Friday, July 18, 2014

Getting Naked, I’m Afraid

I’m just back from an outdoor wedding in Northern California. Both bride and groom kept their clothes on. This made for a lovely event, but it would have had no cred on today’s reality TV. As I’ve discovered, the new trend is for total nudity. Yesterday, VH1 launched a series called Dating Naked, to compete with such shows as Buying Naked and Naked Vegas.

I stumbled onto the nudity trend via my treadmill TV. Channel-surfing on a Sunday morning, I came across Naked and Afraid, which was launched by the once-dignified Discovery Channel in June 2013. It’s a survivor-type show with a titillating twist: two healthy young Americans of different genders are stranded in some sort of exotic wilderness area, where they must manage to live off the land. For the 21 days of the challenge, they are given no food, no water, and no clothing. 

The episode I partly saw, “Mayan Misery,” was set in the jungles of Belize. Cass, a strapping former soldier with a family back home, started out armed with plenty of brute strength. Shannon, a willowy earth-mother type, was touted as an expert on herbs and alternative medicines. Both sported lightweight cross-body satchels containing a diary, a map and one useful item of their own choosing, like a fire-starter or knife. Other than that, they were buck-naked except for their tattoos.

I watched this couple, nearly dying of thirst, risk serious illness by drinking out of local streams. I watched them, faced with torrential rains, crouch in a spooky cave inhabited by bats and who-knows-what. As time passed, I saw the damage done to their skin and bare feet. Basically, they looked like hell. Their nudity (with genitalia discreetly blurred for TV viewers) was hardly a turn-on for me, nor (I presume) for one another. But what was the point, exactly?

In the New York Times for July 17, 2014, Neil Genzlinger published an amusing piece called “Say Yes to Undress,” in which he predicts that someday soon, in deference to “14-year-old viewers and those who wish they still were,” we’ll have All-Bare TV. This trend, he frets, “is going to cost the jobs of countless costume designers, seamstresses, ironers, dry cleaners. Several Emmy Award categories will disappear, though in fairness, one will surely be added for outstanding blurring of crotches and nipples.” He’s not looking forward to Naked Downton Abbey.

My own thoughts have gone in a different direction. Yes, the featured couple in Naked and Afraid  is bug-bitten and defenseless, but they’re hardly alone out there in the jungle. This is a TV show, after all. So there’s got to be a camera crew recording their every move. Even with today’s lightweight and versatile equipment, I presume our couple is being tailed 24/7 by a cameraman, a sound recorder, maybe a lighting expert, and likely a producer to keep things running smoothly. None of those folks, I’m guessing, is going without food or water. And I’m quite sure they aren’t required to work in the buff, with their primal parts flapping in the breeze.

Oddly, I’m reminded of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. As I learned when researching Ron Howard: From Mayberry to the Moon . . . and Beyond, the Grinch’s heavy costume and makeup made star Jim Carrey so acutely claustrophobic that one afternoon shooting had to be halted hours earlier than planned. The next day, director Ron Howard showed up in identical Grinch garb out of sympathy for his leading man. Seems only fair that the behind-the-scenes team on Naked and Afraid show some solidarity with their nekkid stars, right?


  1. You bring up the very reason I can watch none of the "survival" "reality" shows. That camera and sound crew - who aren't roughing it. There's some guy doing shows like this named (I think) Bear Grylls. Rumor has it some of his "extreme survival" TV episodes were shot just behind the hotel the crew was staying in - shooting into the wilderness out back to give the appearance of being "out in the boonies."

    And I'm with you - the nudity is blurred and not at all titilating on Naked and Afraid - so what's the point?

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  2. I hadn't heard of Bear Grylls before, but he's definitely worth reading about. If IMDB is to be trusted, he's an avid skydiver and has climbed Mt. Everest. He was born on the Isle of Wight (where it's not too dear), and has named his sons Jesse, Marmaduke, and Huckleberry. I suspect he was naked at birth and when his sons were conceived, but I have a strong hunch he wore clothing on Everest. Come to think of it: here's an idea for a new reality show: Naked Skydiving!