The Existentialism of Naked and Afraid

In recent weeks, I have been binge-watching episodes of the series Naked and Afraid. The premise of this reality show is two strangers–a man and a woman–are dropped off in the wilderness naked and must survive for 21 days. They must find, kill and cook their food, stay warm by making fire and cuddling, and deal with huge emotional and mental stress as part of the challenge. I know I arrived late to N&A fandom. I’m typically a fan of fantasy and science fiction, and this show was one I accidentally stumbled upon and could not stop watching.

Man survives by his wit. – Odin, in Havamal

Naked and Afraid is quite interesting from the philosophical perspective. Many aspects of the show remind me of Epicurean philosophy: the human need for someone to talk to, and the importance of the element of control over one’s circumstances stand out. Epicurus spoke about how nature does not give you a choice when it comes to the natural and necessary desires: in the show–which disrupts our accustomed sense of normal and places us back in the state of nature–the distinction between the different kinds of desires and their place within the priority hierarchy is seen in sharp focus.

Another aspect of our ethics that is also seen is how little we actually need to survive, and even thrive. Although at times the cast members are seen going through severe trials, once the key necessities are met there are also times when their conviviality, team work, and the victory of being able to secure a meal or a warm shelter, demonstrate that happiness is possible once the natural and necessary pleasures are secured.

The nakedness of participants is a metaphor for the inherent vulnerability of the human animal in his environment. We modern people go very far to try to forget this! Although the civilized state is not without its problems, the series is a case for the simple pleasures of civilization: the warmth and safety of a home, the presence of loved ones, the conveniences of a kitchen and a comfortable bed, or of a ready meal. These are all things we take for granted–until they’re missing and we must conjure them from our natural environment.

Below is a funny look at N&A by Ellen DeGeneres:


About hiramcrespo

Hiram Crespo is the author of 'Tending the Epicurean Garden' (Humanist Press, 2014), 'How to Live a Good Life' (Penguin Random House, 2020), and Epicurus of Samos – His Philosophy and Life: All the principal Classical texts Compiled and Introduced by Hiram Crespo (Ukemi Audiobooks, 2020). He's the founder of, and has written for The Humanist, Eidolon, Occupy, The New Humanism, The Secular Web, Europa Laica, AteístasPR, and many other outlets.
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