What happens when the most extreme survival show on television becomes even more extreme? You get Naked and Afraid XL.
A quick summary for those not familiar with the original Naked And Afraid. Two strangers who are both skilled survivalists – one man and one woman – are dropped in some remote part of the world. For three weeks they have to survive with nothing but their wits, their partner and one survival tool of their choosing. That’s it. No food, no water and no clothes, save what they can gather and make for themselves.
There’s no bullshit challenges or voting people off the island. Not on this show! Just pure survival skills in the harshest environments Mother Nature has to offer.
So how does Naked and Afraid XL build upon the original show? Part of that answer lies in the title. XL doesn’t stand for eXtra-Large but instead refers for the Roman Numeral for 40. As in the 40 days and 40 nights the survivalists must survive this time rather than the usual 21.
There are three other key differences. The first is that rather than a single duo, the show focuses upon a dozen survivalists – six men and six women who all appeared on the show before. Next, the survivalists are given a knife and one tool of their choosing before being released into the wild alone, told only that other people are out there but not given any directions on finding them. Finally, though all twelve survivalists are released into the same 20 sq. mile stretch of Columbian wilderness, they are grouped into four different trios that will be graded on their ability to work together despite their differing styles and approaches to wilderness survival.
Some survivalists and moral guardians criticized the original show for being exploitative, more concerned with its nudity gimmick and cheap drama than conveying educational information. While it’s fair to say that the conflicting personalities are part of the fun of the show (unless you think it’s a coincidence they keep pairing up outspoken feminists with good ol’ boys who think women belong in the kitchen), the original Naked and Afraid did a fine job of teaching good survival techniques as well as about the flora and fauna of various exotic climates.
Sadly, the new series is more focused on drama by necessity. With twelve contenders in play, there’s little time to devote toward serious discussion of how the teams are going about seeing to their basic needs. It’s telling that most of the educational information in the first episode comes from the sequences focused on adventure guide Dani Julien, who gets to Day Four without having located her intended partners.
Impressively, Dani is able to treat an infection using tree bark, after her eye becomes swollen shut following her first night in the jungle. Her intended partners, Eva Rupert and Laura Zerra, prove equally capable on their own and get perhaps the least amount of screen time out of all the various teams. Indeed, Eva and Laura’s one segment after meeting up is devoted to Eva having to decide whether or not to risk surgery in the wild or tap out to go to a hospital following a finger injury.
There lies the damnable problem with Naked And Afraid XL – the bigger format does a disservice to the people who know what they are doing. Because the sad truth is that while lying in the shade during the hottest parts of the day is Smart Survival 101 when you’re in an area with temperatures in excess of 120 degrees Fahrenheit, it makes for poor television. It’s much more entertaining to the general masses for them to watch the survivalists snipe at each other when things go wrong than to focus on what is being done right.
Indeed, a look at the cast would suggest the producers were more concerned about provoking tension than truly testing an all-star team of survivalists. While the roster includes the likes of E.J. Snyder and Laura Zerra (two-time contenders and, respectively, the highest scoring male and female survivalists in the show’s history) as well as Alana Barfield (the first contender in Naked and Afraid history to complete the challenge solo, going over half of her 21-day trial without a partner), there’s also a number of contestants who were infamous for causing drama. Chief among these is Honora Bowen, who is the only one of the dozen survivalists who failed her original challenge, after “divorcing” her partner and being forcibly evacuated due to extreme heatstroke.
Thankfully, the original format holds together in spite of the focus on relationships over survival techniques. And long-time fans of the original show will enjoy seeing several old favorites back in action. Hopefully more educational segments will be forthcoming in future episodes as more of the trouble-makers tap out as the going gets rougher. Until then, Naked and Afraid XL remains enjoyable but not without some flaws that may grate on the nerves of some fans.