We’ve all been there before. We’re watching one of those TV shows where people are doing or eating crazy things – or both – and we casually say, “I could do that.” Such was the case last summer when Sabrina and Bob Mergenthaler were sitting in their Snellville home watching Discovery’s new hit television show, “Naked and Afraid.” The show features two people, a man and a woman, who are brought to remote areas of the world and then dropped off. The task is to survive 21 days and, oh yeah, they get buck naked before the clock starts. In postproduction Discovery uses a pixelated effect to mask body parts.
As they watched the show Sabrina looked at Bob and said, “That’s easy, I could do that.” The show ended with solicitations for contestants. Bob’s reply back was, “you should apply.” She took the dare.
Sabrina did the online registration with the “there’s no chance I will get picked” attitude. So you can imagine her surprise when producers of “Naked and Afraid” called to set up a Skype interview. Surprise turned to shock when Sabrina was told she was going to be flown to Los Angeles for a personal interview.
Last September she received an email from the company. Thinking it was the rejection letter she had anticipated, she opened it and it read, “Welcome to Discovery!” “I was dumbfounded,” Sabrina said.
One month later Sabrina was flying to Bolivia. It was the first time she ever travelled alone and the first time ever travelling abroad. The long flight gave her plenty of time to think about what she was getting into, including stripping down. “That part never really bothered me,” Sabrina said. “The only reservation I had was being with someone I had never met and being around the film crew.”
Once in Bolivia, Sabrina was driven to a national forest. On cue she took off all of her clothes and was directed to a place where she would meet her partner. Once there she met Vince Pinto from Arizona. Each contestant can select one item to take with them. Sabrina chose a machete while Vince chose sticks to make fire with. Now the task was to survive 21 days in the jungle.
“Right off the bat Vince was very talkative and egotistical,” Sabrina said. “He was talking down to me. The entire time I was trying to keep the peace and he kept getting meaner and meaner.”
Their differences notwithstanding, the pair survived the first two weeks. Their diet consisted mainly of bugs and berries with an occasional bird or snake.
Day 16 was a turning point. Vince was checking out. “I begged him not go,” Sabrina said. “Even though he was mean to me he was the only conversation I had. I was devastated.”
Sabrina trudged on. On day 20, however, just one day before the events conclusion, Sabrina became ill. She had an intense pain in her abdomen. She was taken out of the jungle and brought to a hospital. There, she ate her first real meal, chicken and rice, in nearly three weeks.
In December, just a few days shy of Christmas, Sabrina landed back in Atlanta around midnight where her family gave her a heroes welcome. She said she missed her family more than anything else. At home she found leftover pizza in the refrigerator. She ate it all. She had lost about 15 pounds while in Bolivia.
Sabrina said being on the show has made her more spiritual, and grateful for little luxuries that get taken for granted every day. “It was a great experience,” she said. “I would do it again – just not with Vince.”
Earl Gray is a freelance writer. Send comments and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.