Every Sunday night my girlfriend Steph and I snuggle up on the couch to watch the train wreck that is Naked and Afraid. In this reality television spectacle there’s a man and woman previously unknown to each other—it’s all Adam and Eve, never Adam and Steve—who are thrust into a hostile environment somewhere in the world. And you guessed it, they are buck naked, their naughty bits tastefully pixelated.
There are almost always snakes. Turns out snakes thrive in many environments. I should also mention that there is no actual prize for surviving the twenty-one days with sunburned privates while on a steady diet of sticks and bugs. You simply get your very unscientific “Survival Rating” adjusted upward or downward, depending on how many body parts you have left at the end. Sign me up.
Steph and I are clothed and calm as we settle down to watch this duo who are dropped into the sand dunes of Northern Brazil. The girl was kind of a survivalist hippy chick. We’ll call her Hippy Chick. We hear Hippy Chick’s voice-over thought bubble: she’s concerned that her partner is chubby and not in as fit as she is. The guy is a lumbersexual PBR-swilling survival type. We’ll call him Portlandia.
Hippy Chick and Portlandia dramatically cross the dunes to meet each other, hug, (Butts out! Not too much contact down there!) and commence their adventure. Hippy Chick sprints down the nearest dune and starts manically cutting palm fronds—the de rigeur item for shelters. She hauls her body weight in fronds up the dune, and as she passes Portlandia who is carrying a single frond at a sedate pace, he mumbles, “Hey it’s hot and we don’t have water yet, you may want to conserve your energy.” She looks askance at Portlandia and chirps, “I’m good!”
Hippy Chick scurries through the episode looking here, there, and everywhere for food, sitting in the blazing sun heating drinking water with her one “convenience item,” a magnifying glass. Who brings a fucking magnifying glass as their one item? Next thing you know, she’ll whip out some Silly Putty to make artsy palm-frond prints.
Meanwhile, Portlandia takes a calculated risk based on his survival knowledge and discovers drinkable water right from the source, no purifying necessary. And he appears to have ample fruit to share as well. The producers are not really showing much of what Portlandia is up to as he appears to spend his days conserving energy by chilling in his shelter. Not exactly riveting TV.
Portlandia’s boring surviving is not good enough for Hippy Chick. They are naked and afraid, dammit! Not just sitting around! She can take it no longer and confronts Portlandia, “You’re fat and lazy! We’re trying to survive here and you’re just sitting on your ass!” Portlandia calmly tries to explain to her that in his book, surviving is about using the least possible amount of energy, and because energy is scarce, you must think through every action before you take it. Then he presented her with a large insect he’d roasted for her. Hippy Chick storms off.
The episode reaches its crescendo when Portlandia finds Hippy Chick facedown in the sand, passed out in the broiling sun. She’d become dehydrated so they medivac her out and push some IV fluids. She’s fine, but it’s game over for her.
With the busy-but-nearly-dead Hippy Chick out of the picture, the Naked and Afraid producers are now left with the boring-yet-very-much-alive Portlandia to fill last few minutes of the show. The truth is, Portlandia’s got this. He sits in the shade and eats his fruit and drinks his water, and when it comes time for him to do the standard death march to the totally superfluous “extraction point,” he simply gets up and walks there. Brilliant survival strategy, crappy TV.
Portlandia didn’t just teach Hippy Chick a valuable life lesson, I picked one up too. I see where I scurry around like Hippy Chick, hauling way to many metaphorical palm fronds and making things really hard when all I need is to let it be easy. I saw how Portlandia expends the minimum amount of energy possible for the maximum benefit. He thinks before he moves. He systematically figures out how to meet his needs, and understands the value of rest and energy conservation. He’s not budged off his path by others calling him names or questioning his approach. He’s true to his vision.
So the next time I find myself metaphorically face-down in the blistering sun, I will channel my inner Portlandia, push fluids, and get myself back to shelter for a nice rest and some fruit while I contemplate my next move.