After seeing the new show on Discovery Channel, Naked and Afraid, I knew I had to chime in and soon. After all, it’s about a man and a woman trying to survive in the wilderness, without a stitch of clothing! Sounds too much like my novel, and heroes, Xandr and Thelana, for me to pass up commenting. Just add a few monsters and you’ve got a chapter from Ages of Aenya.
If the show proves anything, it’s how much more enlightened our society has become when it comes to body acceptance. Imagine a studio green-lighting something like this during the age of The Dick Vandyke Show, when Rob and Laura, a married couple, had to sleep in separate beds lest the viewers get the wrong idea; or I Dream of Jeannie, a sitcom featuring a genie who grants wishes but can never show her belly button. While Naked and Afraid warns of offending buttocks at the start of the show (and really, if you are offended by a buttocks, you need to go back to the 17th century or Amish country or wherever it is you come from), it is still encouraging, because what once seemed unimaginable is starting to appear inevitable. Nudity is going mainstream. In a few decades, an Ages of Aenya film or mini-series may become a reality, with the main actors playing their parts in the buff. After all, if it can air on TV as a reality show, why not a big budget film with well toned actors? A remarkable thing about the show is just how relaxed the participants are, entirely naked, in front their survival partner which is also a stranger, the camera crew, and the whole Discovery Channel viewership. Both the men and the women seem very ordinary, far from supermodels or crazy, but do not look overly concerned that millions of viewers will likely be seeing their “privates” after picking up the non-blurred DVD or Blu-Ray versions of the show. Minutes into the wild and embarrassment becomes the least of their worries. It’s almost as if naked shame is dead and gone already. Or perhaps the contestants are sensing the change in our society; they know they will not be socially ostracized for appearing naked on TV.
My only criticism is with the title. I am sure some marketing gurus thought that up. The word “naked” has been used to promote everything from novels to bottled juice, and more often than not, it has nothing to do with the product. Thankfully, the show is true to its name, but while the great outdoors can be a harsh place, and dangerous with stinging insects and alligators and, worst of all, flesh eating bacteria . . . we humans are not so sensitive to the elements that we need clothing to survive. A better title might have been No Water and Afraid or No Tools and Afraid. Honestly, give me a choice between a water bottle and underwear, and I am going with the bottle every time. I had my first experience with nudity in the great outdoors when I was twelve years old. There is a forest behind the restaurant where I grew up that I used to visit with my friends, complete with lake and alligators and homeless peoples’ tents. More than once, while exploring the forest on my own, I slipped off my clothes and acted out my own survival adventure. It was only for an hour or so, but lack of clothing was never a hindrance. I had no problem with thorns or insects. Quite the contrary, nakedness gave me a heightened sense of surrounding, which helped me navigate some of the rougher spots. Stepping through a spider web in bare skin alerted me to the danger of spiders (that might otherwise slip through my clothes). A patch of wet earth underfoot clued me in on mud holes. When I was older, I went hiking across the island of Mykonos. My nephew and I missed the last boat leaving from the remote beach we were at, so we decided to walk to our camp, over hills, keeping the sea to one side. The greatest danger was lack of water and sunburn. I didn’t wear anything until reaching our campsite. Last year, I had the fortune to visit a nature trail close to home in Land O’ Lakes, Florida. The biggest problem was where to put my keys. Carrying them around ruined the sense of going primitive, so I ditched them under a bush and went exploring, naked and unafraid. OK, it was only for a few hours, but I was alone without a camera crew, and alligators and snakes are known to the area. Point is, I never once felt the need to protect my tender bits from mother nature. Depending on the terrain, you might need shoes or maybe even a shirt, but give me modern day survival gear and I am good to go.
Of course, I am no survivalist, and would not last more than a few days on that show. But there have been reported cases of toddlers lost in the woods in France who survived to adulthood. If you were raised in the forest, having learned to live in nothing but your own skin, if you were Tarzan or Mowgli or Xandr or Thelana, the situation in Naked and Afraid would be 24/7 routine, another day in an ordinary life. At the beginning and end of each episode, the couple is given a survival rating from one to ten. Considering how, in Ages of Aenya, Thelana (pictured above) thrives as a fourteen year old girl in a jungle full of cannibalistic gorilla men or halfmen; and Xandr lives ten years in a swamp with giant snails and killer mosquitoes and other horrors, I would have to give the Ilmar a survival rating of eleven.