I haven't watched much tele but of late I have become fixated by Discovery's Naked and Afraid. It's the show where total strangers get their kits off and try to survive in a jungle or another godforsaken wilderness for 21 days.
My fixation isn't due to prurience. Believe me - after a couple of days in the jungle, naked and sweaty bodies have little allure and the show blurs out naughty parts anyhow.
I'm more interested in what this show reveals about the human psychology because it can be a bit like The Lord of the Flies on reality TV. The show starts with two strangers - a man and a woman - who are flown to a remote places such as Borneo, Colombia, Brazil etc. and then told to strip in front of each other.
The contestants usually have some kind of survivalist background. Typically, they treat the first day like some kind of nudist vacation, skipping through the jungle or sand dunes and musing on the beauty of the wilderness. Then the reality that they have no shelter or water will occur to them a couple of hours later.
It's at this stage that the things we take for granted such as supermarkets and air conditioning kick in. Watch a few episodes of Naked and Afraid and you will never complain about the 300 pound man or woman in front of you at the Wal-Mart check out who is meticulously describing each item he has bought to the cashier.
Although building a house from palm trees on a desert island may seem romantic, the contestants soon find they dehydrate quickly in temperatures of 100 degrees and finding water is no easy job. Drink from a stream and you could catch some terrible tropical disease. You need fire and methods of purifying water but contestants have spent five days on this show trying to start a fire. The happiness of the contestants when they get a sip of water is worth savoring but a couple of days later hunger sets in and you realize killing animals in the wild or eating safe plants is no mean feat.
On one challenge the contestants find coconuts only to discover rats had eaten them and they were crawling with lice. The male contestant set up traps and manage to kill multiple rats which the woman would not eat, prompting the man to become increasingly crazy and to describe his pleasure at devouring their ratty entrails. This particular contestant had no girlfriend at the start of the episode and it unlikely to now either.
That's another interesting thing about Naked and Afraid. We start to see how people behave when they are deprived of water and food and it's not pretty. In one show the most chilled of guys who prided himself on his skills as a life coach started bitching out his partner who spent 20 out of 21 days whining.
Naked and Afraid also raises questions about traditional gender roles, especially when we see the men trying to hunt and the women doing domestic tasks such as cooking and repairing the home. Is this nature or nurture? Did humans fall into these traditional roles for a biological reason based on strength or has society conditioned us to take them up.
Whiny women is something of a theme but that's not to say this plays out with all couples. In one episode an overweight guy spent 21 days sitting on his backside in the palm hut while the woman risked heat stroke, attempting to find food. The woman was taken off the show, suffering from extreme dehydration and the man completed the challenge. Maybe we can try too hard when we can sometimes achieve results by sitting on our backsides.
The deterioration of couples in Naked and Afraid gives a frightening glimpse into why the settlers in Jamestown turned to cannibalism and why there are more wars in Third World countries. Let's not forget this is only a 21 day challenge and there's always the fall back of dropping out and going home. It's frightening to imagine Naked and Afraid as reality but it's exactly what our predecessors faced.
There are also some heart warming episodes among the poisonous snakes and rats such as the episode in which a pig headed chauvinistic former Marine who was holed up with a vegetarian woman finally learned about mutual respect in the jungle. The scene where she brings him a dead toad to snack on when his machismo had washed away, bordered on the moving.
The other thing I wonder about this show is if anyone had sex. It's hard to imagine when you are malnourished and you stink and tics are eating your eyelids but I have to wonder. They are naked afterall. There are certainly scenes in cold places where sharing body warmth makes total sense. If anyone is doing the extremely dirty out in the jungle, nobody is showing it on TV, which I am really fine with.