Words by Carmen Macri and Ambar Ramirez
“I was like, my God, what am I doing? What choices could I have made better? You know?”
Picture this: It’s 2013, and Jacksonville native Frank Eytcheson takes up his favorite spot on the couch and reaches for the remote. Surfing through the endless channels, he ends up on Discovery Channel for the world premiere of “Naked and Afraid,” a reality TV show in which male and female contestants challenge their survival abilities in nature — while in the buff. After watching the first 20 minutes, the only thing he could think was how he could do it better.
“When this show came out, I was like, ‘My God, this is right up my alley,’” Eytcheson shared. “That’s why I was being so critical when I was sitting on the couch watching because I’m really good at a lot of those things. When I watch other people doing it, I’m like, ‘What are you doing? Why are you doing that?’”
Eytcheson is a seasoned back-country hunter/survivalist, and after being so critical of the au naturel contestants for years, his wife finally asked him, “Why don’t you just join it?” So he did. Or, rather, his wife did it for him.
As Eytcheson ventured into the Tobago jungle in season 16, episode three of “Naked and Afraid,” he wasn’t particularly worried. After all, he had the skills required for fishing, hunting, making a fire and pitching a tent. The only thing on his mind was the fact that he and his partner had to be completely naked, something that wasn’t required during his years of back-country hunting.
“Talk about awkward. That’s like a new level of awkwardness,” Eytcheson said.
It wasn’t until the sun went down on night one that Eytcheson had the realization: “My god, you’re in this. This is happening right now.” And there was no turning back, not that he wanted to. To survive in the unfamiliar environment with a complete (naked) stranger, Eytcheson had to accept that this was his reality for the next 14 days.
“To me, failure was not an option,” Eytcheson said. “So it was just like, this is my life, this is what I have to do.”
Apart from dealing with bothersome insects, Eytcheson opened up about his most significant hurdle during his jungle adventure: figuring out how to get along with a stranger in an incredibly intense setting. Both of them are out there, exposed to the elements and stripped of all the basic comforts we usually take for granted. In such a situation, being able to talk, work together and make critical decisions with someone you barely know becomes a make-or-break aspect of survival.
For Eytcheson, this social aspect was a real tough nut to crack. He had to navigate the uncharted waters of forming a partnership with a person he’d only just met (while in the nude), all while facing the built-in stressors of their already challenging circumstances.
“I mean, we were complete polar opposites, and that’s probably been my biggest challenge out there, learning how to interact with somebody that’s completely different from you in a stressful situation,” Eytcheson said.
In the same context, he felt most proud when he was able to provide for his partner. Knowing he possessed specific skill sets that would benefit them both greatly, he was not shy in sharing his knowledge and abilities.
“For me, watching my partner eat and knowing I had something to do with it, that was the greatest feeling ever, you know?” Eytcheson shared.
When we asked Eytcheson after going through the experience, what were three things he would do differently, his answer was simple:“I would eat a lot of garlic.”
The one shared enemy for contestants, whether from the past or in the present, isn’t just being naked and alone in the jungle; it’s the relentless bugs. What some folks on the show might not realize is that while the smoke from a fire can keep some creepy crawlies at bay, the glow of the flame tends to draw even more insects in. This is why Eytcheson now wishes he had consumed more garlic or packed plenty of sulfur tablets, as both gnats and mosquitoes would be put off by the taste and scent.
Despite not having the luxury of garlic or sulfur tablets, Eytcheson and his partner survived the 14 day-challenge. And while they walked away from “Naked and Afraid” unscathed (and no longer naked or afraid), the experience didn’t leave him. You can take the man out of the jungle, but you can’t take the jungle out of the man.
“Once you get used to being out there, you enter a level of life that’s just hand-to-mouth, and it’s so peaceful. You realize how unimportant all the things you thought were important were back in the world,” Eytcheson shared. “Everything’s way better than you remember it. Like when you lay in bed for the first time after coming out of the jungle? Yeah, It’s like the greatest thing in the world. A blanket. Just a soft blanket that’s like, magic.”
Although Eytcheson did miss the familiar comforts of home, he surprisingly discovered that the jungle had a certain sustaining quality to it. In fact, he almost developed a preference for the food he had to catch and forage for in the wild over what awaited him in the comforts of the real world. The raw, primal connection to nature and the satisfaction of providing for himself and his partner in such an environment seemed to outweigh the conveniences he’d left behind.
If you have a knack for being both naked and afraid, tune in to Discovery Channel every Sunday evening at 8 p.m.. Or if you’re up for the challenge, sign up to be naked and afraid.
“Just for anybody who’s out there, who’s ever thought that they could hack it out there or thought they might want to give it a try, my advice is do it,” Eytcheson said. “Because, you know, I never thought in a million years I’d be on there, but it happened and I loved it. So don’t don’t squander that chance and just apply and try, who knows what could happen?”