BEMIDJI, Minn. – For 21 days, Kim Shelton lived in remote Costa Rica, with a man she didn’t know, with no food, no water and no clothing.
“It was the slowest three weeks of my life, but I’m really glad I did it,” said Shelton, speaking recently by phone from her grandmother’s home in Walker, Minn. “I’m really proud of myself. I feel like part of me would always want to do something like this if I hadn’t (done it).”
Shelton, 22, was one of two adults featured in Sunday night’s premiere of Discovery Channel’s new reality show, “Naked & Afraid.” The show pairs strangers and strands them for 21 days in remote parts of the world with no food, water or clothes.
“Part of the reason why you would even want to do this sort of thing is because it’s really hard,” said Shelton, who with her partner spent three weeks in the Costa Rican rainforest.
“But, being human, there’s something inside of you that makes you want to push yourself to the limit, to see how much you can handle.”
Producers intentionally sought out participants with survival training, said Shelton, who is skilled in plant identification, trapping and archery.
“They wanted people that weren’t going to just die out there (in the wilderness),” Shelton said.
She heard about the show through her school, the Wilderness Awareness School in Washington state, which offers naturalist training and environmental education.
“I went to the school in Washington to learn more about how, not only to survive on the land, but to connect with nature more,” she said. “I’m into the survival thing because I want to connect with nature, not overpower it.”
Shelton, whose parents were in the military, graduated from high school in England but always spent her summers in and around Leech Lake. Her mother owns a house in Bemidji and her grandmother lives in Walker.
Despite attending school in Washington, and teaching there through its summer camp programs, the Bemidji area is home, Shelton said.
“This area is my home base,” she said. “This is where I want to end up. …
“My desire to just be outside and my love for this land in Minnesota, I just love it here. Wanting to be outside was just part of the inspiration for wanting to do this whole crazy thing.”
‘It’s just a body’
Shelton’s partner for the experience was 40-year-old Shane Lewis, an electrician from Connecticut, according to his biography on the Discovery.com website.
“I’m pretty sure they found the most intense, dramatic person and paired me with him,” Shelton said. “I think that we worked well as a team, but I don’t think that he’s someone that we’d hang out with each other outside of that experience.”
She and Lewis met as film crews documented their initial meeting as they prepared to leave for remote Costa Rica.
“I was prepared to go in with absolutely nothing,” she said.
But producers gave them each one item: Shelton a machete and Lewis a fire starter.
“We had those two items, and that was all we had,” Shelton said. “We didn’t have shoes or clothes or anything else.”
People continually ask her how she felt about her nakedness and whether it made her nervous, but Shelton said it was not a big deal. “It’s just a body,” she said. “As soon as you take your clothes off and you’ve been naked for a couple of minutes, it becomes old news.”
Covering themselves also was not their top priority. Shelton said a producer was bitten by a poisonous snake and had to be flown out by helicopter.
“You have to get up off the ground,” Shelton said. “Our first priority was to build a platform to sleep on.”
‘Felt like life energy’
Part of survivalist training is to conserve energy, so Shelton said there were days when she and Lewis did nothing but sit by the fire.
“It was really tough,” she said of the whole experience. “It helped me prioritize what I thought was really important. I thought about my family a lot. I feel like I appreciate those things so much.”
One of the more exciting moments came when Shelton accidentally burned down the duo’s shelter.
Because of near-constant rainfall, they built a fire on the ground under their shelter. It worked well, until there was a temporary break in the rainfall.
One night, as Shelton tended to the fire, she heard a huge “whoosh” and watched as the entire shelter went up in flames.
“It was a matchbox in the middle of the night,” she said, noting that as soon as the shelter was lost, it started raining again.
It was as close as she got to her breaking point, she said.
The pair had not really eaten in a week and had just suffered a big loss. She and Lewis were functioning, but not caring all that strongly about what to do next.
“I was sitting beside the river and I saw a turtle, two turtles, mating in the river,” Shelton said.
“They were so consumed with that that they didn’t see me and I caught one of them. It was our first big meal in a week. … It felt like life energy flow back into us. Really, it ended up being a sort of gift (burning down the shelter). I don’t think I would have caught that turtle if it hadn’t been for the fire.”
Bethany Wesley, Forum News Service, INFORUM