Late at night, when my wife Ellen is in the bath and I am doing the dishes, I like to indulge my predilection for Very Bad TV, without receiving Ellen's patented "Why aren't we watching that documentary on PBS about the electrical grid?" look of reproof. While I have enjoyed "Ancient Aliens," wild-eyed and even wilder-haired conspiracy theories about the "greys" can pall after a while, and so I have turned to another truly enlightening televisual spectacle, the Discovery Channel's "Naked and Afraid." It's essentially a Survivor knock-off played as a duet: a woman and a man who are perfect strangers are parachuted to a godforsaken spot like the savannah in Tanzania or a desert island in the Maldives without food, water, shelter, or, for some unaccountable reason, clothes, and have to survive without gnawing each other's legs off for 21 days. During this hellish sojourn they only have their wits, a camera crew, a trained medic, and the digital technology to artfully blur their primary and secondary sexual characteristics for protection.
So far so tawdry, you might well say. But having watched bits of three whole episodes, a weirdly edifying pattern seems to emerge in the show's depiction of the central gender dynamic, which goes something like this:
1) The MAN always has a great deal of survivalist and/ or Army experience that he refers to A LOT. He probably also has tattoos and quite a gut for someone supposedly used to subsisting on berries.
2) The WOMAN always says something after their initial meeting to the video diary camera along the lines of "I hope he listens to me..."
3) Day 1: The MAN, after a great deal of swearing, grimacing, and many references to "not having the right equipment out here," will finally start a fire, which is only maintained by the WOMAN"s constantly blowing on its paltry embers.
4) Day 2: Already the lack of protein in the MAN'S diet is beginning to send his mood southward. There is idle talk of cheeseburgers, while the WOMAN constructs a lobster pot/ fishing pole.
5) Day 3: The MAN gets injured. This injury will vary from those that are unpredictable and difficult to avoid, such as a thorn in his bare feet, to the eminently predictable, such as sunburn. The MAN will revert to guarding their makeshift sleeping quarters with his prone and sleeping body, waking only to pronounce himself "out of commission."
6) Days 4- 7ish: During his few waking moments, the MAN critcizes whatever project the WOMAN is undertaking, e.g. collecting medicinal herbs, constructing lobster pots, etc. as "a waste of time."
7) Day 8: The medicinal herbs collected by the WOMAN prevent the MAN's foot from becoming gangrenous.
8) Day 9:The MAN, who has now recovered from his injured foot/ sunburn, still has sufficient energy to turn his nose up at the sea urchin offered by the WOMAN because a) he doesn't fancy it; b) fishing is a waste of time: and c), and I swear I am not making this up, BECAUSE HE IS AFRAID OF THE OCEAN.
9) Day 10: When the woman's lobster pot yields two critters, or she catches her fish with HER BARE HANDS, the MAN'S protein-induced euphoria leads him to grudgingly admit that she "might have been onto something" with that whole fishing idea.
10) Day 10-21: The MAN starts doing as he is told, while claiming that he is just relieved that they are now working together.
11) At the end, the program gives their Primitive Survival Rating, while the voice-over tactfully omits the part where the WOMAN saved the MAN's sunburnt ass.
12) Finally, it is revealed that the MAN has lost 40 pounds; the WOMAN 20.
All in all, a masterpiece that should be essential viewing for any Women's Studies or Anthropology course, because I suspect 'twas ever thus. Now all they need to change is the prurient and sensationalist title. Ellen suggested "PATRIARCHY EXPOSED."