Tonight marked the premiere episode of Discovery’s new survival series Tethered (Sundays at 10pm ET/PT), which follows two strangers — who are complete polar opposites — vying to get to an extraction point while bound together by a 6 foot tether. In our recap of Tethered episode 1, titled “My Way or the Highway,” we meet (and later talk to) Keith and Willow, both delightfully entertaining men who end up learning a lot about themselves in their grueling journey.
Occupation: Navy vet who served 8 tours in Iraq
Starting attitude: Hardheaded, biased, no warm and fuzzy, intelligent
Keith’s Advice for future tetherees: “Tie yourself to somebody and see how well you can do it. We were tied together for a long period of time, that’s 24 hours a day, everyday, and every way and every aspect of life. If you had to go to the bathroom, you went to the bathroom with Willow right next to you or me right next to Willow.
Resides: Morrow Bay, Calif.
Occupation: A man of many trades who lives on a sailboat, he’s a server, world traveler, reverend and practices yoga and meditation
Starting Attitude/ character read: Happy go-lucky, spiritual, semi-clueless, could have forgone the eyeliner
Willow’s advice for future tetherees: “Try to practice with a partner for 24 hours and see how incredibly difficult it is and learn some of the challenges. I think one of the hardest parts is not being able to split up to cover tasks efficiently, so instead of two people you’re basically a half a person because you have to stay exactly 6 feet from the person. If Keith gets tired and he’s sitting down I can kind of work but I can’t work as good, and if I get tired and bitchy or get heatstroke he can only do so much to help me and continue our efforts with shelters and fires. Definitely very challenging.”
Here’s a quick Recap of Episode 1
Keith’s first to arrive on the Pacific island of Panama where he informs viewers that he has no interest in making this venture with any type of “ass slacker.” Enter Willow, a scrawny, tattooed free-spirit, adorned in a hot pink sleeveless tee and dark black eyeliner. He’s proves to be exactly what Keith needs. For Keith, respect needs to be earned and he’s judging Willow completely by the cover, which means Willow’s opinion means very little in their initial meet and greet. They lock themselves together with the 6 foot tether and they are off.
The two are given a map to their extraction point – they need to cross dense jungles, rigged terrains and knee-deep swamps, it’s about a 47 mile trek and they’ve got less than 12 days to do it. Their first task – pick three items from the survival supply crate. Willow wants the shiny big, sharp new knife. Keith wants the machete. There’s no compromise. Keith’s taking the machete and he doesn’t give a shit what Willow thinks. It’s that simple. [Willow later tells us, Keith made the better choices there and at that point in was more a battle of egos.] The two agree that flint and a pot to cook food and boil water are good second and third choices.
They set off with supplies in hand but must first swim one mile — tethered together. They make it, but are exhausted. It’s time to reflect. Willow hugs and kisses a tree, giving thanks for its existence. Keith’s not amused, and tells the tree, “I hope you gave him a disease.” The tree ignores his comment. The duo trek six miles before calling it a night. They are unable to build a shelter, start a fire, find food or find drinkable water. Not looking good. They’re annoyed. Enter nightfall and the bugs — they are both literally eaten alive.
With no sleep, no food and no water, and hundreds of bug bites, they’re both on edge (but who wouldn’t be). Willow’s whining on feeling ready to collapse. Keith’s crabbing about Willow and tells cameras in a not-at-all-private testimonial (Remember, there is only 6 feet between them. He can hear you!) to imagine being “married to the worst woman you could ever think of,” apparently that’s what Keith’s going through. Later, when it’s Willow’s turn to vent in a testimonial, Keith is in the background clucking his hand in a talking mouth-like gesture, as a husband would do behind his gossiping wife’s back – hilarious. But relief is in store, coconuts are found and Willow now realizes the value of that machete. They also discover crabs and aggressively collect several and prepare a fine stew. Willow has a mini meltdown as he feels he’s not able to make any of his own choices, “I feel like a prisoner.” Accurate perception, as at this point, he kind of is. Keith’s definitely got the upper hand.
The two engage in an all-out tug of war. Willow wants to go in the water to swim. Keith doesn’t, he wants to finish their shelter. Willow doesn’t care what Keith wants and proceeds to try and drag Keith to the water. Bad move dude, Keith’s nearly double your size. In an awkward back-and-forth yanking, Keith eventually pushes Willow into the sand and the two wrestle it out (just think of all that wasted energy). Now they are both dirty and need to get into the water to clean off. Keith apologizes for being a jackass. They build a raised shelter. They eat some termites. They try to fume out the bugs and Keith ends up getting a little sleep (he’s snoring). Willow doesn’t sleep at all.
They both agree that nothing can prepare you to be tied to another man.
Quitting is not an option, but it’s been four days now without food. Tensions are high and it’s quite possible someone will smash their partner’s head against a rock and just end it now. Keith dares Willow to do it. He doesn’t. Instead Willow kicks into bad-ass mode, in a good way, and decides to take on a boa constrictor. The Mr. I’m Not Afraid of Nature Because I Love It Willow wrangles the snake and machetes its head off. You go boy! He lets out a celebratory yodel/Tarzan-like cry of sort, and Keith starts to realize that Willow might not be that bad of a partner. “Today he stepped up and took care of me,” Keith tells cameras. The two enjoy a delicious meal of snake on a barbie.
A major storm rolls in and Keith nears his breaking point. It’s the worst he’s ever been, he says he wants out and just wants to go home. He looks like a leper with all of the bites on his body. It’s 90 degrees with 96% humidity. As if things couldn’t get any worse, Willow’s got to take a shit and we get to watch. It’s almost like the smell comes through the TV. Keith’s dry heaving over the wretched stench [see Willow’s explanation of the moment below].
The sun comes up and with it brings a new day and new attitudes. The duo has just 7 miles to get to their extraction point. To make it the extraction point they need to jump off a cliff, where water swells below could crush them against jagged rocks. In what appeared like only a two-minute conversation to discuss the logistics of the jump, they decide to do it and it works. They make it.
POST EPISODE INTERVIEW
Here’s what Keith and Willow had to share on the adventure:
>What did you learn about yourself after doing this venture?
Keith: “The biggest thing for me, is that I had let my spirituality go away and Willow’s a very spiritual person and he helped me find that and I never, at least when I first met him, thought that that would have been that big of a change in me. I knew some survival skills and I know how to swim and I know how to live in the wilderness, Willow is a great guy and he freakin’ helped me find my spirituality again, so that was the biggest change for me.”
Willow: “The biggest change for me is realizing that I’m not quite as patient and spiritual as I thought I was when faced with extreme challenges and circumstances. I blew up. I Iost my temper a lot. I was crying. I was complaining. I had no idea it would be that hard and that much of a challenge. Toward the end of the adventure I started to settle in and adapt a little bit more to the environment and feel a little bit more comfortable. The last two days or so were a real great spiritual transformation for me. Knowing that I did something that was the hardest thing in life for me to ever do.”
>What made you two an effective team?
Keith: “We were polar opposites. We were completely different people and to survive in any survival situation you need two different sets of skills or other sets of skills not of your own. Having someone not of the same mindset of me helped us out greatly because he would have different ideas than I would have had and we were able to make those ideas work between the two of us.”
Willow: “I think a sense of humor right away. This was the kind of guy who had a sense of humor about life and that’s really, really important — in dire situations you’ve got to keep your attitude up. Learning about Keith and his family and his love and respect for the United States and pretty much taking care of the country and a lot of stuff, gave me deep respect for the responsibilities people have. I’m kind of a free spirit. I kind of run away from responsibility every chance I get so it was great to see that two people from opposites can get along. When you get down to it and you respect each other there are a lot of things you can do. There are a lot of opposites in the world so hopefully we can all learn to get a little bit better together.”
>In the end you had to jump off a cliff into some amazingly dangerous looking waters, yet you were tethered together, which takes a lot of trust. Did you have any conversations on whether or not you were strong enough swimmers at that point?
Keith: “When we jumped off that cliff, we couldn’t go any further. That was our only option to get off where we were, to advance in our travels. We sat on a rock and talked about it, ‘what happens if we get the tether tied between our legs? One of us gets smacked in the face and knocked out? What are we going to do? Where are we going to go? How are we going to take this? We probably talked for maybe a half hour/hour about it — just all the ins and outs of it. How the waves were coming in. Where the rocks were. When we would jump, how we would time it — we talked quite a bit about that. One of the biggest things — we were seeing huge fish swim around down there and being where we were in Panama there were sharks everywhere so who knows what was underneath us.”
Willow: “The safety guys definitely took as much precaution as they could but they also put us to the closest point of danger that they possibly could, so there’s definitely real-life danger in there and the tether getting caught underneath a rock or something and pulling you under. The swell coming in, if you don’t time it right, and smashing you into the rocks. Not being able to swim if one of us gets a cramp or the other person goes down. I’m sure they’re [production crew] not going to let you die but there’s the chance of extreme danger and the swimming probably was one of the most dangerous situations. It started out like that, right away, the first day we had to swim over a mile of shark invested water together. I was definitely concerned with Keith and myself hoping we could make it. Because if either of us don’t make it, we both fail.”
>One of the more cringe-worthy moments of the episode was the realization of the tethering situation — when it comes time for bathroom breaks in the wild.
Willow: “When you got to go, you got to go, right? Oh God, the part when I did that by the camp, that was some smell, man. I could kill a horse with that smell and I did almost kill some of the camera team. They were dry heaving and stuff. It was kind of funny from my point. The first time I could actually torture them a little for all the torture they gave us. We were only eating insects and a little bit of fish and coconuts, so you’re going to get the runs. It’s not going to smell good. I was just glad we didn’t get any bad intestinal parasite like some of the Naked and Afraid people do and they are just sick the whole time.”
What was the best part of doing this?
Keith: “Everybody will want to say being released from the tether or being released from your partner, but I think the best part of the journey, out of everything we did, was I made a friend. I made a friend that will be a lifetime friend and even though we’re both completely different people and have completely different lifestyles, Willow’s going to be one of my good friends for the rest of my life. To me that was the best part of the whole journey. You can say the water spout was outstanding, the jumps, the swims, the whole experience, but I made a lifelong friend and I never would have had the chance to make.”
Willow: “That’s a big part of me too, just to know that we did challenge ourselves and come from completely different viewpoints in life and we actually overcame it and stuck together even though there was a bunch of situations that could have completely changed everything and we would have failed.
“For me, the most exciting part was the night before we got extracted and we didn’t have time to get a shelter and we had to make a quick, big bomb fire and the rain came on us and we had to cover the fire. We huddled against the trees and there was lightning shooting all around us, and waves crashing on either side of us, and we’re sitting there looking at each other saying this is the last @#$%ing night (oh sorry) and it was just a spiritual experience. When that rain stopped just a little bit and we sat up together and looked at the stars and we were in this place and we had completed a journey that no one else in the world, at that point, had done and we did something. I felt terrific inside and I felt terrific being from such vastly different backgrounds that we were able to come together even though we had our differences. To do this I felt amazing. That was one of the best experiences of my life.”
What’s the first thing you did and ate when you got back home?
Keith: “The first thing I did was hug and kiss my family, they are a big part of my life. That’s one of the biggest things that got me through the whole experience was being able to think about them. The second thing was Benadryl. I had so many bug bites, Benadryl was my friend, I wore that for weeks afterwards. The first thing I ate, believe it or not, was about a handful of nachos.”
Willow: “When I got back to Denver my sister was there to greet me and my brother in law and stuff, my brother was there. I did this whole thing for part of my family, the people who couldn’t do things. … I ate a big hamburger with french fries and a bunch of ice cream and I smoked a big fat legal weed joint in Colorado here. And I had the best sleep of my life, because I probably didn’t sleep for more than 15 minutes in 10 days and that was probably the hardest part for me.”
>Tethered airs on Discovery Sundays 10pm ET/PT.