It’s a natural question when you’re talking about a wilderness survival show: Have there been any Naked and Afraid deaths? The Discovery series, which returns for its new season this Sunday night, has seen plenty of close calls, and one especially gruesome encounter — but we’re happy to report that so far none of the hundreds of people who’ve participated have actually died as a result.
Below, you’ll find the three most notorious medical emergencies in Naked and Afraid history, along with the producer who very nearly became the first of the Naked and Afraid deaths.
Manu Toigo didn’t know she was sick until returning home
Season 1 cast member Manu Toigo is probably the best-known of the stories involving alleged Naked and Afraid deaths. She featured in the “Double Jeopardy” special (best-known for fellow participant Cassie DePecol, who received the lowest PSR in the show’s history).
While filming in Panama, Manu was bitten by a mosquito and contracted dengue fever — but didn’t start to display any symptoms of the disease until filming had wrapped and she was back home in Los Angeles. Manu told TMZ she first “began to experience a severe headache between the eyes”; it then became a fever; then “nosebleeds and gum bleeding.” Before long, Manu was unable to stand.
The initial (mis)diagnosis was anemia — it wasn’t until Manu returned to the hospital that she found out a) she had dengue fever and b) it had progressed to dengue hemorragic fever, meaning her blood vessels were hemorraging internally.
Though there’s no cure for the disease, it isn’t necessarily terminal. Doctors “pump[ed Manu] with fluids and plasma,” and she left after two weeks. Physical therapy followed. Today, Manu is back on her feet, and still has no regrets: when asked if she wished she hadn’t gone on Naked and Afraid, Manu said “Hell no…most epic experience I could ever have done.”
Sam’s Croatian hypothermia came on quickly
More recently was the case of Samantha — or “Sam,” as she preferred to be known — and her brush with death in Croatia’s Velebit mountains. While filming for the Season 8 episode “Stone Cold,” Sam became hypothermic during a rainstorm one especially cool night.
Sam’s condition worsened because she refused to share her partner Adam’s body heat or his shelter. By the time Sam and Adam called for a medic, she had stage two, or moderate, hypothermia, characterized by lethargy, confusion, a slower pulse, and a core temperature between two and four degrees below normal.
Though the medic worried that Sam’s organs might be shutting down, she reached the hospital in time, and was nursed back to health without suffering any permanent damage.
Honora Bowen appeared to nearly die in Brazil — but there’s a catch
Probably the most infamous among the near-Naked and Afraid deaths is Honora Bowen, who almost “died” in the Season 3 finale “Dunes of Despair” We put “died” in quotation marks because, according to a now-legendary blog post Honora wrote after her episode aired, the entire near-death experience was simply a setup to get her off the show.
According to Honora, she’d tried to tap out several times due to a bladder issue, but the producers “goaded” her into continuing. After a few days of the back-and-forth, Honora says she just faked it:
I pretended to be basically catatonic. I let my body go limp, because honestly it was pretty close to that point anyways. They had been checking my blood sugar at least once a day, and it was wavering around 40-60, which is incredibly low for a person. I was pretty close to going into a coma for real. So being limp and playing dead actually felt amazing, in that I was going to get to leave there and I didn’t have to take one more fucking step in that fine, fine sand. I had taken enough extra steps for these people, both literally and figuratively….I remember hearing what a great job the camera guy was doing as he was hanging out the open-sided jeep and filming the epic tap-out. Someone kept pinching one of my nipples. The producer was joking about pizza and beer. I just did my best to let my eyes roll back and keep a straight face. And the poor medic, who could never say my name right, I felt the worst for him. Because, he was really a good guy, so sweet, and I truly felt bad hearing the fear in his voice that I was almost dead.
The most gruesome of the near-Naked and Afraid deaths didn’t involve a cast member at all
Naked and Afraid producer Steve Rankin managed to drum up some seriously shocking publicity for the show before it even aired. While location scouting in Costa Rica in 2013, Steve was bitten by a pit viper, suffered a severely rotted foot, and nearly lost his life. (If you haven’t already clicked on the video above, be advised that the graphic content disclaimer at the beginning isn’t kidding around.)
After recovering from his extensive injuries, Steve went on the now-defunct “Naked After Dark” post-show series to talk about his brush with death. Steve explained that the initial bite was sharp like being stabbed, but the far more painful part came when the venom started to travel up his leg.
Steve added that because he had to hike back through the jungle to get to the helicopter and evacuate, the venom was able to enter his bloodstream more rapidly and his injuries — which eventually extended from his foot all the way to the top of his thigh — were made far worse.
Naked and Afraid returns with a new season — and its unbroken streak of zero competitor deaths — Sunday, March 11 at 9 PM on Discovery.
(Photo credits: Naked and Afraid deaths via Instagram)