Making friends while Naked And Afraid

Reality show Naked And Afraid's winning pair got off to a rocky start but are now good friends

The title says it all: Naked And Afraid is a reality television series on Discovery Channel which pits a pair of survivalists against the wild in every episode.

Couples are sent to different remote locations without clothing, food or shelter, except for one survival item each, such as a machete or a pot for boiling and cooking.

In their birthday suits, they have to build their own shelter, as well as fend off starvation, dehydration, bugs and the odd wild animal.

The camera crew is not allowed to intervene except in emergencies.

Couples who last three weeks win, but they do not get a prize, except for the satisfaction of having completed the challenge.

You heard right. This "Survivor Without Clothes Or Prize Money" is now in its fourth season, with private parts blurred out on TV, and going strong.

One of the couples who have survived the ordeal this time round are bartender Jennifer Cochran, 31, and paramedic Trenton Harper, 36, both American.

They met for the first time on the show. Nudity was, of course, the elephant in the room, or in this case, the remote valley region of Udhampur, India.

Cochran tells Life! over the telephone from the United States that thankfully, her partner was "a real gentleman about it".

"The naked factor goes away within an hour, once you realise what you have to do to survive." An adrenalin junkie, the Pennsylvania native is an avid rock climber, camper and hiker.

Harper, who is a wilderness medicine instructor, puts the nudity problem this way: "The non-practical aspect of being naked is the huge inconvenience."

Such "non-practical aspects" include having to sleep on pine leaves.

He says: "Usually, you could be like 'Oh, I'm lying in a pile of pine needles, I'm fine', but when you're naked, you're getting poked everywhere. So the awkward part of it faded pretty quickly."

He says the experience was like "a 21-day arranged marriage, but you are required to provide way more. You don't have to come up with rent, but everything else you have to come up with from scratch".

Their "marriage" got off to a rocky start when they did not get along at first.

During a stormy night midway through the challenge, Harper accused Cochran of being lazy and Cochran blamed Harper for being selfish, causing him to storm out of their shelter.

Harper says he was embarrassed by these episodes. "I regret that I found excuses to be grumpier and less motivated than I wish I could have been," says the Montana native.

The couple got their act together soon enough, when survival became foremost on their minds.

The long, hungry nights when they sang to pass the time also strengthened their friendship.

"We ate scorpions, frog legs and a pigeon. Obviously, none of them is a delicacy in America," Cochran says.

After going on the diet of cavemen with "coffee-coloured" water, Harper lost 8kg, while Cochran lost 9kg.

Looking back, she says: "Yes, we butted heads and didn't get along at certain points, but at the end of it, we both cared enough for each other that I wanted him to succeed as well as I did."

Although they completed filming last year, they still remain friends who chat at least once a week. Both are still single and have returned to their old jobs.

What was one thing they had taken away from the survival experience?

"It's crazy to see the true animalistic part of yourself come out and the differences between the genders are made abundantly clear when both are hungry," says Cochran.

"Women are more empathetic, but men just want to get things done, although Trenton was very compassionate and gentlemanly."

For Harper, he learnt that he had "a lot more mental fortitude" than he realised.

"No matter what happens for the rest of my life, as far as my day-to-day survival goes, there's this experience that I can draw strength from."

mzlim@sph.com.sg

The couple's episode will air on Sunday at 11pm on Discovery Channel (StarHub Channel 422).


“It’s crazy to see the true animalistic part of yourself come out and the differences between the genders are made abundantly clear when both are hungry”

Naked And Afraid contestant Jennifer Cochran, whose partner in the show is Trenton Harper), on seeing the ugly side of human nature

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 17, 2015, with the headline 'Singing in the wilderness to survive'. Print Edition | Subscribe