Naked and Afraid premieres on Sunday night, and by all accounts, the show has amped up the drama for its seventh season.
But despite the season’s twists, the Discovery Channel isn’t changing the show’s basic format: two buck naked participants a male and a female are dropped into some of the world’s harshest environments with one survival item each and a canvas bag that covers up very little of their nudity.
Discovery has enlisted a dynamic duo for the season’s first episode.
Jason Gassaway, 45, is a father-of-three living in northern California. A 265-pound extreme survivalist, he’s a former SWAT team officer who now works in marketing. His partner, Army veteran Lacey Jones, grew up in Liberty, Maine, with no running water or electricity. Now living in Illinois, she is an extreme survivalist and gun shop owner.
We asked Gassaway and Jones to share details about their epic experience in Belize.
First things first: why do the show in the first place?
Jones: I’ve always loved Naked and Afraid. I was watching it one day and I thought, ‘I could do that. I think I’ll try!’ I’m always in search of my next big adventure, and that was right up there with super cool things to do.
Gassaway: I’ve done tons of extreme back country stuff. I always watched Naked and Afraid, and sat on the couch saying, ‘why didn’t they do this? Why didn’t the do that?’ One day, I was finally like, ‘you know what? I’m gonna apply.’ It’s a crazy challenge, and I’m always up for that.
Did your friends and family think you were crazy?
Gassaway: My family was like, ‘you must be out of your mind.’ My friends were like, ‘that’s totally cool!’ My wife and I have been together since we were 15 years old. She completely trusts me. Yeah, you’re naked, but there’s nothing sexual about it. It’s about surviving.
Jones: The people who knew me the best weren’t shocked at all. My dad was SO jealous. (laughs) He wants to go on the show. My brothers were like, ‘oh, man. Now we have to do something cool like that, too.'”
Look, I’ve been there. There’s always that minute where you take off your clothes for the first time. How was it for you?
Gassaway: When I took my clothes off, I was like, “okay, it’s go time.” There’s a camera guy, a sound guy, medics and producers, and there’s like five dudes watching me get naked. I was like, ‘yeah, this is a little odd. I’m not in a locker room after a baseball game. I’m naked in the jungle with a bunch of guys watching me.’
Jones: Honestly, it wasn’t hard for me at all. You’re talking to the girl who got expelled from school in junior high for skinny dipping! The part that was strange was meeting this stranger — this man — and he was completely naked.
Meeting your partner is always weird.
Jones: He went for a hug the first time we met, and I was like, ‘um, side hug?’ [Laughs] But I looked at him, and my first thought was ‘awesome. This is going to be my greatest asset. He’s strong; he can help me build my shelter.’
As we went on, we got used to the nudity. We’d get into the shelter at night, and he’s so big that he’d have to kind of worm his way in, and his butt was in my face. So that was weird, but it became normal.
Were you worried about survival?
Jones: I grew up without running water and electricity. I love the outdoors. I knew that physically I could do this. I didn’t realize how much I’d miss my family. I missed my kids. Emotionally, it was harder.
Gassaway: I was emotionally ready for this, but it was physically a lot tougher. I was worried that at my size, I wouldn’t find resources to sustain me.
Any worries about watching it with your friends and family? It’s blurred, but they’re still going to see your butt.
Gassaway: I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I have a really nice butt. (Laughs) Nah, nudity doesn’t bother me. That’s how we were born, that’s what we were given. I couldn’t care less who sees me naked. I’m more worried about how I’ll be portrayed. Will I come across as a good guy? I want the perception of me to be good.
Do you have any regrets?
Jones: I cried once, and I am not one who cries. I got home and my dad was like, ‘please tell me you didn’t cry on national TV.’ But people don’t know what it’s like to be exhausted and hungry and uncomfortable. It’s emotionally taxing.
Gassaway: I had a short turnaround period from when they asked me to do the show to when I did it. I would’ve put on more fat if I had been given more preparation time. I was mentally ready, but it was really tough physically.
Naked and Afraid premieres Sunday, March 5, at 10 p.m. ET on the Discovery Channel.