HOLLYWOOD -- The first question posed during an interview session for the Discovery Channel series Naked and Afraid was the best:
The query was directed at a quartet of self-styled survivalists who were participants in Naked and AfraidSSRqs attention-grabbing second and third seasons. Why, the questioner (and everyone else in the room during Discovery Network's portion of the U.S. networks' semi-annual press tour in Los Angeles) wanted to know, would anyone in his or her right mind sign up for the harrowing and humiliating test the series puts its stripped-down stars through?
"That's really the first question we get from everybody," said Season 1 survivor Jeff Zausch, "It's 'Why in the world you would do this?' and what I always say is, 'This is who we are. This is what we are made of.'
"Some people were made to be race-car drivers. Some people were, you know, made to be CEOs of companies. We were made to push the limits of what's humanly possible. This is what we do in our everyday lives, so to be on a show like this was just natural."
For those who've never experienced the wild and unfettered reality-TV charms of Naked and Afraid, the laid-bare logistics are these: two participants -- one male, one female, who have never met -- are introduced, stripped of all their clothing and then dropped into an inhospitable wilderness environment with no food, no water and only one personal item of their choosing, with the goal being to survive for 21 days while making their way to a predetermined extraction point where they'll be picked up and transported back to civilization.
There is no million-dollar prize for making it to the end; just the satisfaction of having made it to the end (well, that and perhaps a modest appearance fee).
"The No. 1 reward of this show was the pride that we got from completing the challenge," said Zausch, who endured 21 days in the Madagascar desert. "And I think I can speak for these (other participants) -- the feeling on Day 21, when we were rescued, was absolutely the best day of our life. That's why we did this challenge."
Zausch's partner in that episode, Eva Rupert, described the experience as an absolute life-changer.
"Being completely naked for 21 days, stripping yourself down to the very core of your existence, it reveals a layer of yourself that you cannot know in any other way, shape, or form," she explained. "It's only when you are pulled down to the rawest, most central core of your existence that you can really learn who you are, and then, from that, that's where opportunity develops. That's how you grow as a person, and that's how you develop and change and (gain) even a greater sense of yourself than what you already (have)."
The series, which became an instant water-cooler topic after its première last summer (Discovery executives say it was the most-watched series première in the network's history), airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on Discovery. Each episode features a different pair of participants, a different locale and a different and unique brand of misery that is recorded by the show's crew during the three-week survival ordeal.
Series producer Mathilde Bittner said the most difficult environments for Naked and Afraid's survivalists -- and the show has tested many different types, from deserts to tropical islands to Louisiana swamps -- have been the ones that experience extreme variations in temperature.
"I've been out in about nine different locations, and the hardest ones are the ones with the extreme weather, where it will be really, really hot during the day and very cold at night," she said. "We've shot in southern Africa... an episode that aired a couple weeks ago, and that was it's extremely hard on the survivalists because it will be up to 95 degrees (35 C) during the day, and it will drop down sometimes as low as, like, 50 (10 C), or even high 40s a couple of nights, and that is it's incredibly draining on them as well because it takes so much energy just for them to keep warm.
"We would show up in the morning, and they were just sore. Their muscles were aching just from the shivering all night. And in the daytime, you can barely stay outside because the heat is so oppressive. So it's those environments that were definitely the most challenging."
Of course, the nakedness in Naked and Afraid creates a bit of an editing-room challenge for the show's producers. Bare bottoms are a frequent on-screen feature of the show, but the rest of the participants' private parts must be pixilated before footage is fit for airing.
"We actually have a group of about six graphic artists that handle every (pixilation) effect shot," said executive producer Jay Renfroe. "I mean, we always pull for (the survivalists) to make some kind of clothes, but most of them don't. It's not a big priority. So we have graphic artists that actually sit and go frame by frame by frame by frame to create the blurs."
When asked what the folks who endure the Naked experience think of having their privates pixilated, Bahamian-island survivor Justin Bullard offered a cheeky response that prompted the session's biggest laugh:
"They could have made my blurred spot bigger. That would have been cool."