Snellville’s Sabrina Mergenthaler, a 30-year-old stay-at-home mom of three, was dropped into the jungles of Bolivia last November without food, water or clothing for Discovery’s hottest new show “Naked and Afraid.”
She and her husband Bob stumbled upon the show one day last year. “We were laughing and I said, ‘I can do that so easily,’ ” she said in an interview. “He said, ‘Why don’t you apply?’ It was mostly in jest but I called his bluff and applied. I was in shock when they wanted me to audition.”
The series creates an Adam and Eve feel by having one naked man and one naked woman spend 21 days in a wild forest, jungle, swamp or remote island.
They have no shoes, no underwear, no coverings and just one item to help them. (Usually, that means a machete, and some fire-making device.) They are supposed to find food and shelter on their own, followed around by a camera crew they are supposed to ignore.
“It’s a show that really tests what you’re made of,” Mergenthaler said. “There are no rewards. You don’t get voted off the island. You basically have to create your own survival. Some people can do it. Some can’t.”
Mergenthaler won’t say if she made it all 21 days but some folks who appeared on the show have dropped out partway through due to illness, injury or lack of will.
Her survivalist bonafides are pretty modest. She knows botany really well but otherwise, she reads up on survivalist skills on the Web and practices at home. “I was pretty sheltered growing up,” she said. This was her first trip overseas. Past trips to Montana and New York were hardly preparation for the harsh environs of a rainforest.
When the producers told her where she was going, she wasn’t even sure what continent Bolivia was on.
Survivalist shows have been around for years, including “Man Vs. Wild” and “Survivorman.” And CBS’s “Survivor” is in its 28th season. This one, with lots of fuzzed out genitalia and butt shots (not fuzzed out), offers a certain “sizzle” factor. In its second season, the show averages 2.2 million viewers during its first airing.
In an interview, she had to be coy about what actually happened. Advance teasers say Mergenthaler and her male cohabitant Vince suffer from flash floods and heat exhaustion.
One thing she wasn’t afraid of: stripping down. “I was quite comfortable getting naked,” she said. “It didn’t bother me. Once we were out of our clothes, there was a comfort level achieved and I never looked back.” At the same time, she said she had this weird compulsion to place her bag over her bum since that wasn’t blurred out. “I was trying to maintain some sense of modesty,” she said.
Before the show, Mergenthaler did try to go without eating to see how she could manage and made it ten days. “I was quite pleased with that fact,” she said. “I thought I was well prepped.” But it was ultimately even tougher than she imagined.
And when she returned back to civilization, she said she had to take eight showers to get all the gunk off of her. Her first meal at the hotel: rum and coke with spicy chicken. When she got back to Snellville, she raided the fridge and ate cold pizza. And starvation took a toll on her body. She said four months have passed and she still feels only 75 percent back in terms of her physical strength.
Another thing changed: she has become more spiritual. “I’ve been connecting with blog groups and such to basically spread different messages of hope and light,” she said. Being in that jungle, she said, “made me more grateful for the simplicities we have in life, especially my family. Being away from them so long was like a huge kick in the stomach. When I came back, I just wanted everyone to know how grateful I was that they’re in my life.”
There has been some controversy about the show, with some participants alleging manipulation. But she insisted it was all real.
“Naked and Afraid,” 10 p.m., Sunday, April 20, Discovery