Secrets the cast of Naked and Afraid let slip

On Discovery's hit survival reality series Naked and Afraid, two naked strangers are dropped off in the wilderness and challenged to survive for three weeks. The official description of the show claims that each "duo will be left high and dry with no food, no water and no clothes. They must survive on their own for a full 21 days, with nothing but one personal item each and the knowledge that the only prize is their pride and sense of accomplishment." 

Despite this description, several leaks and interviews with former contestants have called into question the actual amount of "reality" that's included in this reality show. On top of that, there are just some really downright disturbing aspects of the show that you probably never even considered — aside, of course, from the fact that this is a showcase for which viewers to watch nude strangers almost die in the wilderness. Bring the whole fam! (Actually, don't.) 

These are the shocking secrets behind Naked and Afraid

Naked and Afraid contestants are not quite alone

The psychological impact of isolation is touted as one of the most important aspects of the show. Filming locations vary from episode to episode, and while some are more isolated than others, the contestants are never really alone. They are constantly followed by cameramen, producers, and medics. While the contestants are generally left alone at night, the production camp is within walking distance and earshot. Prior contestants have explained that they are given a radio and a whistle to signal for help if they need it or can't make the walk to the crew's camp. Additionally, contestants occasionally come into contact with local residents. Honora Bowen, a Season 3 participant, revealed that there was a town only a few miles from their filming location, and not only would they hear the local DJ playing club music long into the night, but they would frequently encounter locals playing soccer on the beach or swimming in the lagoon.

Naked and Afraid contestants receive some medical help along the way

There's also a medical team on the set in case of emergencies. While this should be expected of a show that deprives contestants of food, sometimes producers neglect to include footage of medical interventions performed during the course of the 21 days. In one prominent example during the show's premiere, contestant Kim Shelton suffers from severe food poisoning after eating a turtle. She's shown sleeping and vomiting for three days, before miraculously making a recovery on the fourth. What they don't tell you is that her recovery was hastened by the producers providing her with bread, rice, and baby food, as well as medics giving her two intravenous drips of saline to rehydrate her. In the same episode, Kim's partner, Shane, is portrayed as weak and seen constantly complaining about his painful foot. The showrunners chose not to reveal to viewers that Shane had actually broken three toes, causing the excruciating pain.

A crew member may be responsible for a contestant's illness

Even though she returned to the series multiple times, Phaedra Brothers' first experience with Naked and Afraid wasn't great. According to an interview with Channel Guide, Brothers claims her location was switched last minute to "a completely different ecosystem" of which she hadn't trained. Also, her luggage — which contained all of her carefully designed pre-show prep nutrition — was lost, leaving her to rely only on production staff for food. Brothers claims that the night before her first day of shooting, "one of the Indian men who was a part of the crew" prepared her a "really great chicken curry dish," except hours later she became horribly sick to her stomach. And instead of issuing a disclaimer that she'd gotten sick beforehand, the show's narration "claimed that Phaedra's illness was due to drinking untreated water."

Brothers claims that she complained to Discovery about the blatant lie, but was told, "If I said anything other than the storyline they picked, they would delete my online comments," which she also claims they've done. "They decide the storyline. But in that particular incidence, I think they thought it would be a better, more dramatic story [to say her illness was a result of drinking untreated water], but it wasn't the truth." Brothers said. In fairness to the show, Brothers does insist that the rest of the experience was authentic and they they got no outside help from the crew, but the question remains: If they were so willing to lie about her illness, what other dramatic moments have been faked?

How much are Naked and Afraid contestants paid?

For many of us, there's no amount of money in the world that would get us to strip down and sit alone in a jungle for 21 days, eating little more than bugs and potentially tainted water. Some things are simply priceless, and Naked and Afraid knows this. The series attempts to set itself apart from similarly extreme reality shows like Survivor by claiming contestants aren't offered prize money and are rewarded with nothing more than pride. While that's not completely true because the contestants are reportedly paid, they're not offered anywhere near enough of an incentive for money to be the motivation. So, how much are Naked and Afraid contestants paid?

According to some rumors, prize money ranges between $20,000 to $25,000, but this seems largely inaccurate. Discovery's casting page for Season 4 (via Starcasm) revealed contestants are given round trip (coach) flights to the random location, two nights in a hotel, $5,000 cash, and a whole lot of inevitable hurt (okay, so they didn't offer the latter, but anyone who's watched the series knows what's coming). Former contestants also confirmed to People that they only receive a "few thousand dollars" and it's "all about the experience, not the cash."

Some Naked and Afraid contestants have sticky fingers

While Naked and Afraid likes to portray contestants as only eating what they can hunt or gather, that's not always the case. On several occasions, stars have later admitted to stealing food from crew members or local residents. One contestant, Honora Bowen, claimed to have scavenged chocolate, salt, and even some Campari from a fishing hut she found before producers forbid her from going back. She did, of course, return to steal a coconut which was enough of a violation that a PA trudged through waist-deep water to find her and yell at her.

When Bowen later appeared on Naked and Afraid XL, she told Empty Lighthouse Magazine that she was also able to steal some packets of Emergen-C electrolytes, which she shared with her team. Additionally, Bowen's fellow XL contestant Shane Lewis reportedly stole food from the medic tent. "Even if production considers us to be cheating, at the same time your brain is literally getting cannibalized," Bowen, who has been open about the show's drastic psychological effects, told Empty Lighthouse Magazine. Can you blame them?

Location. Location. Location.

This may seem like a no-brainer, as each remote locale obviously poses its own distinct difficulties, but show producers have admitted that through the careful selection of where they drop off each team of contestants, they're able to direct the kind of content they're looking for. "The location really informed the creative," executive producer Denise Contis (above) told Salon in much more fashionable industry lingo, adding that in certain situations they knew contestants would be able to find water much more quickly than in others. In another situation, she said they knew the ground at the location was "full of burrs," so a lot of the focus of the episode would be on the contestants trying to make shoes, which also resulted in most of the shooting taking place "within maybe a half-mile radius." Any chance that little tidbit helped for scheduling, budgeting, and location crew staffing?

Of course, one could argue that these instances are simply byproducts of the nature of trying to shoot a TV show around people surviving the wilderness. But would a network like Discovery risk blowing millions of dollars on production without ensuring a viable plan for the shoot, and/or leave the possibility of being left with nothing interesting for the editing room? Not likely.

The editing of Naked and Afraid is manipulative

On the original Naked and Afraid series, the 21-day survival experience of the contestants is condensed down to one 44-minute episode, with a new pair of stars appearing each week. As you can imagine, lots of editing is required in order to fit three weeks of footage into less than an hour of television, and sometimes the end result doesn't accurately portray the reality of what happened during filming. As with the medical intervention left out of the series premiere, contestants have revealed that editing sometimes purposefully leaves out interactions and events that change how they are portrayed in the final cut. Like most reality shows, there's usually a "good guy" and a "villain," and it appears Naked and Afraid doesn't mind creating those roles via editing, even if the facts don't quite fit that narrative.

Naked and Afraid contestants are puppets for producers

]In a 2013 interview, executive producer Contis told The Wall Street Journal that "There is no manipulation, no element of scripted reality." Despite this claim, it seems that as with most reality shows, producers and crew members will put their thumb on the scale from time to time in order to tilt the story. Previous contestants have given examples of this manipulation, like Bowen from Season 3: "The locust that my partner gave me was after I had gone hunting for locusts for days, and it fell on a cameraman who gave the locust to my partner and told him to give it to me. This same cameraman was also constantly feeding us ideas to make things more interesting."

Additionally, producers pull contestants aside for daily "diary" segments, and often ask leading questions in order to film dramatic responses or even confrontations between partners they wish to portray as being at odds with one another. Bowen claimed that not only was a "fight" between herself and her partner provoked by producers, but that the show runners also instructed her to repeatedly say that a magnifying glass she carries during her episode was a gift from her father, even though it was given to her by the crew on the first day.

Naked and Afraid is more soap opera than survival skills

In her Reddit AMA, contestant Alison Teal sticks mostly to the script that the show doesn't aid the contestants outside of providing emergency medical treatment. Although, she does say that prior to being dropped at the location for the first day of shooting, she made sure to slather on the sunscreen. Which if you ask us is a blatant cheat right out of the gate, because the last time we checked jungle ferns weren't dispensing SPF 50.

She also admitted that she was slightly disappointed that the show didn't showcase some of the more impressive things she did, like building a 40-foot ladder, or making fishing nets and hooks, but instead seemed to focus on what she called "the action packed scenes and character dynamics..." In Teal's case, this was pretty much whittled down to her show partner, Jonathan, complaining the entire time, and her stepping in his poop. Sure sounds like the "extreme survival" scenarios Discover Channel promised us!

Honora Bowen put Naked and Afraid on blast

In addition to the previously mentioned explosive claims she made on her blog, contestant Bowen also gave a tell-all interview to Empty Lighthouse, which alleged all kinds of behind-the-scenes chicanery. First, she claims that she came across an abandoned shack, from which she scavenged a basket, a pot, and some fishing line, only to be told by a producer that she had to put it back because "the natives have rights to this place and they come on occasion." She also claims she was instructed not to tell her show partner, Matt, about the place. Of her partner, Bowen claims that he was allowed to take Adderall, even though show producer Steve Rankin supposedly told her that they "all knew" it was a fake prescription, and that another contestant, Luke, was able to take his "homemade tincture," which she claims was a mixture of "cognac and fish oil and all these other herbs" that provided him with advantageous amino acids.

All of this arguably shady supplementation particularly rankled Bowen, because she was allegedly denied her own prescription of salts and potassium she was to take for a kidney issue, until producers found "10 packets of salt pills" in a local town and doled them out to her sparingly. So, it's safe to say that she definitely has an axe to grind with the show, and her commentary should be taken with that in mind. That said, part of her general statement about her experience with the show nicely sums up the exact message we're getting at here: "You know, just to try to watch it with an open mind. Pretty much everything you see on TV is fictional, even if it is reality TV."

What happens during that time of the month?

Naked and Afraid is undoubtedly hard for everyone, but women have an extra little tidbit to worry about: what happens when you're starving, your entire lower back is cramping up, and you're writhing in PMS pain on a bed of twigs? Oh, the first world pleasures of Midol. Since the challenge is 21 days long, unless women have miraculous timing or are post-menopausal, they're going to have to deal with their periods.

In the wilderness, Naked and Afraid contestants have to tough it out through their time of the month, but they can't just free bleed like animals do. It's actually a hazard that can attract predators. So, what's the alternative? Let's just say the ladies of Naked and Afraid aren't making sanitary pads out of tree bark.

In an interview with People, former contestant Stacey Lee Osorio admitted that they're allowed to use tampons. In a blog post for Outside, former contestant Blair Braverman admitted tampons were hidden in "a camouflage drybag" underneath their firewood along with "a two-way radio, a whistle, and glow sticks for emergencies." It's unclear what happened to them once they were used, but some secrets are okay to keep.

No one's getting down on Naked and Afraid – just dirty

Reality shows generally have a recipe that increases the odds of a hookup: put men and women alone in house, take away anything they could possibly do to entertain themselves (think: no TV, no Internet, no magazines), and get them in as little clothing as possible, usually with the help of a hot tub. Naked and Afraid might not have the hot tub, but they're already three steps ahead of most reality shows — contestants are already bored, naked, and totally alone. You'd think a hookup practically sells itself, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Apparently, being ultra-malnourished and utterly exhausted is a mood-killer.

Speaking with People, Naked and Afraid XL contestants Alyssa Ballestero and Stacey Lee Osorio admitted that while they might get dirty, absolutely no one is getting down in the wilderness. "That's the biggest question I get," Ballestro said, adding, "That's not what happens out there. Everyone is dirty and tired; it doesn't really happen." Osorio agreed, admitting, "You have no libido out there at all." 

Ballestro also revealed that people repeatedly asked her fiancé if he was worried that she'd cheat. His fears were limited, and not just because cheating on national television where you're undoubtedly going to get caught is — unilaterally — a bad call. "... He knows that it's not that type of situation," she told People, adding, "He always tells them that he's more worried that I am safe and healthy."

Nudity is one of the scariest parts for Naked and Afraid contestants

Naked and Afraid is a simple premise with two requirements: contestants are both naked and afraid. There should definitely be an emphasis on the latter considering the series is chock full of terrifying experiences (not limited to being trampled by elephants, attacked by hippos or wild boars, poisoned by tainted food and water, or killed by any one of the various poisonous critters living two inches from your camp). If that isn't bad enough, there's the very real fact that you're going to be butt naked on national television in front of millions of viewers. According to former contestants, that in itself is one of the most terrifying parts of the whole experience.

Former Naked and Afraid XL contestants Alyssa Ballestero and Stacey Lee Osorio revealed that taking off their clothes was really stressful. Osorio suffered from self-esteem issues, largely because of her pregnancy "stretch marks," "small breasts," and her foot, which was "mutilated" in "a lawn mower accident."

"I had to remind myself that I'm beautiful because the people in my life think I'm beautiful," Osorio told People. Similarly, Ballestero admitted that she was a "pretty shy person" who didn't just "take [her] clothes off for any reason." She told the outlet"It was awkward, and the crew was like, 'Oh, don't worry. We've seen it all before.' and I'm thinking, 'Yeah, but you haven't seen me before!'"

The first day on Naked and Afraid is partially staged

Some of the most dramatic moments in reality TV history have been staged. This allegedly goes for Kim Kardashian's engagement to Kris Humphries (their divorce, however, was very real). In truth, most reality shows have some light scripting. Getting a good shot doesn't always just happen, and Naked and Afraid is not immune to some behind-the-scenes finessing. 

In a blog post for Outside, former contestant Blair Braverman admitted that the first day of filming was for TV. She took her clothes off twice to get shots from different angles and followed a script of taking off her clothes, going "to a landmark," meeting her partner, and saying "whatever joke or earnest greeting they've rehearsed." After that, they were given their sacks, "which disguise their microphone transmitters," and the cartoonish map.

That's not to say all of Naked and Afraid is staged. Braverman also wrote that once the crew and park rangers left, they were completely alone with whatever cameras were propped up on tripods and put in trees and their hand-held diary cameras, which her and her partner used to document the very real experience of being surrounded by hyenas in the middle of the night. "I learned that survivalists tend to compete for screen time ... and [my partner] was offering to share the scene," Braverman wrote of the hyena incident, adding, "But at the time, the camera seemed ridiculous. What was I supposed to do, perform? I just wanted the hyenas to go away."

The food really is as gross as it looks

No expects the people on Naked and Afraid to be dining on gourmet burgers, but the food is a lot — and we mean a lot — more disgusting in reality than it looks on-screen. Barring the one lucky guy who found an abundance of sweet root vegetables and fell into a literal food coma because of a spike in serotonin, most contestants do not eat well. In fact, they constantly gamble on whether whatever unappetizing food they forage is even worth the risk.

In a blog post for Outside, former contestant Blair Braverman admitted that her and her on-screen partner Gary Golding dined for days on the same "stinking" catfish carcasses. "Catfish skin dried like scabs to the side of the pot. Each time I drank water, I pulled scraps of tissue from my tongue," she wrote. The pair also ate — not just ants — but tiny ant egg sacs. She claimed they tasted "like butter," but most of us are trying to refrain from imagining popping open an insect egg sack with our teeth. This wasn't even close to the most disturbing food experience.

Braverman revealed that Golding fell massively ill after consuming a leafy vegetable, which at first, left him feeling like he had just done mushrooms, and later, left him fighting for his life. It escalated to where he could "barely move his legs" and lost control of his voluntary muscles. He eventually recovered.