Last year, I interviewed Kristi Russell, president of Metal Flowers Media. She revealed a lot about the Naked and Afraid casting process. Metal Flowers casts participants for a variety of reality series, but its largest, and most difficult client is Naked and Afraid. Kristi and her team scour the country for elite survivalists willing to participate in one of reality television’s most grueling experiences. And since I posted Kristi’s first interview, I’ve been wanting to do a follow-up interview to learn about: 1) Naked and Afraid XL; 2) Naked and Afraid, Show Us Your Stuff; 3) What’s coming up in Season 5 (and 6!); 4) How to get on Naked and Afraid: the things you need to know.
Here is my interview in full, with Kristi Russell…
Channel Guide: Channel Guide, this is Kellie.
Kristi Russell: Hey, Kellie, it’s Kristi Russell calling.
CG: Good morning, Kristi! Thank you so much for giving me a call and agreeing to another interview.
KR: It’s my pleasure.
CG: As I mentioned in my email, I wanted to follow up with you because people are just so hungry to learn how they can get on the show. They are just dying to get on.
KR: Great! Send them my way.
CG: Is that how people can still apply, is through the Metal Flowers website?
KR: Yes. Everything’s running the same. There’s an email address, and a website, and a Facebook page. Any of the three will get them to the right person.
CG: Great. Have you seen the numbers of people applying to be on Naked and Afraid increase a lot?
KR: Every season the number of people applying increases. Unfortunately, the number of people who actually are qualified enough to get on the show remains the same, and that is a scant number of submissions.
CG: Are there skills that you would say, that people who want to be on the show should really brush up upon?
KR: Yeah, really fire, water, and shelter. If you can come to us and prove that you can start fire in more than one way, that you have a really deep and wide knowledge of shelter building, and if you can name three or four ways to get water, and you can prove it. When you come to finals, you can actually show us that you have the skill set, you’ve got a huge leg up on everyone else.
CG: The last time we spoke you said you guys were looking for the best of the best. What kind of experiences are you looking for in people to make viable candidates?
KR: As we continue to look for these really elite survivalists, the pool grows smaller and smaller, as you can imagine. While we’ve tapped every wilderness school, and every ex military survival group, and all the areas of survival that we can find, we are now also looking for people who have really interesting survival stories. For instance, “I was in a boat that capsized off the coast of North Carolina, and I was out there for forty days on my own, and I managed to survive.” While this person might not have the traditional survival skills of fire-making and shelter, they clearly have the mental fortitude to survive in the most harrowing of circumstances. So we have expanded our search to interesting — almost news story — people who have really compelling survival stories.
CG: Kristi, I just want to clarify. That wasn’t your personal experience, that you survived for forty days… ?
KR: No, but an actual person did and we’re looking for people with incredible stories of survival.
CG: Oh wow. What a fascinating story. So you’re looking for someone like Rulon Gardner, the Olympic wrestler who survived a snowmobile accident and a plane crash, and other crazy stuff … I love stories of survival, so what a great way to reintroduce that person to a survival setting and get to really know the mind of a survivor.
KR: That’s exactly right; those are the kind of incredible people we’re looking for in Season 5.
Show Us What You’ve Got
CG: You’ve got two awesome things that are going on, that are really casting specific. First you have got the Show Us What You’ve Got with Kristin and Paolo who were chosen after a nationwide search. Tell me a little bit about that program, and how you guys decided to do that as not only a web series, but actually then bleeding over onto a TV episode.
KR: As you know by now, we get so many submissions off people who desperately want to be on the show, but unfortunately, they just don’t have the chops — the survival chops — to make it out there and survive. To get out of the show alive. Discovery came up with this great idea of, “Let’s find two people who really want to be on the show. Let’s give them some survival training and have them show us what they’ve got,” and that’s what we did. We did a nationwide search for two individuals who wanted to be on the show, but didn’t have the survival skills to be on regular, twenty-one day, Naked and Afraid. We put the posting up all over social media. We had fans across the country vote. We had hundreds of thousands of votes come in, and Kristin and Paolo were the clear winners.
CG: How much training did they received?
KR: We gave them each the amount of training that they would need so that they would be able to survive out there, so fire, shelter and water. Those are the three basic survival tools that you need to have to have a chance, and that’s what we really focused on. Then, as we were training them individually, we also helped them with a little bit of light plant identification, a little bit of light trapping, and just some other ancillary skills to help give them a leg up.
CG: Who are the people that are training them.
KR: We have survival experts from across the country who we’ve been in close contact with since day one of the show. Some of these people have been on the show, some of them have not been, some of them will be, and they are the ones who did the training.
CG: Are some of these people, the people who decide the PSRs of the participants?
CG: Okay. These are people who have intimate knowledge of Naked and Afraid and what it takes to be successful. These are the best of the best, basically?
KR: Yes. That’s exactly right. Quote yourself, because you are way more articulate than I am this morning.
CG: Well, not only am I fan of the show, but I do write about the show. I’m at an advantage… Will Paolo and Kristin have their own twenty-one day immersion experience?
KR: I think that it was a little bit less than twenty-one days. I think it’s fourteen days. And is scheduled to air sometime in July. But this is television, so it could change.
CG: From meeting them in the web series, I feel like I already know them, so hopefully their episode will get right into the exposition. Do you think this is something you might be casting for again?
KR: We’re really hoping so. The audience demanded it, and we are hoping that they respond really favorably to it, and then we can do it again. It was a really fun experience for everyone, so the two participants, for all of the participants who applied, and for the audience to watch and to vote, and for us.
Naked and Afraid XL
CG: At the end of season 1 or Season 2, the show had two couples who met up. I don’t know if that was planned — that they were organically supposed to meet up in the wild —was that a test for Naked and Afraid XL?
KR: It was not a test for Naked and Afraid XL, but it did get the conversation starting.
CG: In the promos for Naked and Afraid XL, I was like, “Gosh, they really are catching a lot of food!” but then I thought, “There are a lot more people.”
KR: A lot more people, a lot more hungry bellies.
CG: All of a sudden, a fish is not such a high-five moment. Before, a frog was like, “Yes, dinner!” Now it’s like … it’s like an Amuse-bouche.
CG: How did XL become a show with the twists being a larger cast and a longer time frame?
KR: We talked about the nuances that define the relationship between these two people on Naked and Afraid. The conversation grew as we were talking about next steps in the show, and how to keep it fresh. The conversation, I hate to use this word, “organically” morphed into what happens if a group of people is out there? Two people; if you don’t like the other person and want to be alone, you just walk away and you’re alone. You don’t have to deal with them. What if it’s a group of people, and you can’t get away with any of them? What if you’re out there for longer? How does that define the group dynamic? That’s where the conversation led, and the next thing you know, we were talking about the best of the best, and if they all survived, and if they all proved that they have the skill set, and they’re all top tier survivalists, how does that then affect the group dynamic?
The group that we have for Naked and Afraid XL, was born out of who are the best, who loved being out there, and who wants to do it again, because a lot of people have no interest in ever doing it again.
CG: Was it hard then for you to get people to say yes? I can assume there was a certain number of people who were pounding on your door, saying, “Kristi, I want to do it again.”
KR: We’ve been at it for so long now — two people per episode, four seasons times however many episodes — we have a lot of people to pick from. Yes, there were some people who were dying to be back on the show, this is their element, that if they could live their lives this way they probably would. We did have some people who were vehemently opposed to it, and do not ever want to do the show again.
CG: Did you decide to make the experience longer just to add another layer to the challenge?
KR: Yep. That’s exactly right.
CG: Okay. One of the things that I’m really curious to see in XL is how survival items will shake down … are there a dozen survival implements? Are their twelve machetes rolling around, or then do people become strategic in what they pick?
KR: I’m going to let that be a surprise … You’ll need to see the show, but we were very specific about how that process worked.
CG: I’m always so curious about what people are going to bring, and one of the things this year, it seems like a fire-starter seems to be a given by the show now. Do people come with a strong idea when they’re applying like, “Here’s what I would bring,” or do they have multiple ideas? Is that part of the casting process?
KR: It is part of the casting process. Once we know that someone is a finalist, they work with production and they are allowed to bring their one item. Most of these people have watched the show already, and they are very aware how important fire is, and they’ve watched some pretty desperate situations where they have been trying to get fire, and haven’t been able to; so a lot of candidates do request a fire-starter as their item. If both candidates come to the table with a fire-starter, we will tell one of them no. We don’t want both of them showing up with the same item. Other than that, we don’t influence their decision.
CG: Are people encouraged to be out of the box, because obviously ones that I have really loved was Joshua who brought the blue duct tape, and Darrin (the rat-catching pro) with his climbing rope. Both were really inspired and genius ideas that were at first glance, you’re like, “Whaaa?!?” Then you’re like, “Wow. That was smart.”
KR: Yes. We really do encourage that, and we want to see more of that. The candidates are at first very excited about all these crazy ways they can take their survival item. However, when it comes down to it, they say, “I want my fire-starter.” They want to be 100% sure that their item is all about practicality and less about show.
CG: Do participants know where they’re going beforehand?
KR: Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. It depends on the location. If the location has very specific survival requirements, we will give them a very short amount of notice so that they have time to adequately do some research and give themselves the best chance for survival. And sometimes with advance notice of where they’re going, they therefore can tailor their item accordingly.
CG: So some participants are getting on airplanes with no clue where they are going?
KR: Correct. By the time they get on the plane, they know where they’re going, but they may have just found out within moments before.
CG: Are mindful of where people are going based on their strengths?
KR: The short answer is yes. The longer answer is … There are so many variables when it comes to pairing. Obviously we want a great mix. We want two candidates who for whatever reason are going to have a great dynamic on the show; whether it’s that they get along famously, and this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship for the rest of their life, or there’s no way these two people are going to get along. Or one of them is such a strong survivalist and knows it, and is paired with another one who is a very weak survivalist, and has no clue that they’re a weak survivalist. Yes, we definitely want the chemistry, the dynamic, the personality …
Then we also have to work with scheduling, we have to work with the network schedule, we have to work with the locations. If somebody is a very, very experienced jungle survivalist, we don’t want to put them in an ocean situation. We do want to pair them accordingly to give them the best chance to survive. It doesn’t always work for us. Either they’re not available, or some other variable falls out of place …
CG: I understand. There have to be a lot of cosmic tumblers that click into place in order to produce the show.
KR: Yes. Cosmic is the word — I’m borrowing that.
CG: You’ve talked about personalities and wanting to make something that’s interesting, but that’s also plausible. You want the people … You’re setting them up for the best chances of success, so there are so many variables that you and your team have to click off in order to make a successful casting. In Naked and Afraid XL, were there moments when you guys were all high fiving yourself, saying, “Yes! We’ve got that excitement. We’ve got our voice of reason. We’ve got our …”
KR: If you look at our group of twelve, there’s really someone who represents all of the best moments of the show thus far. We created a big pool that we wanted to pull the first Naked and Afraid XL candidates from, and the stars were aligned, and the twelve that we wanted were the twelve that we got. We still have a remaining pool, and we’re hoping to do this again. Really you can take any one of these candidates and put them with any of the other candidates in the pool, and it would be an amazing show, because these are just really strong personalities, with really impressive skill sets.
CG: So you’re saying that if a fan was disappointed that their favorite past participant wasn’t selected for Naked and Afraid XL, there’s the possibility that they might be in a future XL season?
KR: Yes. That is correct; the ratings will definitely dictate whether or not we do this again.
CG: You’re shooting Season 5 right now; what locations you really excited about?
KR: We have found some really interesting locations close to home, and people are going to be shocked when they realize that some of these places exist within our own national boundaries.
CG: Really? I loved the two locations that have been domestic so far. The Louisiana and the Everglades. I look at the Everglades in a completely new way now.
KR: Yes, me too!
CG: Have you guys ever considered doing some cooler weather locations? I guess when you’re naked it’s a big challenge, but a colder place like the Pacific Northwest?
KR: We have indeed considered those colder locations. We have some challenges working against us, but those challenges may be overcome in time for Season five, but if not, we’re really hoping for Season six.
CG: I think Manu might have been really the only international person that’s been on the show. Will we see any more international survivalists? Is that an untapped pool? Maybe some of the survivalists from other branches of the military worldwide?
KR: We are … Where are you getting your questions …?
CG: Am I in your head right now?
KR: Yes! You will be seeing some more international contestants … or participants.
CG: My number one question that people ask me is, “Do people get paid?” That’s what everyone wants to know? They’re like, “What’s the prize?”
KR: There is no prize.
CG: But I’m assuming people will get some kind of stipend just so that they are not going broke…
KR: Yes. We’re taking them away from their job and we realize that, and so we give them a weekly stipend to compensate for their lost wages, but no, there is no prize.
CG: The prize is to hop on the helicopter and lord over the land that you’ve just survived in for over 21 days.
KR: (Laughing) Exactly!
CG: I have to say, If I was ever on Naked and Afraid, I would want a helicopter ride. If I’d just survived somewhere terrible for 21 days, I’d be pretty mad if I had to ride out of there on a chicken truck.
KR: (Laughing) We’d make sure that you got a helicopter.
CG: How can people apply for other shows that you’re currently casting?
Yeah. All of our listed shows that we’re currently casting are on the website. We always welcome submissions for any shows or just generally. As you and I have talked about before, our company is very people centered. We speak to everyone who sends us a submission, so they will be contacted.
CG: I know that you’re almost done casting for Season 5, but can people start applying for season six? And if you’ve got those very special skills, or if you know someone with very special skills, get them on the Metal Flowers Media website — and practice fire-starting.
KR: We are constantly monitoring submissions, regardless of whether or not we are actively casting, because we know when the next season comes around the challenge starts all over again, so yeah, we accept submissions at any time.
CG: Awesome! Kristi, I should let you get back to casting your shows; thank you so much for your time. I hope that you have a flood of people who are so-qualified-it’s-not-fair-to-nature, but in the meantime, best of luck with the current and upcoming seasons of Naked and Afraid and all of your casting projects.
KR: Thanks so much! It was great to chat with you again. Have a good day.
CG: Thanks, Bye!
So there you have it folks, Make fire like you’ve never made fire before. The tutorial that Kristin receives as part of her prep for Show Us What You’ve Got is pretty impressive, so you should basically bookmark this page and wast this every night. And use different woods, some of them wet/humid/live.
Also think of a few off-the-wall things that you’d bring on your Naked and Afraid experience, but also consider a fire starter, because you can’t cook your imaginary boar or whatever you think you’ve going to catch, without a fire. And become a water diviner. Learn how to purify it, find it, desalinize it, dig it. And also, develop a taste for worms and grubs, because in all likelihood, that’s what you’re going to be eating for three weeks. (And for my sake, cook them, it’s so gross when people eat them raw.)