This spring, Maine guide Ryan Holt will star on Discovery Channel’s “Naked and Afraid,” a reality TV show in which participants are tasked with surviving in the wilderness for days while naked and carrying few survival tools.
This is Holt’s fifth time on the show, and his longest “Naked and Afraid” challenge yet. In fact, it’s the lengthiest challenge in the show’s 9-year history.
The challenge? To survive 60 days in the swamps of Louisiana, with alligators and poisonous snakes, as the temperature drops to below freezing.
“It was a really long time to be out there naked,” said Holt, 36, of Roxbury. “It changed me forever.”
The first episode of the season, titled “Naked and Afraid: XL,” will air 8-10 p.m. on Sunday, April 25, on the Discovery Channel. The season has 10 episodes, each 2 hours long, with a new one airing each consecutive Sunday. While the contestants are naked, parts of their bodies are carefully censored or blurred.
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For the challenge, Holt was joined by 11 other “Naked and Afraid” legends, survivalists who’ve proved their mettle during past seasons of the show.
“They were all returning cast members who’ve done it three, four, five, six times before,” Holt said. “Seven men and five women. [The show’s creators] wanted it to be legendary across the board. They wanted us to do some legendary things that had never been done before, and I think we accomplished that.”
A veteran, registered Maine guide and Appalachian Trail thru-hiker, Holt runs a hostel and guiding service in the mountains of western Maine. He specializes in wilderness retreats and guided trips for veterans, and he leads multi-day workshops teaching survival and bushcraft skills.
Holt first appeared on “Naked and Afraid” in 2015 for a 21-day, two-contestant challenge in the Florida Everglades (season 4, episode 1, “Alligator Alley”). The next year, he returned to star in a 40-day, 12-contestant challenge in South Africa. And in 2018, he traveled to a barren island in the Bahamas to participate in “Naked and Afraid of Sharks,” a Shark Week special.
In 2020, Holt returned to the South Africa savannah for a solo challenge, “Naked and Afraid: Alone,” for which he was tasked with surviving 21 days on his own.
“When people ask me why I keep returning, I usually quote Joseph Gamble, and he said that it’s not the meaning of life we’re searching for, it’s the experiences of being alive,” Holt said. “When I do challenges like this or step out and push my limits, I’ve never felt more alive. It’s a raw experience of what it means to be human, and that’s completely priceless. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience every single time.”
This latest challenge, Holt and his fellow survivalists work together to survive in the swamps of the Atchafalaya Basin, which is home to 10-foot alligators and North America’s only venomous water snake, the cottonmouth.
Holt can’t reveal whether or not he lasted the entire 60 days or tapped out early, as contestants often do, but he did offer a few details about the upcoming season. First of all, it was buggy — “lots of mosquitoes.” And, since they filmed from the end of October into December, the cooling climate also presented a challenge.
“There was frost on the ground,” he said. “You could see your breath every morning.”
He lost 55 pounds, which is common for many contestants, since finding enough food is always one of the top challenges in the show. And he changed just as much mentally and spiritually, he said. In fact, he’s still adjusting to life back at home.
“I left a world that I was familiar with and entered this very primitive, primal, caveman-like immersive experience,” Holt said. “It felt like years passed. I was gone through Halloween and Thanksgiving. I was gone through major changes in COVID and the election. And we aren’t allowed to know any of that stuff. We’re shut off from it all.”
So, would he do it again?
“Hands down, without a doubt,” he said. “Not even a question or hesitation.”