Some may say I was letting the high get to me, but when I returned home from my Appalachian Trail hike, I was feeling more confident than ever. For the first time in my life I had worked my ass off from dawn to dusk on something for months at a time. Friends and family made their respect and admiration clear. People who had once doubted me no longer did. I was on fire.
I’m still not sure what it is that causes this (I have my theories), but if you hike the Appalachian Trail and subsequently friend hikers on Facebook as well as post frequently about the trip—you will get a bombardment of friend requests from people of the same avocation, and you won’t have a clue as to who most of them are. Whatever formula it is here that is being transpired (thanks, Mark), I’m not sure of. Facebook is trying to connect people. Aggressively. This aggression can be seen in their exploitation here of obviously friend-hungry people.
A lot of these people, I noticed, were stars of Discovery’s reality show, Naked and Afraid. Facebook allows its users 5,000 friends. Many of these stars, upon my investigation, were near or at this limit.
I knew this much about Naked and Afraid: it was a somewhat popular TV show, and a guy who ran a hostel in Maine that I stayed at had been on the show four times. Even so, I still knew more about the show than I did about survival. But hell—that guy running the hostel seemed like he was doing well. And who wouldn’t want to be on TV? I could learn, I assumed.
So I made an audition video. My friend and I spent a day in a warm snap of February 2020 making the video. He was happy to use his time and equipment for such a unique experience, and I figured to make the video as genuine as we could, we would goof around on film, trying to capture real moments in the process. Ultimately, I couldn’t boast on ability, so charisma, determination, and likability were what we advertised. After a full day of shooting, editing, and mastering, we had a two-minute audition tape.
It exploded. Despite my friend only having one subscriber and no previous videos on YouTube (we had to put it on the platform for the application), the video garnered over 1000 views in one day. In less than two hours I got the call from Metal Flowers Media, the company that casts for the show. They said they would like to enter me into the first round.
A few days later, I think perhaps even by the woman who first called me, I completed a phone interview with Metal Flowers. It was similar to a job interview, and I was not tested on my knowledge of survival. Instead, they were looking for a feel on who I was and what my life had been comprised of. The woman expressed her admiration for my hike. I held my shoulders high and spoke confidently, or at least tried to.
Not long after this initial interview did they tell me I would be moving onto the next round of sifting, the event I was more intimidated for than anything prior in my life, the knowledge test with Naked and Afraid veteran, EJ Snyder. She explained that the test would be in a week, and it would take about forty-five minutes. Fortunately, they were pulling for me—hard. I was provided with an extensive and thorough study guide that broke down the key elements of fire, food, shelter, and water. I would also be asked about my experience in these areas, which was still sparse.
Until then, I would have to follow some strict terms. I had to sign a no-disclosure social media contract that forbade me from sharing or allowing anything to be shared about the process online. This worried me as I had already told some people whom I knew were spreading the word rampantly. I watched my accounts vigilantly and on a few occasions had to delete comments or tags that compromised the agreement.
As soon as I received the first call from Metal Flowers, I found one of these contestants with an abundance of mutual friends. I’m not one to message people I don’t know, but I was desperate for advice. I explained who I was to the woman, and she was happy to help. She gave insight on her experience with the steps of casting and also recommended I tried living off the land for three days.
It was March. Most plants were dead and trees barren. The cold air lingered. Driving down to the Appalachian mountains of Tennessee, for the slightly warmer climate, seemed like it could be worth the trip. I would then set up shop some ways behind a friend’s house, having them check up on me periodically. But as the time came close, the gap in weather between my home in western Massachusetts and that of Tennessee narrowed. To my surprise, I was gifted with three days of weather at home in the low sixties with not a degree below forty-five at night. This was a year and a half ago now, but I believe the weather may have been colder in Tennessee. So I stayed.
With only the clothes on my back, flint, a machete, cordage, and a small pot, I was dropped off barefoot by a friend on the side of the road in Massachusetts to hike to camp, a predetermined destination. My lack of knowledge and skill in coalition with the unfavorable woods assured the endeavor was a complete failure. Five hours of rigorous labor erected the foundation to my shelter, a basic A-frame with a raised bed. As the days went on I continued to add leaves to the exterior, leaving merely a tiny hole for entry. Starting and maintaining a fire was emotionally swiveling, but I had it when it was needed.
The fire only served to boil water from the creek next to the shelter. I obtained no food, and on the last day, in my crippling state of fatigue and great hunger, I shelled acorns and roasted the insides for dinner. Do not do this.
The three days charged me twelve pounds of body weight, though I’m sure most of it was water. The woman I heeded advice from starred in her episode a couple months later. She tapped out on day four.
Test with EJ
EJ— the formidable, macho, military man. The marine who says it like it is and never taps out. I sat nervously at my desk with my cheat sheet in front of me. My clammy hands trembled as I waited for the call. He was fifteen minutes late.
“Sorry I’m late,” he said. “I had to get my coffee.”
And to my surprise, he was one of the kinder people I’ve spoken to in life. Almost everything he asked reverted back to the study guide. The call lasted about forty-five minutes, mostly consisting of EJ asking me questions followed by the best responses I could muster, with him filling in the gaps where my knowledge lacked. It is likely that I spent more time listening to him than him to me.
I was sure this round of casting would seal my fate, but to my astonishment, the guy that I was now speaking with at Metal Flowers (I spoke to a lot of people) said I did well on the test. I would be advancing to the next round, the casting reel stage.
This is where the process grew peculiar. This stage was explained to me as so: I would need to free a few hours of time, have a white background, and someone to help me film. I recruited a friend of mine who was glad to help, and after an hour of moving beds and boxes and dressers, we had a set-up we thought would work.
Before filming started we had to do a consultation with the interviewer to make sure everything looked good on our end. I had to put on four or five different shirts and email pictures of myself wearing them to the interviewer until he chose one for me. He then called and asked questions while my friend filmed the responses on his phone. My friend emailed the videos to the interviewer who would tell us if he was satisfied with the clip or not.
For most questions, he would have us shoot the clip several times until my expressions, responses, and emphasis were to his liking. And that was the thing: he would tell me what to say. This is starting to float in the cobwebs of my recollection now, but I do remember one of the questions being, “Why do you think you should be on Naked and Afraid?”
I replied, “I believe my experience on the Appalachian Trail will give me a leg up,” a response that did not suffice. Instead, he insisted I said something like, “I hiked the AT! This should be a cake walk!” The disingenuousness continued as the interview progressed, and it wasn’t long before I felt like a robot being programmed to speak. I hated people who entered reality TV contests like jackasses, and all of a sudden I was beginning to think these people may not have even been the assholes I thought they were. Perhaps it was all contrived.
With these videos and other ones I was required to make (all on the Boom’s Playground YouTube channel), including one that I had to eat bugs in, the casting team was to make a short video to present to Discovery. I never saw it.
“Hello and CONGRATULATIONS, you are officially a Naked & Afraid Finalist! Please consider this email to be your formal invitation to participate in the Naked & Afraid Remote Casting Finals.”
-Introduction sent from Marissa Carter, Metal Flowers Casting Manager, 3/30/2020
I would be flown to L.A. to participate in the finals, a one day event. While there I would have a psych evaluation and test performed by a doctor. The only thing I had to do before flying out was send copies of my vaccination records and ID to the team accompanied by a picture of my tattoo, a task that took more time than I expected.
“Then Covid happened,” a saying that I don’t think has eluded the tongue of any human living in modern civilization. The finals would become virtual. After a meeting with a psychiatrist that felt more like an interrogation than anything else, I conformed to a military-style screening that required me to fill in 400 bubbles on a sheet in response to a monotonous string of nuanced questions.
Then there was silence. I let a week and a half pass before I finally inquired. My email read:
“Hi Marissa! Just checking up on the process now that it’s been about a week and a half since the proposed executive interview date. Best Regards, Nick Devlin.”
“Hi Nick,Thanks for reaching out and checking in! Right now we’re still waiting for production to give instructions on how they’d like us to proceed. The original date was postponed as the team is trying to find ways to replicate our traditionally in-person finals. Hang tight and continue to stay safe out there! Best, Marissa.”
And that’s where the story ends. That was the last time I ever communicated with Metal Flowers Media. I’m still not sure what happened. For a long time I thought they disposed of the leads they obtained because of the abrupt pandemic. This was easier to assume than disqualification.
This year, however, Naked and Afraid released two new seasons. I couldn’t tell you about them. As a matter of fact, I could tell you little about the show. I have seen only the episodes on YouTube, a fact I swore against ever telling Metal Flowers. I tried contacting the company earlier this year to obtain permission to share my experience of casting, but it was to no avail. I hope not to get sued for this, but this is a topic I know I would be interested in reading about, thus it is my duty to write about it.
Thoughts on the Experience
While reality television does root from real dialogue and events, it likely does not give an accurate depiction of reality. Obviously, I wasn’t on the show. I don’t know how it works, but I imagine the manipulation of dialogue that occurred when I was recording my casting reel is not restricted to this facet.
Comedian Tom Segura used to work a job that entailed him transcribing dialogue from reality TV shows so that production could manipulate it, taking multiple statements and forming them into new ones that were not actually said. I’m not someone to get the scoop from on the inner workings of reality TV, but it can’t be hard for companies to manipulate reality and get people to shush about it. After all, who wouldn’t want to be on TV?
I often referred to casting as a “third job” because of how time-consuming it was. It was exhausting. One of the aspects of casting I didn’t bring up was how much paperwork I had to do. It was preposterous. On one occasion, I filled out an inch-thick pile of paperwork, scanned it, and sent it to Metal Flowers just for them to tell me I had filled it out wrong. I was not pleased (but it was to be on TV!). I told friends and family that I had a blast casting, but I was also stressed most of the time. No matter what it was we were doing, it always seemed we were scrambling for time.
I have an immense amount of respect for people who have attempted the 21-day survival challenge, especially those who have survived the full three weeks, but the way the show is produced is laughable. Naked and Afraid is a show about survival that relies on aspects other than survival for its success, these things being ridiculous dramatization, narcissistic and egocentric contestants, beauty, and over-exaggerations of the actual danger the contestants are facing. I watched one episode in which they portrayed black bears in the Smoky Mountains as life-threatening despite no black-bear killings having been documented in decades.
I had to give my honest opinion on the show in one of the forms, to which I said something like, “There are some over-exaggerations, like the black bear portrayal.” I hope this is not what disqualified me. For a show that strives on survival, not drama, I highly recommend the Canadian series Alone.
Having the opportunity to be on reality television was surreal, but the reason for casting was not righteous. I wanted to be on TV because being on a cable television show is admirable. I wanted my minute in the spotlight. As an avid outdoorsman and writer, I thought it could do a lot for my platform. But the truth I failed to address is reality TV can do just the opposite; it can make a person look bad. Notoriety is not what I wanted, and hey, who knows, if I made it onto the show— it may have been the only thing I walked out with (and maybe one of those cool necklaces too).
Have you experienced the casting process with Naked and Afraid? If so, we want to hear from you! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org! And don’t forget to follow the blog! See you next week!
Below are the links to both my audition video and the vlog from my survival project. If you’re interested in seeing the additional videos we were required to make, you can also find them on this channel.
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