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Q&A with Chapel Hill resident who bares everything for TV show "Naked and Afraid"

Karen Coffee, a member of the Chapel Hill community, participated in the fifth season of the reality series Naked and Afraid.
Karen Coffee, a member of the Chapel Hill community, participated in the fifth season of the reality series Naked and Afraid.

Karen Coffee, a Chapel Hill resident, was recently a contestant on the Discovery channel show “Naked and Afraid.” Coffee spent 21 days on a small island in the Philippines with contestant Matt Alexander from Jennings, La. The episode she appears in airs on April 17.

Staff writer Brooke Fisher spoke with Coffee about her experience on the show and what she learned from being a contestant.

The Daily Tar Heel: Why did you go on “Naked and Afraid”?

Karen Coffee: I grew to appreciate being outdoors and learning how to hunt and fish and be self-sustaining. Fast-forward to November of 2014, my friend texted me, and she was like, “Hey badass friend, do you wanna go on a survival show? I’ve got a friend who’s in the casting department, and she’s got openings.” I’m like, “Hell, yeah!” So I texted her right back.

That’s how it exactly started for the “Naked and Afraid” adventure. I had never seen the show before. But it didn’t really matter to me whether I had seen the show or not. I just knew that it was my type of thing because it was a teamwork-based thing. This is just one man, one woman, and you have to work as a team to make it work, to survive, and that’s totally my gig.

DTH: What’s the craziest thing you had to do on the show?

KC: One of the craziest things we had to do, which was completely unexpected: We killed a monitor lizard. There was a humongous monitor lizard that ran through camp. My partner jumped up and thwacked it with a stick, and I had to come in behind with our machete and sort of get the front end of it and contain it so that we could enjoy it for dinner that evening.

DTH: What were some of the more challenging aspects of filming this kind of show?

KC: To me, on two levels, being naked and being naked. There are two ways to look at that. You’re physically naked, but you’re also naked in the way that you’re peeling the layers off of yourself. You’re becoming raw; you’re opening yourself up to the world, really.

Being physically naked was difficult because clothing is shelter. When you strip down to nothing and walk off into the jungle, you’ve got nothing to start with. Of that, the most difficult part was the feet. I practiced without shoes for two months, even before I knew I was going to get chosen for the show. The feet were just awful. I was hobbling around like I was 90 years old.

And then, the second part of being naked is opening yourself up to the world. (It’s) raw emotions, looking inside of yourself and pulling the grit out of yourself to get up and keep going the next day.

DTH: What is one the craziest things that you have done in your life besides the show?

KC: I climbed the side of Machu Picchu. That was pretty crazy. I did that in sort of record time with my brother in 2012. Jumping off the side of a ship in the Galapagos Islands was pretty crazy.

DTH: What was one thing you learned from your experience on the show?

KC: I learned that I have what I thought I had inside of me, personally, to achieve challenges like this, no matter what age. I do hope that I am an inspiration to folks. Age and gender don’t matter; they shouldn’t be a barrier to taking on monumental challenges like this.

Really, it comes down to mental fortitude, which I think is my forte, actually. Everybody has their own strengths, my partner had his own strengths and I have my own strengths. Mine was really keeping us on track mentally.


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