Discovery Channel producer Steve Rankin made headlines when he was bit by a deadly pit viper in early May. After being rushed to the hospital from the remote Costa Rican wilderness, and after several serious surgeries, he is lucky to still have his foot.
Rankin was scouting locations for his new show, "Naked and Afraid," which drew an impressive 4.1 million total viewers to its premiere in June. His injury mirrored those possible in the extreme survival series, which casts two survival experts (one man, one woman) naked into a remote area for 21 days.
Cast member Laura Zerra didn't hear about Rankin's injury, as she was already on her way to Panama to film her own segment of the series, but even if she did hear, it wouldn't have changed her mind.
"Absolutely not" she says. "I've had really close encounters, but it's all part of it. There's more likelihood to get hit by a car crossing the street."
Having the survivors naked "really strips the survival back down to the absolute basics," says Rankin. And you sort of feel like you're watching something you shouldn't, but you can't turn away.
The nudity is actually what convinced Zerra that she wouldn't — couldn't — make a mistake like Rankin's accident. "It's an awareness thing, and I feel like I would have been less aware with clothes on anyway," she says.
The cast members are left in the wilderness with nothing but a small camera crew, personal cameras and one item of their choosing. Shoes are expressly forbidden. Previous contestants have taken a knife, a fire starter and even swimming goggles as their solitary item.
Zerra, 27, taught backcountry skills for years and has also dabbled in butchery and taxidermy. She calls hersefl the "black sheep" of her family.
"Survival is all about utilizing what's around you, and certain things are hard to replace," she says, "Metal is one of them, because there's no substitute for a knife or cooking items."
She doesn't like to waste, and she tries to eat locally, which wasn't an issue during her episode, as she truly had no other choice.
"Walking into a grocery store was like a spiritual experience when I got back," says Zerra. "We're so spoiled, and we don't even realize it."
But this is reality television, and if someone's health is compromised, there will be medical intervention.
"It's always in the back of your mind, but somehow you don't feel like you're really going to get help," says Zerra, who called the experience "as real as you could make anything."
The show airs on the Discovery Channel on Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT.