NAKED AND AFRAID—A Participant Reveals What It Was Like
Billy Berger, my nephew, was no stranger to “roughing it.” Before his 2013 appearance on Naked And Afraid, Billy played a key role in the Discovery Channel's "I, Caveman," which appeared in 2011.
Alone among a group of ten people attempting to live with no tools other than those available to cavemen, Billy Berger managed to use his stone tools to butcher an elk brought down by another of the group—a man who used a spear and a spear-thrower (atl-atl), to fell the animal. (Earlier, Billy had thrown his spear and missed). Between them, the two men gave the group enough meat to survive.
This was the first big game kill documented in modern times.
As the week (or weeks), progressed, a number of players dropped out. “And the funny thing was,” Billy said, “you couldn’t tell at the beginning who would last and who wouldn’t. One of the men came into the event with a pompous attitude, as though he’d breeze through it—but he was among those who quit. A woman, Manu, was beset with enough discouraging problems to make her give up. Instead, she became an inspiration for the group and lasted until the end.”
Among the ten was Morgan Spurlock, now an investigative journalist for CNN, who remarked at the end, “Billy, I’m glad you were with us—without you it would have been a disaster.”
On the basis of that show and his own U-tube portrayals of survival skills, Berger was chosen to appear on the 21-day adventure, NAKED AND AFRAID.
“What made you decide to do it?” I asked.
“I enjoy a challenge. And it might give me exposure for other jobs.”
“Did you know what you were getting into?”
“No. I did it blind. Actually, I was so concerned (he wouldn’t use the word “afraid”), that I spent sleepless nights worrying. None of the shows by then had ever aired. I considered dieting to get my body used to starvation, but decided against it; I’d need all the body fat I could get. Instead I ate normally and kept going to the gym.”
“Weren’t you embarrassed—being naked?”
“Sure. For the first hour. I’m not an exhibitionist. But the awkwardness didn’t last long. After an hour, we weren’t thinking about our nakedness--we were trying to figure out how to survive.”
“What was the worst part?”
“At first, the cold. We were in the swamps outside Baton Rouge. A cold snap came through as we began, and we were freezing. Forty-eight degrees. But it didn’t help to cuddle. When you’re both cold, with no blanket to keep in the heat, huddling together doesn’t work. We quickly gave it up. Instead, we had to create some shelter and a fire.”
“Like how? With no tools, no wood scraps. Nothing.”
“Actually, I had a knife, and she had a fire starter—but that was all. I used sticks to create a framework and palmetto fronds to wrap around it, stuff I tied together with roots and vines.”
“Who was your partner?”
“Ky Furneaux—an Australian who’d been a stunt woman. She was my rock. She kept me going when I got discouraged. A positive attitude was hard to maintain, but she stayed positive enough for both of us. By seven or eight days, I was so hungry that standing up made me light-headed.
“Luckily, Ky found a discarded cooking pot, so we had a container to boil water. But we had to walk quite a way to get it, because the cameramen churned up the nearby water and made it murky. Even so, we had to boil our water for quite a while to kill the germs—and then let it cool. We were both dehydrated—so much so that my salivary glands stopped working. It was hard to swallow anything.”
“What DID you eat?”
“Certain plants that I knew were safe. Whatever we could find or catch. Crawdads. And once we caught a nutria—that was the best. I was used to eating bland food—no sugar, no sodas, no candy in my normal diet, so for me this stuff didn’t taste bad.”
“Anything really dramatic happen?”
“Yeah. The area had a lot more snakes than I figured—I had some close calls, nearly stepping on water moccasins. And three times our fire blew out, and I had to re-start it—the hard way. The fire was critical . . . for purifying our water, for body heat, for cooking.”
“What did you get out of the experience?”
“A little money, but not much. About what I would have earned on the outside during those 21 days. And lots of exposure. Turns out our episode was the most popular of the Discovery Channel season. They played it over and over.”
“But you didn’t get residuals.”
“Any repercussions later?”
“Yes. Back in civilization, I discovered I couldn’t tolerate food with flavor. It stung my mouth—no added salt or sugar. Even a banana was too sweet. I had to stick to plain lettuce and boiled chicken. Also, thanks to the dehydration, my salivary glands were out of commission for nearly a month—so food kept sticking in my throat. Later I was asked to be a “peacekeeper” in three versions of the Hunger Games. Later still, Naked and Afraid asked me to do a forty-day segment. I decided that was just too dangerous, so I turned it down.”
“What about Ky? Are you still friends with her?”
“Sure. We’ll always be friends. You can’t go through something like that and not remain close.”
Billy’s episode was filmed in May, 2013, and aired on July 28, 2013. It’s called, “Beware the Bayou.”
When you talk to Billy Berger, he doesn’t sound eccentric, or like anything but just a normal guy. Over the phone he makes the experience of NAKED AND AFRAID seem like a perfectly reasonable thing to do.