By the 2010s, our cultural collective had already blown past the era where seemingly every insane idea was committed to reality TV. Fox’s “The Swan,” the unhinged extreme plastic surgery beauty pageant, had been canceled years prior. VH1’s “The Pickup Artist,” the dating show that taught dweeby men how to manipulate women, dissolved into blue pill obscurity (even the show’s host has since defected). Bear Grylls had been drinking his own urine on “Man Vs. Wild” for years. Little was left to shock an audience — and then came “Naked and Afraid.”
There’s no way to describe “Naked and Afraid” but as an exercise in anxiety. It’s exactly what the title suggests, and the show intensified key elements of its successful predecessors. It told the danger of “Survivor” to hold its potentially hazardous coconut shell of water. It looked at the disgusting food challenges on “The Amazing Race” and asked, “What if that was the only way people could eat?” For good measure, just in case that wasn’t enough, the contestants also had to compete purely in the nude.
Despite the fact that the show seems like a veritable nightmare for the average human being, the Discovery series doesn’t seem short on contestants. As we roll into the 14th season, it raises the question: Who is still voluntarily putting themselves through such inevitable pain? To get to the bottom of what it’s really like, Nicki Swift tapped Dani Beau, one of the franchise’s most prolific survivalists.
This vegan taught herself to hunt for Naked and Afraid — just in case
So you’re a wilderness EMT, but how did you get into survival-ism?
Just from a young age, I was in the Girl Scout troops for many, many years, and I was just very into backpacking and hiking, and my father got me into a lot of that. I was fascinated with Native American history and culture and just how they can make tools out of bones or wood and just make everything from your materials in the environment.
That’s awesome. So how did you train specifically for “Naked and Afraid”? I know you’ve been on quite a few times, so each time was probably a little bit different — but the first time, what did you do to prepare?
I think the very first time to prepare, I know I cut out all caffeine, any kind of processed food or sugar. I walked around barefoot to train my feet, and I’m the kind of person that likes to organize my calendar and everything, and I have a never-ending to-do list. So mentally, I prepared by getting anything out of the way that would have bothered me. I didn’t want to be sitting in the jungle naked, thinking about paying this bill or something. So physically, but also mentally.
Were there any specific skills that you taught yourself before you went on the show?
I was the vegan that did these challenges, and I didn’t know if I would be able to sustain that and hold my beliefs and not have to kill or trap or hunt. So I did read up on hunting and trapping, just because I really didn’t know what I was going to do if I was in that position.
For Dani Beau, hunger on Naked and Afraid 'became an obsession'
Did you end up managing to maintain your vegan diet?
Yes. I’m probably the most proud of that. The first one was 21 days. The second one was 40 days, and then this new challenge I wanted to maintain what I accomplished.
What kind of stuff did you eat?
Well, there is a lot of different — common fruits were mangoes and cashews. There’s also these exotic South American fruits. I found almonds, cashews, palm nuts, a lot of different edible flowers and leaves. I found a lot out there. I call it my grocery store. It’s always exciting to find different kinds [of food].
What’s the longest you went without eating?
I would say the longest was probably a day. So for example, if I knew there was a mango tree there, I would count how many mangoes, and I would just plan it out. So that way, I could at least have something even if it was just one piece of fruit every day. Just so I could have those sugars in my body. So I was able to scientifically plan for X amount of food, and I’ll make it last.
Were you starving? How did you manage being so hungry?
There was definitely times hunger became an obsession, especially during the night, because when it’s dark, it’s too dangerous to walk around. So you’re just sitting at your camp with your fire to keep the animals away and keep yourself safe. But in South America, or the closer you are to the equator, the longer the darkness is. So we would have 12 hours of darkness, and we would just be sitting there talking about food nonstop. It was sickening, and you just have to mentally get over it, and then it gives you something to look forward to at the end. You just know that jar of peanut butter is going to be so worth it and tastes amazing.
Dani Beau had to get 'used to being a human again' after Naked and Afraid
What was your thing at the end, when you made it home, that you were like, “I’m doing that right away”?
Well, for food, it’s always been a jar of peanut butter, and I put dark chocolate in it, and I would just eat chocolate straight from the peanut butter jar. That was my craving for all of my challenges, and then I really missed, not so much clothing, but just having a blanket. I was always reaching for a phantom blanket when I was out there. So I just liked having something covering my body, and I definitely didn’t miss the insects.
So when you go home after 21 days of not eating, living in whatever shelter you build with no clothes on, are there things that are hard to adjust to when you get back? That sort of starvation your body goes into, if you just eat a burger right when you get home, would that make you sick? What was your adjustment period getting home like?
I’ve heard a lot of different people struggled, but for me, I came out unscathed in all of my challenges, and I stuffed my face with food. That was the fun part. I would say physically I was fine, but it was really weird hearing music for the first time again. I forgot all of my passwords to social media, especially after the 40 days. So it was just getting used to being a human again and driving a car and sitting in traffic and turning on music and having running water. You don’t have to boil it. So just fitting back into society, it took a bit. Everyone wanted to have a big party, and I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to see anybody.
I feel like traffic is probably quite underwhelming after you’re staying up all night trying not to be eaten by something.
[I] feel like the funny part [is], I remember just sitting there on day 30, just thinking like, “I would love to sit in traffic and pick any radio station right now.” And then when you’re back in regular life, you remember that moment. And you’re like, “Wow, I’m privileged enough to be driving a vehicle, and I can listen to music, and I can drink water.” I just became grateful for that privilege.
Yes, the Naked and Afraid castmates (sort of) brush their teeth
So when you first told your family you were going to go on this show, what did they say?
I was really scared to tell my family, because not only is it extremely physically demanding and challenging, but you’re naked on national television. Surprisingly, all of my family is very supportive. My mother is a dental hygienist, so her immediate comment was, “How are you going to brush your teeth?” Just bypassing the naked part, and I was like, “You don’t care that I’m naked? You care about my teeth?”
Do your teeth feel weird from not brushing them for a month?
You have to remember, we’re eating just pure organic, straight-from-the-earth food. So there’s not that grimy, fuzzy feeling. And then we were also … I was taking a piece of green wood, like a freshly cut stick, and then fraying out the edges, and then buffing my teeth.
Oh, so you had a brush.
Yeah. And then we had floss made out of the inner bark of a tree.
I feel like I would not bother flossing if I was in the jungle.
It's never not weird to cuddle naked with a stranger — even if it's for warmth
So how did you get past that whole, “I’m going to be naked on national television” thing?
It was definitely nerve-wracking. And even after three times, it’s still weird, because the crew is filming you. And you see them decked out with big snake boots and mosquito nets, and you can smell their bug spray and everything. And just seeing the thickness of the location that we’re put into for the first time, you’re just like, “Wow, what am I doing?” You feel very vulnerable.
But then for me, the second that I met my partner, all of that anxiety, all of that [went] away, because I was like, “Okay, there’s another person out here, and we’re going through this together. So I can at least relate. I have someone to experience this with.” So it went away, really.
Partners have a love/hate relationship, where they’re stuck together. They don’t always agree. First of all, you’re starving, cranky, fighting with this person you don’t know, and then it might get freezing, and you have to cuddle for warmth, totally naked. Is that extra weird or does it feel normal because you’re freezing?
For me, it was always still weird, because two of my partners were happily married men, more conservative than me, as far as the nakedness and the cuddling. And on the 40-day, I had 104-degree fever for the first couple of days. So not only was it pretty chilly, but when you have a fever, you have the fever chills, and you’re just freezing. So I was just so grateful to have a partner. And he was like six foot seven. I’m five foot seven.
The moment Dani Beau thought she'd quit Naked and Afraid
What were you thinking in that moment, when you have a fever, and you’re in the middle of nowhere, and you don’t have medicine?
It was terrible, and especially to start off a 40-day challenge for the first week, just feeling like that. Even at home, it sucks to have a fever. You still feel like you want someone to care for you and bring you a blanket, and you need those calories and fresh water. So it was really hard, and I was really afraid that I was going to have to quit. But luckily, with the help of my partners in the beginning, if it wasn’t for them, I don’t think I would have made it past those first five days.
Out of all the times you’ve been on, was there ever a moment where you were absolutely sure, “I’m quitting, I’m going home”? Obviously you didn’t, but was there ever that moment, and what was that like? When did it happen?
It’s absolutely happening on Sunday’s premiere. That was the hardest environment I’ve ever been placed into. The Amazon rainforest is challenging enough, but then during monsoon season, where it’s thunder and crazy winds and just buckets of rain all the time. And the mosquitoes and the bullet ants. Just on day one, I was like, “This is absolutely why people quit. I completely see it now. This is the hardest place in the world. There’s nothing pretty about this.”
Something no one wants to hear? 'The floor was alive' with bugs
What is worse though? Is it the bugs? Is it the hunger? Is it the fact that you’re just naked and constantly exposed to the elements?
I would say hands-down for all three challenges, the bugs are the worst, and I’ve been in places where it’s just terrible biting ants. And an interesting thing that I realize is, when it’s raining, we have our nice little watertight shelter, but when it rains, especially in the Amazon rain forest, nothing else wants to get wet, so all of the ants of the jungle are coming into our shelter. It just looks like the floor was alive, and we tried everything. We were burning them. We dug up the ground, put coals under it, buried it, covered it with ash, so that way we would think they weren’t going to crawl over the ash. We tried peeing on them. Nothing worked.
I would throw up.
Yeah, so there was some sleepless moments, and it’s not just ants. When they bite, they hurt, and they will immobilize you, especially bullet ants in particular.
When you choose the item that you’re allowed to bring, are you not allowed to choose bug spray?
No, but we got lucky. There’s usually a medicinal vine, or a plant, or something, or just by smoking out the bugs. But again, that works for dry environments, but when it’s raining, everything just washes off all the time, so you really have to experiment around with that. Bug spray would have been amazing though.
As it turn out, Naked and Afraid is the real deal
Obviously, this experience is for a very strong, particular kind of person, but I have heard people talking about, “Oh, it’s not really real.” From my perspective, it seems absolutely horrifically real. I’m an indoor cat. I was just wondering, is there anything that you feel like, when you’ve watched it back, hasn’t been totally accurate?
I would say for the most part, it is accurate. I could tell by my hairstyles in some of the clips, they would show something happening, and my hair’s in two braids, but then I’m talking about it, and my hair looks different. I’m like, “That’s definitely not happening on the same day,” but that’s just how it works.
It is a TV show, and they do have hours and hours of footage to fish through. Most recently, when it was just wet all the time, imagine having the necklaces — oh, I’m wearing one right now — the necklaces as the microphone, and then the bags we wear have the cord and the battery pack. It’s not waterproof, so when you’re in a rainy environment, the audio gets messed up. So sometimes you do have to — they might say, “Dani, can you say exactly what you said again? Because our audio is ruined.”
You would think there would be a way to make that waterproof.
I know. [My partner] Fernando [Calderon] and I, this time around, it’s been seven years since our last challenges, and we’re like, “Really, guys? You haven’t found a way to make the stuff waterproof now after all this time?”
Do producers ever step in beyond what we see? I know other cast members have said when there’s a severe medical thing, sometimes they do step in without showing it before the person decides what they’re going to do.
In my experience, the only time a producer has intervened is when, in Columbia, [“Naked and Afraid XL” contestant] Charlie [Frattini] was about to pick up a fatal, poisonous frog — one of those bright neon ones. So she was like, “Don’t touch that one.” And okay, that was the help for that show, but I mean, it’s going to kill you. And I think that’s in our contract, as well, if something’s absolutely going to cause damage.
Naked and Afraid truly sent Dani Beau into 'the middle of nowhere' — and she's got the GPS coordinates to prove it
I would find it impossible to not say something, if you know that and you’re just watching, but is it truly as far removed from humanity as it seems? It seems like you’re left in the middle of nowhere, but some other cast members have said on occasion, they’re not that far from a town or they have stumbled upon local tribes.
I was always envious of those cast members, but in my challenges, the camera crew, they would have a two-hour commute by boat and then by hiking through the jungle. We would feel bad for them, and some of the places were in this environment, where it’s like mud pots that are quicksand. It looks like you’re walking on a path, and all of a sudden you’re buried up to your waist, so they would have to actually take a boat and hike in.
I’ve never heard any music or anything that other people have said, but I think I also just didn’t get the brightest choice of locations over the years, so I was really in the middle of nowhere. And also our diary camera — my partner and I, on the first one, we figured out how we could find the GPS coordinates. So then we carved it into our knife sheaths, and then as soon as we got out, we were like, “All right, let’s look up these coordinates and see where we were,” and it’s the middle of nowhere, seriously.
What did you feel when you saw it on a map?
I was just like, “Wow, there’s absolutely nothing around here.” And then I’m thinking, “What if we really did get injured?” A helicopter would not be able to land that close, so we would have to rely on the awesome — they have two different crews of medics there, so we’d have to really get carried out if something truly dangerous happened.
Some Naked and Afraid contestants come home with pretty nasty health issues
Have either of you — I mean, that you know of — had any sort of long-term health problem that you had to deal with when you got home?
I, myself, and my partners, none of us ever — oh, actually, that’s wrong. I never had anything. But on the 40-day, I was the only one that wasn’t eating meat. So everyone else that was eating meat, they contracted MRSA, which you can get from raw reptile. They got it from eating caiman. And I know one girl, just a few days after extraction, she had the flesh-eating bacteria on her face, and it caused a hole in her face. So I was like, “God, you guys should have stuck to the vegan diet.”
If I’m ever in that situation though, I know not to eat meat.
Yeah, but I’m super OCD. I clean everything. I clean my hands a million times, and I wash the fruit. It’s my EMT background. I’m just always about sanitation and safety and preventing something before it starts to happen.
Dani Beau's experience on Naked and Afraid helped her feel more secure during the pandemic
Considering your background in being this survivalist, you’re definitely someone I would want on my apocalypse team should we go into like a “28 Days Later” situation. Did you find that, with the pandemic we’re in, you had a different perspective of that? Do you think that you went into it any differently than someone like, say myself, who doesn’t really know that much about the way the human body works in a make-or-break situation?
Yeah. I’ve learned every challenge you do, you feel even more confidence about your skillset and your knowledge. So hearing about a pandemic, it’s scary, and it’s sad, but it just made me — I wasn’t afraid to go through it, because I know that I can rely on myself. I don’t need anyone else. So the only thing in my mind is like, “Huh, maybe I should purchase some land that has a nice water stream or a river.” So I can just make a little cabin in the woods and hide from this virus, and whoever wants to come along can come along.
Dani Beau on Naked and Afraid vs. Naked and Afraid XL
I wanted to ask about the differences between the different seasons that you filmed, because you’ve been on three iterations of “Naked and Afraid.” What were the differences between them, what things did you like, and what didn’t you like about each different one?
The 21-day, the first one with Charlie, will probably always be my favorite, because that was my first challenge. I was the youngest, and Charlie was the oldest. We had nothing in common. He is from Brooklyn, New York and is a typical macho New Yorker man. He just wanted to talk about sports and stuff, so they expected us to not get along at all, and we ended up being the best of friends, and we still talk all the time. So I really like how that worked out, because that’s someone, a very military macho man, I would never ever normally associate myself with. So that was my favorite.
But the 40-day, it was the very first 40 days, so there were a lot of logistics involved as far as merging and stuff. I wish I would’ve been able to just stay where I was. I was at a very vegan-friendly location, and I had my whole system of processing cashew nuts, which if you ever Google how to make a cashew nut edible, it’s insane. So I was working so hard on that, and I don’t think they showed any of that. And just merging with the group, the focus just became on hunting and electric eel and stingray. Whereas for me, I just felt like I was on my own separate vegan challenge.
On Naked and Afraid, producers can't always save you
One last thing: It’s definitely pretty scary out there. I would be terrified, as would most people. Was there ever a time where you were legitimately just so afraid?
Yeah. When Charlie and I, we had a two-day extraction, where on the first day, we had to build a raft and then go — I think it was seven miles down a river that was just caiman-infested at night. So we were hearing them and seeing them. So that was nerve-wracking, because our raft was built in a day, it wasn’t something that could really prevent us from getting bit.
But then, when we made it to the ocean, we had to swim out to the rescue boat, and the breaker waves were eight-feet high. They did give us a safety briefing before with hand signals. If you need to be rescued, you could [put your arms in an X] or something. Then if you watch the end of the show, they actually show this part, but they think that Charlie is doing the rescue signal for help, and then you hear the camera guy saying, “We can’t save you. We can’t rescue you.”
And that’s absolutely true. They thought that he was drowning, because they thought he did the signal, but he was just swimming. But that’s how it really was, and that was definitely the hardest thing, because you’re already so depleted of energy. We didn’t have any food those two days, and just having to swim and use every ounce that’s left inside of you, I couldn’t even get on the boat. They show Charlie having to pull me up on the boat.
“Naked and Afraid” is currently in its 14th season, airing every Sunday at 8 p.m. EST on Discovery.
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