Naked and Afraid XL, which sees a dozen survivalists attempt to last 40 days with no food, shelter or, as the title suggests, clothing, begins on Discovery May 24. While Naked and Afraid features man-woman pairs working together, XL has 12 veterans of the show divided into teams of three. Weaker players can be cast out from their team.
Joe Boyle, Discovery senior VP of production and development, spoke with Multichannel News about what the naked aspect brings to the show, and why Naked and Afraid XL might be well suited for pandemic viewing. An edited transcript follows.
MCN: The contestants sometimes deal with jaguars, mountain lions, other dangerous wildlife. Are they protected in any way?
Joe Boyle: Yes. The safety of the survivalists is paramount. Even with everything we do to keep them safe, it’s dangerous at all times. Off-camera and not interacting with the cast, we have a medic tent. We have the ability to create quick evacuations if anything did go wrong. We work carefully with game wardens and local wildlife officials to make sure we don’t put either the humans or animals in a bad situation. I think we’ve done a really good job doing that. It doesn’t mean there’s no danger, it just means we’ve mitigated everything we can.
MCN: How much do you worry about the survivalists being injured?
JB: I worry about it every day. The scenario is extremely well thought out. The amount of safety protocols that go into building each and every episode is thorough. But you’re still in the wild. They are still making the choice as survivalists to put themselves naked with very little resources against the natural world. And it’s not just getting bit by a dangerous snake. It’s also starvation, it’s about nutrient loss, it’s about the mental side of it. All of it is very hard on them. We’ve been lucky so far.
MCN: What makes Naked and Afraid good viewing when we’re stuck in a pandemic?
JB: The people who are on Naked and Afraid have been sheltering in close confines long before the rest of us were. At the end of the day, what makes Naked and Afraid work is not that it’s a survival show. It’s in the survival genre, but the storytelling is really about the human spirit. It’s about people pushing themselves to overcome obstacles they never thought they could or weren’t sure they could. It’s got a lot of deeper layers to what the story is really about.
Survival is the setting for it, and primitive survival specifically. But human relationships — interacting with someone, working together to achieve a goal, pushing yourself to limits you never thought possible — those are really deep human stories to tell and Naked and Afraid tells them every week. That’s why people enjoy it. People can live vicariously through it but also see their own struggles within it.
MCN: What have you learned about people, about humankind, from working on the show?
JB: I learned there are more incredible people out in the world than I ever thought there were. At this point, we’ve had [around 300 survivalists] on the show. Every single one of them, even the ones that tap out, are heroic. They all have something about them that makes them very special. We work really hard not to let the casting of the show fall into just people who want to be on TV. We really want people who would do this regardless of the show.
MCN: What does the nakedness add to the show?
JB: Physically, you’re literally without anything. Clothing is shelter — it protects us from the environment. Our bodies don’t naturally have that. People have to recreate that in some way, creating shelter, creating clothes.
I wasn’t there in the very beginning stages of development, but there’s a story Nancy Daniels [Discovery chief brand officer] often tells about how the conversation revolved around, do they have shoes or do they not have shoes. There was a serious debate about, ‘How real do we allow this to be?’ If you ask the cast, they say it’s cheating — if you’re naked, you’re naked. If you want shoes, you make them. It was amazing, the amount of debates that took place just around the topic of shoes.
[Being naked] changes your mindset of how exposed you are and just how vulnerable you are. It’s a pretty drastic thing to go through, to feel that vulnerable the moment you enter the challenge and try to figure how you are going to overcome that. I think it works on all different levels.
From a television perspective, [naked] helps make for a great title.