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Juneauite stars in new reality show: 'Naked and Afraid'

Posted: June 9, 2013 - 12:16am
Kellie Nightlinger and Erroll James Snyder (EJ) star in the Discovery Channel's new series 'Naked and Afraid'.  Courtesy of the Discovery Channel
Courtesy of the Discovery Channel
Kellie Nightlinger and Erroll James Snyder (EJ) star in the Discovery Channel's new series 'Naked and Afraid'.

Before the olive green Land Rovers came to a stop in the African deserts of Tanzania, the man and woman had never met. Before long, they’d become all too familiar with each other.

Home to Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, Tanzania has a tropical climate and sparse foliage — at least, no foliage that could be made into clothing.

That’s the issue Kellie Nightlinger and Erroll James Snyder faced when the two Land Rovers left them stranded, naked in the wilderness.

This scenario — one of forbidden fruit, perhaps — is the premise of “Naked and Afraid,” a new series that airs this month on Discovery and stars Nightlinger, a Juneauite transplant from Michigan.

“The show originated with more of an ‘Adam and Eve’ thought process,” said Jay Renfroe, one of the executive producers, “and going back to this primitive survival — if people could make it in a tough environment with nothing.”

Renfroe teamed with Steve Rankin who worked on the Bear Grylls show “Man vs. Wild,” a similar television series more focused on survival training, to work on “Naked and Afraid” which airs on June 23 with six episodes its first season.

The first episode condenses the 21 days Nightlinger and Snyder spend in the wilderness. The remaining five shows feature a different couple each episode.

The producers found her over the Internet, though over the past 14 months Nightlinger, 39, has interviewed for 14 other various outdoor reality shows.

“Of course not all of them come to fruition. They’re production companies trying to find their niche,” Nightlinger said. “There aren’t that many woman that are into this so I get contacted a lot.”

In her efforts to host her own survival show, she figured that after all the other shows she interviewed for, this would be the one she was picked for.

“All the other things I was potentially interviewing for were much more subdued and subtle and basic,” Nightlinger said. “I was like ‘watch, this will be the one I get picked for.’”

Nightlinger, a former conservation officer in Michigan before moving to Juneau, worked as a miner at Greens Creek before being offered the opportunity to star in the 21-day excursion.

“I was the only woman hard rock underground miner and my duties were heavy equipment operating. I learned how to drive heavy haul trucks, bulldozers, front end loaders, all underground, so I learned that whole mining industry,” Nightlinger said. “I got into that and I would probably still be there.”

But then came the call of the wild.

“So I quit my job,” Nightlinger said. “It’s so cutting edge, yet so controversial because we’re, in fact, naked. Some people aren’t naked for very long on the other episodes, and we were naked the entire time.”

We can expect a lot of censoring both the producers and Nightlinger assured.

“It was difficult for them in Africa to find the materials to clothe themselves,” Renfroe said. “Some of the other cast members are in environments where it’s easier to find leaves and things like that to clothe themselves.”

In the Serengeti everything was covered in thorns.

“There was absolutely nothing they could utilize to make any form of clothing which added to the challenge of their vulnerability at the time,” said Rankin, the other executive producer.

After the Land Rovers drove off, the couple approached one another for the first time and instead of shaking hands, Nightlinger chose to embrace in a hug. They were in it together, at that point, with nothing to hide.

“It was very challenging,” Nightlinger said. “We thought we might get eaten by lions on the first night.”

But they nevertheless kindled a fire and built a shelter.

“It’s not an easy thing,” Nightlinger said. “You’re on a brand new continent, you’re not familiar with what to use to make a primitive fire-making kit. Finally we got fire, otherwise we would be dead.”

The couple would then slowly eat and digest food to test and see if it were edible — Nightlinger likened the experience to Adam and Eve, her being Eve and testing the food before giving it to Snyder.

“It was an amazing experience. I think it’s the most challenging survival challenge in the world,” Nightlinger said. “What we did had never been done before with a couple for 21 days.”

For now, Nightlinger, a guide at Gastineau Guiding, will continue to strive for her own show while continuing promotion of her YouTube channel that boasts more than 1,300 subscribers.

“My whole mission in life,” Nightlinger said, “is to inspire people to go outside and go wild, to follow their wildest dreams and to surpass what they thought they could do.”

• Contact reporter Kenneth Rosen at 523-2250 or at kenneth.rosen@juneauempire.com.

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