Getting ‘Naked’: Survivalist a natural fit for hit Discovery Channel show
It’s hard to imagine anyone better suited to be “Naked and Afraid” than former Grand Valley resident Darrin Reay.
The 35-year-old is a part of the all-star cast of survivalists on the latest incarnation of the Discovery Channel show “Naked and Afraid XL,” in which a tribe of barely clothed survivalists try to make it 40 days in the African bush with little more than their wits. And Reay is strangely perfect for the challenge.
For the past nine years straight, he said he spent more than 250 nights a year camped out in the wilderness. By choice, not necessity.
One time, he took off from Moab — the Utah town is his current home base and where for most of the year he works as a rock climbing guide — in nothing but a loincloth and flip flops. He didn’t come back for 20 days.
Before signing on for his first appearance on “Naked and Afraid” in 2015, Reay owned a home in Grand Junction for a decade and honed his wilderness survival skills by disappearing onto the long trails criss-crossing the Uncompahgre Plateau, among other remote areas around town.
For a fun, long overnighter, he used to get dropped off along U.S. Highway 50 and run up and down Transfer Road west of Olathe to the top of the plateau, he said.
As a day run, he would make his way from Highway 50 up and through Dominguez Canyon, cut to Cactus Park, run down past the radio towers and pop out near Unaweep Avenue. He would hitch a ride back home because he “doesn’t run pavement.”
“I’d always do big sections of those runs nekkid,” Reay said, gleefully, unapologetically.
“For a long time, that was my thing,” he said, of the scantily clad long-distance adventures.
The best days were following rain showers, which filled the plateau’s pocket craters with just enough drinking water for Reay and his trusty trail dog, Karma, to survive for long stretches of time.
The two also have been known to be a master squirrel-killing team out in the backcountry, Reay said.
Of course, all that was before “Naked and Afraid” in 2015 and the current “Naked and Afraid XL” and during a time when Reay and Karma could disappear for days on end, because it’s just what he likes to do.
“And I’m a nudist,” Reay admitted. “I absolutely love being naked in the woods.”
You can imagine the casting agent’s delight in discovering Reay, a connection that happened a year or two into Discovery Channel’s original run of “Naked and Afraid.”
In the first few seasons of the original show — teams of men and women were dropped into far-flung locales to survive for 21 days, naked — the most successful female participants were rock climbers.
“If you’re a hard-core climber, you can deal with weather, you can deal with bad conditions, and you can deal with a-hole guys,” said Reay, who is close with a number of female climbers.
So casting agents were keen to find more hard-core females, and happened to get in touch with Reay’s close friend, Marie Brophy with Moab Desert Adventures. While Brophy demurred at the offer to be on the show, she knew Reay was perfect for it.
“If you ever spend any time in the woods with me, you would understand,” Reay said.
On outings with friends, he’s the guy carving arrowheads while sitting around the fire and trapping rabbits for dinner.
Although Reay hasn’t owned a TV for more than 12 years, he did see an early preview for “Naked and Afraid” and was intrigued, he said. He also remembers a rock climbing client who insisted Reay should be on the show.
And so the match between Reay and the show has been almost too perfect.
“It’s the same reason my dog’s name is Karma,” he said. “Karma follows me around.”
CAN’T ‘ONE-UP AFRICA’
Reay’s good-natured, spiritual self was evident in his first appearance on “Naked and Afraid.” Reay and a vegetarian girl made it 21 days in the jungles of Thailand with him feasting on rats for protein and helping to provide bananas and coconuts for his teammate.
His survival skills — making fire, making sandals, finding sustenance — are some of the most impressive ever on the show.
So Reay didn’t blink when he was recruited for the 40-day African survival challenge featured this season on “Naked and Afraid XL.” The show has become a ratings smash-hit for Discovery Channel and is popular around the globe.
“I knew this was going to be a challenge,” he said. “They’re not going to one-up Africa.”
This latest, all-star version of the show is amazing for its setting, if nothing else. Contestants must endure the incredible hardships and dangers of the South African wilderness, as well as the annoying personalities of the other members of their tribe.
Big cats are apex predators, and Reay said lions and cheetahs would bed down as close as 30 feet from his tribe’s camp at night.
“That was the real-est part,” he said.
While filming the show during the day, the survivalists interacted with a single producer, and a small audio and video crew followed them around. Armed guards protected the crew, but they went back to the resort every night and left the tribe mostly unprotected from the big cats, as well as the other massive mammals roaming the area.
Contestants were tasked with trying to sleep while lions and cheetahs circled nearby, growling louder and longer and getting closer with each pass around the camp.
“It was like they were testing out perimeter,” Reay said.
The spiritual Reay — he’s part Native American, was adopted as a child and raised outside native culture — said an encounter with a Colorado lynx about a week before he left for Africa brought him a strange sense of calm while in the bush.
He was skiing near Silverton and spotted an elusive lynx in his trail. Whereas most lynx bolt at the slightest brush with people, this one stuck around long enough for him to get a video, Reay said.
He took that as a sign.
“I don’t fear nature. I grew up in Wyoming with grizzly bears,” he said. “I respect it and I know it can kill me, but I went out there with faith that (the lynx encounter) was my sign.”
Giving himself up to a greater natural power is what makes Reay tick and perhaps what makes him an ideal survivalist for “Naked and Afraid.”
“Nature is not a concern of mine,” he said. “When the spirit calls me home, I’ll answer, and I’ll come running.”