Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 13, 2015)
Back in 2000, Survivor became an enormous hit and set a template for a certain form of reality series. Discovery’s Naked and Afraid offers a twist on that formula.
Like Survivor, Afraid places contestants into difficult living circumstances and challenges them to get through these situations. As implied by the series’ title, the change-up comes from clothes, or lack thereof, as Afraid’s participants need to spend their stints in the raw.
Each episode of Afraid plops two contestants – one male, one female – in an extreme situation and forces them to get by with almost no supplies and no clothes. The participants need to survive for 21 days if they’re to succeed.
This Season One package includes seven episodes. In these, we find the following settings and pairings:
The Jungle Curse: “Survival enthusiast” Shane Lewis and survival instructor Kim Shelton in the Costa Rican rainforest.
Terror in Tanzania: Army veteran EJ Snyder and game warden Kellie Nightlinger in the African Serengeti.
Island from Hell: Former Marine Jonathan Klay and “adventure model” Alison Teal in the Maldive Islands.
Punishment in Panama: survival instructor Clint Jivoin and “primitive survivalist” Laura Zerra on a Panamanian island.
Breaking Borneo: tattoo artist Puma Cabra and wilderness expert Julie Wright in Sabah, Borneo.
Beware the Bayou: author Billy Berger and stuntwoman Ky Furneaux in a Louisiana swamp.
Bares All: All the contestants from the first six shows come back to discuss their experiences.
Normally when I review TV series, I discuss each episode on its own. I don’t think that makes sense here, though, as the shows don’t really offer themselves as strong fodder for individual analysis – it’s not like the season pursues a narrative arc or anything.
Afraid episodes differ due to a few factors: the contestants, their interactions and the settings. The latter category adds some variety in terms of threatening elements and visuals, but the shows concentrate on how terrifying/inhospitable these places are, so there’s not a lot to say about that side of the series.
This means Afraid lives or dies on its participants and what happens to them as well as how they deal with each other. Not surprisingly, the most interesting episodes come from those with contestants who don’t get along very well. 42 minutes with folks who get buddy-buddy lacks the interpersonal drama we’d like, so the shows go best when there’s tension between the pairs.
Of course, we also want people we find it enjoyable to watch. Obviously a show that offers naked people boasts a strong titillation factor, and the viewer will clearly enjoy it more when it includes attractive participants.
No one should expect the DVDs to present uncensored visuals, though. As aired on the Discovery Channel, the programs show naked rears but digitally mask other “naughty parts”. I’m sure Discovery would move a ton more DVDs if they sold an unaltered version, but we don’t get that here.
If you want bare butts, though, Afraid is the show for you. I won’t attempt to judge the quality of the male posteriors on display, but for the females, Alison and Laura become easily the most appealing participants.
(Minor aside: far be it for me to accuse a reality series of toying with reality – ahem – but I can’t be the only viewer who wonders how the women maintain such smooth legs over three weeks, can I?)
Beyond some eye candy, does Afraid have much to offer? Not really, largely because it turns monotonous so quickly. Even with a variety of locales, they all kind of look the same. The various spots tend to be so heavily wooded that we seem stuck in the trees all the time; even when we get the beaches of the Maldives or the African Serengeti, we don’t discover much visual change.
The challenges all tend to play out the same way as well. Given the nature of the set-up, this probably becomes inevitable. The participants need to satisfy basic life needs – food, water, shelter – so they perform the same actions again and again.
That makes the shows awfully repetitive. How many times can we watch people create fire or search for water? By three episodes into the season, the monotony causes the shows to drag.
I think Afraid would fare better if it offered a mix of challenges – not all the shows need to deal solely with the basic life needs. Simply changing locations and participants isn’t enough to keep the spark alive.
Perhaps other seasons will find ways to make the different episodes stand out from each other, but that doesn’t occur with Season One of Naked and Afraid. After the basic prurient thrill of two naked strangers wears off, the programs fail to keep our attention.