Film and TV

Reality Bites: Naked and Afraid

There are a million reality shows on the naked television. We're going to watch them all, one at a time.

Forget Ebola, America is in the midst of a nudity epidemic.

Having already worked the black seam of wine-soaked, furniture-tossing housewives and twentysomething mooks on the make to exhaustion, reality TV programmers finally realized there was one taboo (in America, anyway) they had yet to fully exploit: nekkidness.

The first tentative steps into this pants-optional territory came with TLC's Buying Naked, the show for potential nudist homeowners. Then there was Dating Naked, VH1's answer to the age-old question, "How long can two people make small talk before looking at each other's junk?"

Never one to shirk from a cultural bar-lowering, the Discovery Channel has responded with Naked and Afraid, a survival show with the ultimate twist: uh, they're naked. But you probably already figured that out.

The setup isn't very complicated: A man and a woman are dropped off in the middle of some version of nowhere with no clothes, though they're allowed to bring along one item (that is presumably not a duffel bag full of MREs).

The Episode I Watched ("Dunes of Despair," how foreboding) featured Matt, a "primitive skills instructor" from Portland, Oregon sporting an Ice Cube tattoo. The only thing more hilarious than a white guy with a Cube tattoo is when that white guy could be Hank Hill's body double.

Honora is an herbologist and "extreme athlete." She also hopes that "nudity won't be an issue," though I note she's the one who keeps her pelvis conspicuously withdrawn when shaking hands with Matt.

The pair are dumped off in the middle of Lençóis Maranhenses National Park, an area of sand dunes covering nearly 600 square miles on the northeast coast of Brazil. Bordering the Amazon rain forest, the park receives regular rainfall (unlike a normal desert) leading to the formation of multiple lagoons between the dunes. Shouldn't be a problem, right?

Before they set out, each person is given an evaluation, or a "Personal Survival Rating" based on experience, intelligence and (maybe) chutzpah. Honora gets a 7.6, Matt a 7.1, in spite of Honora's assessment that his excessive body fat gives him an advantage. We also soon learn how valuable these assessments are when the non-energy-conserving Honora basically passes out on Day 2.

For all his hipster goofiness, Matt at least constructs the bulk of the shelter and knows (mostly) to stay in the shade during the heat of the day, when temperatures rise into the triple digits. Tensions rise by the end of the first week, with Honora saying -- let me make sure I have this right -- that Matt "stinks," and he's "stupid and fucking lazy." It would appear that herein lies another aspect of the survival challenge; namely, the hell of other people.

Things get so strained in fact that the pair actually gets a survival divorce, wasting yet more energy by splitting up the shelter. This proves to be another Good Idea when a storm front hits, lasting for two days. By Day 11, Honora, who refuses to drink any water until she's spent hours(?) purifying it with the magnifying glass she brought, is wasting precious bodily fluids crying about her recently dead father.

By Day 15, she's wasting even more fluids crying because she can't find food. At this point, it felt like we were missing something, because while this was going on, Matt is perfectly chill getting his minimum caloric intake by eating cactus. Was she not effectively communicating her misery (that seems hard to believe)? Was this some he-man woman hater's cactus? How the hell is a "herbologist" unable to find any plants to eat when Straight Outta Portland has them to spare?

Whatever the case, it's obvious spending 21 days starkers in the wilderness is a hell of a diet plan.

On Day 16, Honora finds a coconut. Now she has guilt. She apologizes to Matt, who says -- and I quote -- "It's all good, homie," even though "She said some things that were fudged up." Straight motheruckin' gangsta.

Thus epiphanied, Honora promptly passes out. When Matt is unable to revive her, it necessitates the intervention of Discovery Channel medical staff. This is what's known in the reality show business as "The Money Shot." Needless to say, she doesn't complete the challenge, while Matt, who gets some good lines ("Day 137: I have forgotten my human name"), manages to tough it out all the way through.

You don't learn much about survivalism from this show. Clearly you should consider bringing shoes or sunscreen as your one item, and for all Honora's dramatics, Matt made the whole ordeal look easy by doing nothing more than sitting in the shade all day and drinking from the lagoons (what's a little hepatitis among friends?). Sure, it was windy and hot and there were lots of sand fleas, but this was hardly The Road territory, especially when there's a production crew and medical staff lurking just off camera.

I guess what I'm saying is, just give us The Most Dangerous Game: the Series already.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar