[WARNING – Mild SPOILERS below.]
This author received some commentary after my review of the first episode of Naked And Afraid XL, asking just why Kabooooom.com was covering this show when it’s devoted toward comic books in specific and geek culture in general. While it would be fair to say this show has no direct connection to comics, Naked and Afraid XL does have a tangential relationship to some of our favorite comic books.
For instance, my favorite superhero of all time is Green Arrow. And as those of you who are fans of the comics or the TV show Arrow are well-aware, he spent a few years stranded on an island struggling to survive. Other costumed heroes, like The Phantom and the original Shanna The She-Devil, also boast survivalist backgrounds.
Given that, it doesn’t take much of an effort to draw a line from such fictional characters to the contenders on Naked and Afraid – many of whom are real-world heroes in their day-jobs as soldiers, search-and-rescue workers and EMTs. If nothing else, you have to admire their courage in facing the wilds of the savannas of Columbia with nothing but a few tools and their wits.
Unfortunately, it appears that the Man Vs. Nature theme established by the original Naked and Afraid has been completely abandoned in favor of the Survivor-style drama typical of most reality shows. The opening narration now notes that the contenders must “master the environment and survive each other”. And the clips following this proclamation suggest the later point will prove the greater problem.
Indeed, the lion’s share of this episode is focused upon Team Cano Verde – a two man/one woman trio that had trouble working together from the very beginning. This is no surprise to fans of the original series, given that this team contains two of the show’s most polarizing survivalists – herbalist Honora Bowen and commercial fisherman Chris Fischer. The only person viewers are likely to have any sympathy for in all of this nonsense is holistic survival instructor Luke McLaughlin, who tries to maintain the peace between his volatile teammates. At least until even his saint-like patience is broken by Honora crossing the line with actions that endanger them all.
The other three teams get less time put together than Team Cano Verde, presumably because there is so little comparative drama between them. The all-male group of Team Roca Diablo, struggling after the loss of one teammate, are too busy searching for food and water to fight. And the all women group of Team Rio Negro – finally united after Dani Julien spent her first week surviving all alone – put the other teams to shame with how well they function as a group, being the only team to see their Primitive Survival Rating go up over the course of the first week.
The only real tension lies in Team El Bosque, where the psychotic Shane Lewis continues to alternatively terrify and amuse his female teammates. His attempts at bonding around the campfire sound like every Nice Guy speech about how women don’t appreciate a good man like him. And his failed attempts at hunting lead to whining about how he needs a store-bought compound bow to be effective. Oliver Queen, he ain’t.
Amusing as it is to watch self-described Alpha-Males be humbled by more capable women (Alana Barfield proves more capable of catching animals with her bare hands than Shane is with a bow), this episode proves a sad spectacle. There’s hardly any of the educational content the original Naked and Afraid was famous for in this episode. Just heaping helpings of pointless drama and petty conflict.
Those viewers who enjoy that sort of thing will continue to enjoy this series. But those who expect a Discovery Channel series to be educational first and amusing second will be sorely disappointed.