Want To Understand Marriage? Watch Naked and Afraid on Discovery Channel
Unlike “distraction TV,” which simply takes you out of your life for a while – the day to day grind of ditching the secret police, escaping the clutches of a sadistic assassin, making love to a charismatic Russian diplomat…oh, wait, no, that’s the book I’m writing.
(insert snippets from your daily grind here)
Anyway, my point is, Discovery Channel’s Naked and Afraid actually teaches you something. It is, in my opinion, the best microcosm for marriage you can find on the small screen – or anywhere else for that matter.
Before I get into that, I want to start with a bit of marriage advice that my Aunt Viki gave me when I was still a teenager. It was great advice and I’ve never forgotten it. I thought hard on it before I even met my husband and I’m so glad I did.
She said (translated from the Czech language), “First of all, never marry someone who’s weaker than you. You might think you’re going to be okay with it, and a more delicate mate might even make you feel good at the outset. You might feel needed and safe as a result. Strong. But don’t be fooled. First of all, no matter how much your little flower might seem to need or worship you, weaklings are the first to jump ship when the going gets rough. And even if they stay, in the long run, you’ll lose respect for them and a marriage can’t survive that.”
“And whatever you do,” she continued. “Make sure the mate you choose is someone you want to come home to whether you’re living in a one room flat or a ten-bedroom mansion. Someone you truly enjoy talking to and laughing with. You don’t know how quickly fortunes can change or what life has in store for you and I’ve seen a lot of marriages crumble when the money disappears and they have to live a simpler life. But I’ve seen just as many fall apart when things turn for the better.”
She also said that it’s important to like how your mate smells, but that’s neither here nor there in this post (although I wholeheartedly agree).
Truer words have probably been spoken, but her’s are pretty darned good. And there are few shows that put my aunt’s wisdom on display better than Naked and Afraid.
If you’re not familiar with the concept, let me enlighten you: Two strangers – a man and a woman who both claim some level of survival skills are dropped naked and presumably afraid (or at the very least apprehensive) into a hostile, natural environment such as the Amazon, the desert, or the tundra. They’re allowed to take one tool with them each (most choose a fire starter or a knife of some sort) and that’s it. No phone. No lights. No motorcars. Not a single luxury.
They must survive for 21 days – hunting and gathering their food, keeping their fire burning, dealing with stinging and biting insects (think naked here), snakes, wild boars, torrential downpours, blistering days, freezing nights (again – naked) and most importantly – each other.
We’ve all observed various couple dynamics in our own lives: The husband and wife who bicker incessantly, yet march on to make an illogically successful life together, the lovers whose passion starts out so hot but fizzles when they actually have to leave the bedroom and do everyday things like shop for groceries or visit the DMV, the passive-aggressive couple who can never be happy for each other’s successes, yet resent each other’s failures with equal determination, the pair who does their own thing, living separate but equal lives, the partners in a lifelong love affair that takes your breath away as they walk hand in hand through triumph and travail.
Not only are all of these pairings and more glimpsed on Naked and Afraid’s scant hour, but you are taken through a condensed version of a particular brand of marriage from start to finish in the course of that time. Some make it, but barely, others bail out altogether and end up going home before the first week is up. A few just rock it and leave you feeling energized and invigorated.
I should tell you at this point that I watch Naked and Afraid almost exclusively with my nearly thirteen year-old son. It offers us that rare combination of experience where we can enjoy something low-brow and 7th-Grade-boy together while still not missing out on my being able to impart a genuine life lesson that isn’t coming straight from me, and allows my kid to draw his own conclusions.
My kid: “I can’t believe she wasted all that time making a pentagram out of vines while he was out hunting for food!”
Me: “Yeah, well, you know, she’s into Wicca and that. She did it to ward off bad luck or something.”
My kid: “That’s fine, but you do that when you’ve already got a fire started and you’ve found a water source.”
My kid: “I bet her real-life husband made her come on this show. I bet she acts like that at home and makes him do everything while she just farts around.”
Then we make our bets.
My kid: They both bail, but she goes first.
Me: They both bail, but he’s outta there.
I won that round.
My kid: “I liked that couple where he was a military guy and she was like a nature-type hippie person.”
I nod. I liked them, too. Both had made it through the Naked and Afraid gauntlet with other partners and were put together when a really annoying pair of vain whiners bailed out.
My kid: “You know what was cool about them? They each had things they knew how to do and brought those to the situation, and when things went wrong they never blamed stuff on each other – even if it really was one of their faults. They just moved on and made the best of it.”
Me: “I loved how they high-fived each other at the end.”
My kid: “That was awesome.”
This is where my Aunt Viki’s marriage speech really dove tails with the inherent genius of Naked and Afraid. You see, like many people in my family, my aunt knows a thing or two about surviving hardship. With her husband of over forty years, she’s been through every scenario she described and then some.
And in her wisdom, what she was really saying was as daunting as it is true.
When choosing a mate, you not only have to feel that indescribable something that draws you to a person in the first place. That makes you want to kiss their face every morning, make their coffee, go to their office Christmas party, listen to their music, and cuddle with them even when they’re kind of clammy and gross.
You also have to know in your heart that if there was an apocalypse – zombies, nuclear war, an alien invasion – the two of you could at least have a shot in hell at making it through alive.