Naked and Afraid: Survivalist Reality Television Goes Full Frontal

Curator's Note

Post-Survivor debut in 2000, survivalist reality television has been moving up the ladder at a quick pace. The genre has a draw of it’s own, testing the human body and psyche, but it also capitalizes on the critique of technological co-dependence.  Similarly, survivalist shows offer the chance to “experience” the wilderness survival alongside the hosts or contestants. Keith McCafferty says, “Watching the videos, I was kneeling right alongside him while he struck sparks from his axe with a rock.” (McCafferty). This is an exclusive experience for the viewer, while still allowing them to maintain their creature comforts.  Though survivalist television is already a thrilling concept, there’s another key ingredient to spice things up.

Nudity is definitely not new to reality television.  However, naked survival, Adam and Eve style, is a new concept among survivalist reality television. The show Naked and Afraid made a name for itself by throwing two strangers, male and female, into the exotic wild totally naked.   Executive producer Joseph Boyle argues that the nudity forces the participants to start from an “authentic” point and that it amplifies survival factors (Multichannel News). Whether or not nudity produces authenticity, the thrill of reality television’s voyeuristic nature, the rising popularity of survivalist reality TV, and America’s fascination with nudity is a recipe for success.

While Boyle suggests that nudity may be just another element in making survival more “authentic,” it also exemplifies the peeping tom aesthetic by granting visual access to the body.   Even the participants highlight this; for example, at 0:43 Jonathan states, “I hope . . . she don’t mind me staring at her.” Therefore, participants are vulnerable by: being in the wild, being naked, and being watched.  One then must consider a power advantage being a part of the show’s success.   Because being nude is largely considered intimate, the power is then derived from the voyeuristic nature created by the addition of this element.  For viewers this is enhanced by the fact that audiences don’t have to engage or be held accountable for their act of looking.

While power from voyeurism may not have been intentional, it is important to consider how power may be at play here, due to the added factor of nudity. Ultimately, this show may have found the key to standing out in the wild crowd.

'Naked' and Intense Television. (2015). Multichannel News, 36(37), 5.

McCafferty, K. (2010). Death by Survival. Field & Stream, 115(5), 42-45.


I was surprised by how un-erotic the nudity on these shows really is. After that initial meeting, sexuality and desire quickly fades to the background as they are usually too tired, sick, hungry, or in pain to think about anything else. Quickly the nudity becomes an issue for body horror. There are so many bugs and the sun is oppressive. It is hard not banish the thoughts of what that must be doing to their delicate regions. To me that is one of the more consistent thoughts I have when watching these shows.

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