One of my new favorite TV shows is “Naked and Afraid,” the survival show where one man and one woman must survive in the wilderness without clothes, food or water for 21 days.
I like it for a lot of reasons. The interaction between the man and the woman is always entertaining, whether they become friends (wow, is he touching her butt?) or hate each other passionately (Fine, don’t eat the dead bird carcass that may or may not have deadly bacteria!). The human body at the mercy of nature – bugs, cold, heat. The breakdown – or ability to spiritually break through – when starving to death or suffering from dehydration.
It is fitting that I came to this show during summer, when I, myself, was dropped onto an isolated island populated by savages. Left for 51 days. Not that I counted.
You would think that like most good survivalists, I would adequately prepare. Every year, summer comes and every year I am taken by surprise. Unlike the survival reality show contestants who start their journeys hydrated, waxed, and with a keen knowledge of the edible plants of South America, I roll down the mountain of the school year, gathering the speed of disorganization, leg hair, and craggy nails only to crash land, splayed and spread-eagled, in the wasteland of summer. I blink stupidly into the blinding sun and think, “Shit, where am I?” A groundhog year replayed again and again, and me, never learning.
Because, as it turns out, I am not a good survivalist. I’m not even a mediocre one. As the narrator of my life would tell you in a dramatic baritone, my PSR – or Primitive Survival Rating – plummets at the end of each summer. I’m pretty sure this is based on my negative attitude, inability to start a fire under anything that takes longer than 15 minutes to cook, and massive fear of macheteing my way through unscheduled chunks of time.
Also, did I mention that I DON’T HAVE A MAP?
For fuck’s sake, how am I supposed to get anywhere without a map? Where can I build a sturdy emotional shelter to protect me from flash floods of sibling brutality? How can I avoid the cliffs of insanity and children-of-unusual-energy? How am I supposed to carve a wine glass out of bamboo – and time for myself? Most importantly, how am I to find the extraction point at the end of the challenge where I will be airlifted to a Four Seasons with a chef and full-time nanny?
The rules of survival dictate that I am allowed to bring one personal item into the wilderness and so each year, I bring Summer Camp, and as all contestants know, that one personal item is never enough to save you. It will give you hope and boost your spirits but at the end of the day, you’re still battling exhaustion and a number of extremely dangerous bacterial diseases found only in lunch boxes.
You would desperately like to commiserate with someone, anyone, but your island seems deserted. As any other mother-survivalist can tell you, the isolation of summer is more extreme than isolation during the rest of the year because everyone heads to the other side of the world to see if the snakes are just as poisonous. I, too, get curious – will I avoid Dengue Fever if I leave my encampment? (The answer is no, but my PSR did go up quite a bit when we left town because I couldn’t take Summer Camp with me.)
And for what? The only prize in surviving summer is pride in not having named your wine bottle ‘Wilson’ and a sense of accomplishment that your Lords of the Flies are still alive.
I am writing this, of course, from the cool climes of September, reborn in the safe waters of scheduled childcare. But next summer you will once again find me laid bare to the elements and very much afraid.