Adventure travel might sound appealing to many of us, but Discovery channel show ‘Naked and Afraid’ takes extreme adventure to a whole new level. One man and one woman who have never met before are dropped off into some of the the world’s harshest environments, to survive for three weeks without any creature comforts whatsoever. There’s no prize at the end, except for the sense of achievement (should they make it through to the end of the experience). Oh, and as it says in the title, they’re in the buff.
I caught up with one of the show’s participants, hardcore adventurer and Hollywood stunt woman, Ky Furneaux, to find out how she endured 21 days in the Louisiana swamplands.
What got you into the adventure lifestyle?
My family was always into the outdoors when I was growing up. We always went camping for holidays, and had a very active lifestyle. We had horses and I was always heading off into the scrub by myself, riding and adventuring. Also, my grandmother was a great traveller, and would always come home with stories of her adventures around the world. It made me want to see it all with my own eyes.
What made you decide to become a stuntwoman?
I was an outdoor guide for about eight years, teaching people rock-climbing, kayaking and camping. One day a kid on a school camp suggested to me that I should be a stunt woman, as we tumbled down a sand dune, playing some game I had devised to tire them out. It seemed like a really interesting career idea, so I thought I would give it a go.
What inspired you to apply for ‘Naked and Afraid’?
I didn’t apply for the show, they found me on the internet and asked me to be part of the first season. I had always wondered what it would be like to survive from scratch, so I agreed to do the show.
Did you choose your destination, or was it assigned to you?
Our destination was assigned to us. We were told about five days before we headed off where we would be going. Bear Grylls refers to Louisiana swamps as “hell on earth” and suggests the best thing to do if you end up there is to get out as quick as possible. It would probably have been my last choice of destination!
Were you worried about being naked in front of a complete stranger?
I was a little bit concerned about the nudity, but I was more concerned whether I had what it would take to survive the 21 days in such an extreme environment. Him being a stranger probably made it less embarrassing than if it was one of my mates that I hang out with all the time.
What was your biggest concern before you went? How did you plan to cope with it?
When I first said yes, my biggest concern was being barefoot in really harsh terrain. You damage your feet and your chance of survival goes down rapidly. I walked on the city streets for hours every day for a month to toughen them up. Once I found out where we were going, my biggest concern was the cold. Louisiana had the coldest May on record while we were there, and some days it dropped to less than ten degrees celsius. We had to have a fire going 24/7, or we would have got hypothermic.
What was the hardest thing about surviving the swamp, both mentally and physically?
Normally in a survival situation you should be able to establish yourself fairly quickly, if you know what you’re doing. We never were able to get to the stage that we were secure in our daily survival until about day 18. This was because our base got wiped out to scratch four times by huge storms, one of which was the biggest storm in that region since 1964. We were the only ‘Naked and Afraid’ team that has had no land to exist on, as we flooded out on day five and had no land for nine days. All the wood that we had access to was wet and burnt fairly cold. We were in an area with no edible vegetation, and the only vines to make things with were poison ivy.
Mentally the greatest challenge was probably the constant second-to-second battle to survive. We could never see where we were putting our next step. The mud was filled with thorns and venomous snakes, and each step was a chore as our feet were rotting off and would get stuck in the mud. I guess the physical challenges became the mental ones too as they dragged on.
What is your best memory of surviving the swamp?
I really loved the fact that for the first time in my life I was completely focused on the moment I was in, for an extended period of time. Every step had to be calculated, every movement had to preserve energy, and everyday living required a tremendous amount of problem solving in order to get through. It’s so rare to have that focus in everyday life. I also loved the way nature embraced us being there. We truly just became part of the ecosystem, with frogs and snakes making their homes with us on the bed platform, and birds becoming so unafraid of our presence.
Do you keep in touch with Billy?
I do. I just saw him the other day when they flew him in to LA for an interview we had to do together. You can’t go through that sort of experience and not remain part of each other’s lives in some capacity. We really needed each other out there, as it was not a place you could have survived alone. That creates a bond.
You recently did a 100 mile trip across the Sierra Nevada mountains, with just a pocket knife. In terms of endurance and difficulty, how did this experience compare to the Louisiana swamps?
They both held their own challenges. The Sierras were tough because we had to cover ground while surviving. This meant we didn’t have time to hunt or gather like you would in a normal survival scenario. We were also burning a greater amount of calories per day to make the distance. They were better in that we didn’t stay in one place for longer than a day, so if a location wasn’t ideal, we were always moving to another place that might be better the next day. This allowed us to find a greater number of things to eat too.
The swamp was extremely challenging, because we had to make do with what we had there, and it was incredibly sparse. It was also twice as long, and naked! People highly underestimate the protection that even a single layer of clothing offers in this type of scenario.
What three things would you never normally travel without?
I am happy with just my knife, but I would like to have my yoga mat and my kindle.
What’s your favourite place in the world, and why?
I have been to so many amazing places in the world that it’s hard to pick a favourite. I love all the places in Africa I have been to, but the one place I have spent a bunch of time and where I was always happy is The Coorong. It’s a place in South Australia that has a long thin band of white sand dunes that have the ocean on one side, and a massive freshwater system on the other. You can bodysurf on the ocean side, play in the sandy dunes, and wash off in the river. It has a grassy bank by the river to camp on, the best sunrises and sunsets, and at night if you lie on top of the dunes, you have the most amazing view of the stars I have ever seen.
If you could travel with anyone (dead or alive), who would it be?
Do they have to be real? If not, I’d say Indiana Jones, because I would just love to explore the world an have adventure with him.
Describe you dream trip, if money was no object.
I would travel through Africa from north to south, in a kitted out all-wheel drive vehicle, with my own private guide who knows all there is to know about the country and it’s flora and fauna.
What is your top travel tip for our readers?
Always have a copy of your immigration papers and some US cash in small notes hidden in a couple of places amongst your luggage or on your person. Hope not to need it, but it comes in really handy if you do.
Ky’s incredible career history includes stunt work on Hollywood blockbusters such as “Pirates of the Caribbean – On Stranger Tides”, and “Thor”, along with many others. She has also stunt doubled for A-Listers Anne Hathaway and Jennifer Garner. She is currently touring to promote her book “Superwoman’s Survival Guide” – a modern woman’s guide to survival (she also recommends reading it as one of her top travel tips, as it contains some great advice on preparing for, and staying safe while travelling).
Ky is also involved in the development of a survival-based TV project, which she will be hosting. As if she isn’t busy enough, on top of all that she is writing her second book, which will focus on helping people to get healthy. Big thank you to Ky for finding time for this interview in your super hectic schedule!