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Naked and Afraid of Love Is a Clever Name For a Show (and Little Else)

Mashing up the nude survival drama with a dating show does both a disservice.
  • Bennett Murphy and Britt Whitmire in Naked and Afraid of Love. (Photo: Discovery+)
    Bennett Murphy and Britt Whitmire in Naked and Afraid of Love. (Photo: Discovery+)

    Much like its stripped-down singles, Naked and Afraid of Love is unable to hide its true self. A spinoff of the popular survival franchise Naked and Afraid, the new Discovery+ series asks eight men and eight women to bare all as they attempt to find lasting love on a remote island in the Philippines. With no food, water or clothes readily available, the contestants are rendered physically and emotionally vulnerable, a state that the show would have us believe will lead to deeper emotional connections.

    It’s an interesting social experiment, to be sure — what happens when our modern comforts are stripped away and we’re forced to rely on our most primal instincts — but Naked and Afraid of Love doesn’t quite make it beyond its premise. Rather than honor its “man versus nature” roots or go full Bachelor in Paradise, the new series tries to straddle the line between a survival show and a dating show, rendering it unsuccessful on both fronts. A show titled Naked and Afraid of Love promises three distinct things, but here, while we have an overabundance of nudity, there's not nearly enough fear or romance.

    From the outset, Naked and Afraid of Love is clear that its contestants aren’t getting the full Naked and Afraid treatment. After tossing their clothes in the Filipino wilderness — don’t worry: even though the show airs on streaming, rather than basic cable, private parts are still blurred — the singles meet up with their assigned partner and attempt to surreptitiously check each other out (one guy gets a hard-on when he meets his partner, because of course he does). From there, they go through their survival packs, which are considerably more useful than those of their franchise counterparts. Each “tribe” receives two blades, two survival tools of their choice, a pot, a fire-starter, and a “how-to survival guide” featuring maps of the island, raft-building instructions, and other tips and tricks. The guide, with its cartoonish drawings and “Outdoor Adventuring for Dummies” vibe, serves as a laughable indication that the producers are happy to baby their contestants in hopes that they'll bring the drama on the romantic front. And yet...

    Even more of a red flag for fans of the original Naked and Afraid? Each contestant is allowed to bring one personal item, a rule that seems nice, in theory — maybe a contestant will open up about a family photo, or two people will bond over a piece of jewelry — but quickly reveals itself to be wholly ridiculous. 33-year-old surf instructor David, for example, is stuck lugging his surfboard around the island, while house-flipper Ben walks around with a guitar strapped to his naked back. Nothing says “survival of the fittest” quite like a man peacefully strumming his guitar while sitting in a shelter premade by Discovery producers.

    Naked and Afraid of Love’s soft-handed approach could be forgiven if there were any sort of romantic sparks between the contestants. With the exception of two couples — one that hits it off immediately, and one that does not — the show’s initial pairings are oddly devoid of emotion, positive or negative. It’s as if producers matched everyone up randomly, with little regard for contestants’ relationship goals, expectations, or even on-air romantic drama. As a result, the premiere is basically a supercut of naked people making small talk while half-building fires, and at 90 minutes, it’s about 85 minutes too long.

    There are some slivers of hope for Naked and Afraid of Love. The show boasts a remarkably diverse cast, and one contestant, Nelson, is sexually fluid. I don’t see this series going the full Are You The One? route (the MTV show featured 16 pansexual contestants on its eigth season), but a bit of queer representation is never a bad thing.

    As for the contestants’ nonexistent chemistry, the premiere’s final moments indicate that some partner-swapping is on the horizon, which is likely to lead to love triangle drama (always the best kind of drama). The second round of pairings remain only skin-deep, but they seem marginally better than the first, so it’s possible that the show will up its romantic mojo as the season continues. Still, in refusing to commit to the survival or dating show genre, Naked and Afraid of Love has created an obstacle that may prove too difficult for these naked singles to overcome.

    Naked and Afraid of Love premieres Sunday, August 22 on Discovery+.

    Claire Spellberg Lustig is the Senior Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.

    TOPICS: Naked and Afraid of Love, Discovery+, Naked and Afraid