Jessie Raymond: Outdoors, neither naked nor afraid

For the past couple of months I’ve been walking the dog on the Trail Around Middlebury or, as I like to call it, “The Trail That Runs Practically Past My House But Which, Until This Spring, I Had Been on Only Once in the Eight Years We’ve Lived There.”
At first, the dog and I went on occasional 15-20 minute outings, but I’ve enjoyed the woods so much that the hikes have grown to 30-45 minutes each morning, sometimes with a second round after work. I can’t get enough of the smells, sounds and sights in the forest and the meditative calm that comes over me as I meander along the TAM and its dozens of winding side trails.
I’ve been logging so many miles lately I’ve been feeling downright outdoorsy. But then something happened to remind me that “outdoorsy” is a relative term: I caught a few episodes of “Naked and Afraid.”
“Naked and Afraid” is an actual reality TV show. Like most people, I generally avoid the genre out of fear that my brain might liquefy and run out my ears. But I find the show compelling. I don’t mean it has any redeeming intellectual value; I just can’t look away.
The premise is simple: Two strangers, one male and one female, volunteer to get dropped into a tropical rain forest, each bringing nothing but a single item of their choice. (They generally choose a knife or flint, rather than something practical, like a case of beef jerky or a yurt.) They immediately strip nude — with the naughty bits blurred out on screen — and then attempt to remain alive for the next 21 days. That’s it.
There is no prize for winning other than not dying, which, by the end of three weeks, everyone seems pretty happy with. But often the participants have to go home early because of fever, diarrhea, snake bites, dehydration, hypothermia, infected wounds, taunting from the film crew, etc.
Sounds like a great time, doesn’t it?
The nudity does not make the show more titillating. Far from it. In one episode, the naked guy stands on a hillside a few feet above the camera, legs braced wide as he vigorously hacks at a vine with his machete. After that one, I sent a heartfelt thank-you note to the pixellation editor.
Unlike other reality shows, this one doesn’t seem to include too much manufactured drama. It doesn’t need to. Two strangers have to live in a hot, bug-infested and often rainy jungle for three weeks with no provided shelter, food or Deep Woods Off. How much more dramatic can it get?
In one episode, the couple jumps up and down — or as close to that as they can manage, what with the starvation-induced weakness and all — because after 13 days of subsisting on nothing but the spiders that crawl into their mouths while they sleep, they manage to find a snail to share for dinner.
Compared to these nut jobs — I mean “intrepid survivalists” — I’m not outdoorsy at all. To wit:
1.  I would never spend the night outside on the Trail Around Middlebury, much less in the jungle where wild boars and fire ants roam free. Forget being naked and afraid. I wouldn’t do it fully clothed and 200 yards from home, unless a pop-up camper was involved.
2.  On the show, one eager participant says she is excited to get into a situation where death is a real possibility because she wants to experience the thrill of surviving. While I appreciate her enthusiasm, I far prefer my outdoor adventures to range from “lovely” at best to “a bit humid” at worst. I have zero interest in “potentially fatal.”
3.  Unlike the naked people, at no time on any of my hikes have I curled up in a ball and sobbed, despairing of ever making it back to civilization. (Well, just once, but it turned out I was only 15 feet from the parking area.)
I’m proud to say I’ve hit the trail every single day so far this summer, but “Naked and Afraid” has shown me that my hikes are kids’ stuff. Walking the TAM doesn’t strain the limits of my physical or mental endurance or make me look death in the eye.
It may not be very outdoorsy of me to say so, but that’s just the way I like it.

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