The Naked Truth: Calgary model says experiences on reality show Naked and Afraid were real and intense

‘I’ve been asked, ‘Is the show actually real?’ I can promise you that I have bug-bite scars to prove it’

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In an upcoming episode of American reality-TV series Naked and Afraid, there is a sequence where competitors “process” a Colombian armadillo.

Judging by the photo sent by the folks at Discovery Channel of the incident, “processing” means gutting it for food. The photo shows Calgarian Elise Featherstone with Ky Furneaux, a Naked and Afraid veteran from Los Angeles. As per the premise of the show, both are certainly naked. Furneaux is doing the actual “processing,” while Featherstone watches. Her expression is hard to read. She looks a little dazed. Understandably so. The model, airline project manager and former Calgary Sun Sunshine Girl has spent most of her life as a vegetarian. According to her bio for the series, she was taught “to love animals instead of hurting them.” So, it’s safe to say this wasn’t her favourite part of the experience.

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“I knew going in that hunting and the food part might be one of my biggest challenges on the episode,” says Featherstone, in an interview with Postmedia. “I was trying to have a very open mind. I’m trying to avoid cute armadillo videos now. It’s definitely an emotional experience and I think you’ll probably see a little bit of that in the episode itself.”

Featherstone doesn’t know for sure what we will see. At the time of this interview, she had yet to view her episode of Naked and Afraid. It airs on Sunday, March 3 and Featherstone is planning on watching it for the first time with her eight-year-old son, Kai, and husband Devin.

The 17th season of the series debuted earlier this month and producers have promised that “man-eating crocodiles, aggressive hippos and toxic frogs” await a new group of unclad survivalists. Featherstone’s episode is described as an all-female tribe’s challenge, which had two veterans from the show return to mentor two newcomers during a harrowing 21 days in San Jose Del Guaviare, Colombia, without easy access to food, water, shelter or clothing. The two teams, which meet up in the middle of the episodes, face scarce food resources, torrential tropical storms and, of course, their nakedness.

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NAked and Afraid
Elise Featherstone and Gabby Balassone in Naked and Afraid. Courtesy, Discovery Channel. cal

Featherstone shot the episode last summer during Colombia’s rainy season. Under the commandments of reality-TV, she cannot reveal details about what happens or how she fared before the episode airs. But she will say to any reality-TV doubters that the experience was legitimately intense.

“It was probably one of the biggest mental and physical challenges that I have ever exposed myself to,” she says. “I’m not one to back away from adventure and crazy opportunities, but this was a whole new world. Most people are afraid to stand in front of a group of people in a bathing suit, never mind a group of strangers who you’ve never met and you are taking off absolutely everything. I’ve been asked, ‘Is the show actually real?’ I can promise you that I have bug-bite scars to prove it. I was not shuttled off to a hotel while I was there. It’s as real as you can think a reality-TV show could be. It was incredible in a fascinating way, to explore what your body is capable of.”

Featherstone says the whole experience from the time she applied to when she landed in Colombia was a bit of a whirlwind. She didn’t have much time to prepare, other than to practise walking around in bare feet and adding chicken and fish to her diet. But she was in good shape. Featherstone used to teach yoga and pilates and is an avid mountain biker and horseback rider.

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“I sent in an application to potentially go on the show and the next thing you know I was taking off my clothes in Colombia in front of a group of people filming me,” she says.

It was a bit more complicated than that. Initially, Featherstone applied on behalf of her husband. Devin Featherstone is a firefighter and marathon runner. In 2021, he made headlines in his attempt to beat a Guinness World Record by running the Calgary Marathon wearing 30 to 50 pounds of full firefighter gear.

“I thought ‘He’d be a great candidate for this,’ ” says Featherstone. “Then, as I hit submit, I thought ‘If he can do it, so can I.’ Part of me really wanted to do it to show my son that you don’t have to be a man to do scary, adventurous things. You can also be a super-cool mom who goes out into the world and tries to tackle a completely different environment.”

While she was born and raised in Calgary, Featherstone would often visit her grandparents’ farm near Bragg Creek as a child. Her father was a passionate outdoorsman who would take his daughter camping, hiking and exploring in the forest. Her mother was the complete opposite, where “staying in a five-star hotel” was her idea of camping. But she inspired Featherstone to love travel and ingrained the importance of being self-sufficient and independent. Featherstone is signed with Mode Models International. She is also an avid traveller, adding that her son had been in seven countries by the time he was two.

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“It’s this really fine balance between my dad, who was into crazy wilderness and the outdoors, and my mom, who was a little bit more refined,” she says. As her bio suggests, Featherstone “lives by the fact that you can have your nails done and still get them dirty at the same time.”

As for the naked part of the equation, it was initially a bit of an adjustment for Featherstone but not for long.

“At first, you’re like ‘Oh my gosh, what is happening? What am I doing?’ ” she says. “And then, I’m not even kidding, 10 minutes into it you’re like ‘well, here we are’ and you completely forget about it. At that point, survival mode kicks in and you recognize that, at the end of the day, your body is your body and it’s your tool and that is what really matters. I’ve had people ask how comfortable my family was with me being on the show, including my husband. You’re naked, which is automatically assumed to be completely sexualized. But it’s in the least sexual environment you could ever think of. There was a sense of empowerment as well about my physical capabilities and what the body is capable of.”

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“I’m not a spring chicken,” she adds. “I’m 38 now, I was 37 when I filmed. There is so much pressure on us to live up to these unrealistic standards. This was really a good opportunity for me (to say) no, I’m not going to abide by those standards. I have cellulite and stretch marks and now I have cuts and scrapes all over my feet but I think it was a great opportunity for me to break some of those barriers, whether it’s just for myself or for someone else who might be watching it and start to recognize that a woman’s body isn’t just for somebody’s viewing pleasure, it’s actually so much stronger than that.”

Elise Featherstone’s episode of Naked and Afraid airs Sunday, March 3 on Discovery and is available on CTV.ca and the CTV app.

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