingly over the next few days. The foot blistered around the bite site and the pain from the swelling was even worse than the pain form the bite itself. On day six the doctors told me that the tissue in my foot had begun to necrotize and I would need immediate surgery. The foot was oozing blood and pus on the floor and it smelled like death. They took me to the operating theatre, opened my foot up from above the ankle to the big toe and removed all the dead tissue. The docs told me that I was lucky not to have the foot amputated. 48 hours later they repeated the procedure to get the last of the dead tissue out. I was in hospital in San Jose for two weeks before I was flown to Los Angeles and Cedars Sinai hospital. I had another surgery to clean and debride the wound and then had a massive flap of skin taken from my thigh and grafted onto my foot. I spent three days in ICU, where they monitored the graft every hour to ensure it wasn't rejected by the foot. After that I was transferred to a room and was in Cedars for about 10 days. Pretty horrific experience and very frightening. I'm still coming to terms with it. Prognosis is for a full recovery but I will need further surgery to make sure the graft is fully bedded in and my foot will hopefully have a more normal shape.
What was the takeaway for you from the experience, and for the contestants?
They all got more than they ever imagined. I think the sense of achievement matched the efforts they had to make to survive for 21 days with no food water or clothing. As Shane said in his final interview in Costa Rica, "This took everything I had." I think that sentiment is shared by everyone. But they are all extremely proud of what they achieved and I am very proud of them too. It was a great honor for me to work with such amazing people. I think everyone learned something about themselves and discovered strengths they perhaps didn't know they had. They certainly all learned a lot from their environments and improved their skills. There is no substitute for doing it for real. No matter how much you prepare, learn or practice, nothing prepares you for survival better than having to use your survival skills when you life really depends on them.
Was there a mandate to preserve the environments you were in?
We tried to preserve the environment as much as possible. We were very aware of the local laws and restrictions on the activities the cast were expected to carry out.
Did you acquire a new respect for Mother Nature?
Most certainly. I think being out there was a life-changing experience for everyone. It was very demanding, exciting and sometimes frightening. It showed us all that Nature is sometimes an implacable foe but it also provides us with the means to sustain life. Being that close to Nature in the very real sense was both humbling and uplifting.
Will there be a second season? If so are you taking applications?
We certainly hope so. And yes, we will be open to applications!
Related posts on MNN: