[Paul Campbell sets up a quail trap]
Christopher talks about training contestants for "Naked and Afraid."
[Nyerges is a teacher and self-reliance instructor who has been teaching since 1974. He is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere,” and other books. He can be reached at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com, or Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041.]
Yes, that was me you saw in the very beginning of the Nicaragua episode of “Naked and Afraid,” one of the latest in a series of TV shows which contain not much entertainment and mostly useless information.
If you haven’t heard of the show, it’s one of the many “reality” shows pandering to the current interest in “survival skills.” A decade or more ago, it all began with “Survivor,” which was a contest to win a million dollars if you could survive to the end of all the competitions. It was like Regis’ “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” in costume. Since then, there has been “Dual Survival,” “Tethered,” “Alone,” and many other so-called reality shows where we see what it takes for a few guys to eke out a meal in the woods without killing each other.
I’ve heard good things about “Naked and Afraid” because it’s not a contest, per se. Your task is to just be out in the woods, with no clothes, and just a few pieces of gear that the producers let you have. The people who took off their clothes for the show were all some sort of survival expert, and some lasted a few days, and others made it through the full three weeks.
But I’d never actually seen the show when the producers called and asked if I’d train two upcoming contestants. They wanted to have a show with two fans, viewers who were not survival experts. They wanted me to give them sufficient training so they’d at least have a chance.
I agreed to train them and scheduled a day to be with each contestant. The producer explained to me what skills were most important. The two people would be given a choice a few items, and they would not be allowed to pick up and use any random debris that they happened to find during their experience. Everything I taught had to be based on natural materials.
I spent each day going through the same regimen of skills with each contestant.
I shared how to purify water (boil it!), how to make twine from natural fibre, and how to make a net. The net could theoretically be used to make clothing. I taught them how to make fire using two of the most ancient methods: the bow and drill, and the hand drill. Each of them succeeded in producing a coal using the materials I had brought.
We also spent time making a lean-to, which would be the most probably sort of shelter to set up for a two-week experience.
I didn’t take any time showing them edible plants, because I had no idea what sort of plants they’d see where they were going. However, I did show them how to make an ages-old bird trap with sticks and twine.
I also suggested that they should cover their bodies with mud and/or charcoal to avoid sunburn and insect bites. After all, they were going to romp around for two weeks in the buff!
Both contestants were alert and seemed eager to learn each thing I shared. But I had no idea how much was sinking in. After all, I learned all these skills, one by one, little by little, with plenty of time to practice and perfect. I cannot imagine how I would do if I were thrown into an unknown territory, and with no clothes!
Months later, the man and woman spent their two weeks in the wild, and finally the show was aired sometime in August. I was able to view it from a DVD, and it was the first full episode of the show that I have seen.
Before I’d seen this show, I didn’t think there would be much value in watching two naked people try to simply get by for two weeks, finding their water, making shelter, trying to eat whatever they could. My view didn’t change after watching the show. I did feel a bit glad that at least one thing that I taught them turned out to be useful – they managed to capture a bird from the trap I showed them.
In the Nicaraguan “Naked and Afraid,” I saw two people who steadily grew dirtier, who didn’t drink enough water, who seemed to just hang around the same area not doing a whole lot. To me, it was sad, and a poor example of entertainment. Yes, of course, it was a very real challenge. Yes, they made it through two weeks. But that was a very unrealistic experience, except that now those two knows that they could do very well, with clothes and with equipment, in a bad situation.
Trouble is, most of the real survival situations in the world are people-caused, and involve war or other turmoil. Survival situations in the woods are far more rare, and the person is always clothed and usually has at least some basic gear.
The hour show moved along quickly enough, though in retrospect, there wasn’t much action. Eating a snake seemed to invigorate them and raise their spirits, though they needed a can or something to collect water and purify it and drink it regularly. Yes, they ate a bird near the end of their experience, when they had already lost much weight. The man lost 30 pounds in two weeks, and the woman lost 10 pounds. The woman’s body was covered in insect bites, and I presume they either forgot what I told them about protecting their skin, or they just didn’t want to do that.
If you’re serious about learning basic survival skills, you’d do better to enroll in a field trip with a local college or even a Meetup group. As for entertaining TV, much of television has lost any focus whatsoever. I’d turn it off and get outside!