Is Being Naked In Naked and Afraid Exploitative or Simply Brilliant?

Teresa Reilly | Aug 6, 2013

Naked and Afraid

Two survivalists are placed in a remote and dangerous part of the world, naked and afraid. They are allowed to take one survival item and are dropped off either by boat, truck, or helicopter and are forced to fend for themselves alongside a stranger for 21 days. No food and no water, just the elements and a rustic map outlining their general vicinity. It’s worth mentioning again here that they are naked.

Most times in television, an absurd amount of nudity lends itself to a certain type of show, typically on a premium channel, where the graphic element is central to the drama. Then there’s the Discovery Channel‘s Naked and Afraid, in which two contestants, experienced in outdoor survival, are dropped in the middle of nowhere, naked, to fend for themselves for 21 days. The question is, why do they have to be naked at all?

Reason 1: It’s Harder to Survive Without Clothing

Exposing the contestants to the elements and making them start with absolutely nothing seems like a simple answer. It is easy to forget that clothing serves a purpose other than protecting our modesty. Take Episode 3, “Island From Hell,” that puts Jonathan, a Marine vet, and Alison, a globetrotter who knows how to make a mean straw hat, on an island in the Maldives. On day one, Jonathan is made immobile by a harsh sunburn, the parts of his skin that don’t typically see sun swiftly beaten down by ultraviolet rays. His lack of clothing leads to a slow and frustrating start for the team. In Episode 2, a military specialist named EJ is in Tanzania, where hyenas run rampant and thorny bushes litter the landscape. With no shoes, EJ steps on one too many thorns and develops an infection that nearly has him on a helicopter home.

Reason 2: Primal Urge

Then, of course, there is the more theatrical element of making these two people seem like cavemen. They hunt with spears and make fire with sticks while baring it all for the camera crew and the millions watching. It effectively shows the confidence the contestants have, as well as their willingness to prove themselves, that they can nonchalantly revert to a primal state in order to survive. And sometimes that need to survive has the couple seeking shelter together. Naked, afraid, cold, and primal—in that state, emotions can overtake rational thought and the human instinct to nest and be with someone can be hard to shake. And while so far, no contestants have acted on those impulses, the title and premise of the show suggests it could at some point.

Reason 3: Nudity Equals Ratings

While shows like Survivor and Man vs. Wild had successful runs based on a similar premise, no one was ever naked. Discovery Channel has taken a successful (though tired) formula and added something that tends to spark interest in the audience: nudity and sex (or at least the potential for it). In an interview with Salon, Discovery Senior Vice President Denise Contis said the title wasn’t crafted to intentionally give people the wrong idea about the show’s content, but to simply reflect the state of the contestants. Even so, the channel clearly knew that adding “Naked” to the title would generate interest. “It’s irrelevant to [the contestants] that they were naked, completely irrelevant, not a plot point,” Contis countered. “They were in survival mode. Their focus quickly shifted: I need to get food, I need to get water, I need to get shelter.” Her point being, with disease, illness, and severe fatigue commonplace on the show, nudity is almost the least of the participants’ worries.

What do you think? Is Naked and Afraid simply exploiting nudity for ratings or is it a necessary for the participants to struggle through jungles, swamps, and deserts without so much as the clothes on their backs?


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