Outtakes Online: The ultimate survival test
BY MIKE GORDON / email@example.com
There was a moment on the Discovery Channel’s new reality show, “Naked and Afraid,” when Alison Teal and the survivalist ex-Marine she was paired with saw the camera crew in a whole new light.
Teal, a globe-trotting filmmaker from South Kona, and L.A. bodyguard Jonathan Klay were struggling. The show drops participants in far-flung locations — in this case the Maldives — for a 21-day survival test without food, water or clothing. When it gets that rugged, nudity ceases to be a concern, replaced by the urgent need to find food.
“We sat there and literally had this conversation on who in the crew we would eat if it came to that,” Teal said. “We were slightly joking about it, but you really get to be desperate for anything to keep you going.”
The show offers no prize money. Participants sign on just to see whether they can survive.
The 27-year-old Teal said surviving the experience was the hardest thing he has ever done. The island was not far from the equator, so it was hot — “You could fry an egg on your head,” she said — but she and Klay were also hit by a pair of storms that left Teal colder than she’s ever been. They went for days without food. When they speared an eel, it was a victory.
Klay hurt himself early on, however, leaving Teal to do most of the survival foraging. She lost about 20 pounds during the experience, which was shot in March.
“There were moments when I thought it was a piece of cake and moments where I literally did not think I would survive,” she said. “It was so traumatic I think I blocked most of it out.”
The hourlong episode, “Island from Hell,” debuted on Sunday, July 7, and airs again Wednesday, July 10, and Sunday, July 14, at 5 and 10 p.m. in Hawaii.
If you have to be stranded on an island, you want Teal there. She’s quite at home in wild, untamed locations.
Teal’s parents, adventure photographer David Blehert and renowned yogi Deborah Koehn, took their young daughter with them as they traveled to jungles, mountains and deserts on nearly every continent. Teal was 2 months old when they took her to Ausangate, the highest peak in southern Peru. When she was 7, she was on Mount Everest. She rode elephants and camels. She learned to paint from a shaman in Bali. She was a frequent visitor to Machu Picchu.
“Growing up I had a different life,” Teal said. “I say the people I met were my textbooks and the world was my classroom.”
The family made South Kona their home base and built a sustainable lifestyle around a Swiss Family Robinson-style beach home. They live off the grid, powering their washing machine, four refrigerators, lights and kitchen appliances with a solar-powered system built by her father.
Among her survival skills: plant identification, shelter construction, building fires and spearfishing.
Teal also developed a love of technology — she calls herself “a nerd in a surfer girl’s body” — and graduated from film school at the University of Southern California. She’s made several award-winning short films and maintains a website called Alison’s Adventures, which showcases cultures and travel.
The “Naked and Afraid” producers, who were familiar with Teal’s family, looked at the website and contacted her about being on the show. At the time she was on a remote location in Fiji filming a documentary for her site called “The Lost Island of the Firewalkers.”
Being a part of the show offered the ultimate test of her connections to nature and the adventure skills she had practiced much of her life, Teal said. But the Maldives were a revelation.
“It gives you an appreciation for life and the things we have,” she said. “Even just a plastic fork, a hair tie. We got lucky because there was a lot of beach trash.” (The debris included a piece of clothing, and Teal fashioned a bra from coconut shells.)
She also discovered the secret to survival has more to do with mind than matter.
“It doesn’t take muscle to power through an experience like this,” she said. “It takes all the elements of your mind, body and spirit. And I think trying to keep humor in there is essential. Your humor is your most important tool out there.”
Mike Gordon covers film and television in Hawaii for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter. Read his weekly “Outtakes” column Sundays in the Star-Advertiser.