From ‘Survivor’ to ‘Naked and Afraid’ — How Did Michael Jefferson Do In the Wild?

Do the survival skills gained from participating in one extreme reality TV show challenge make you more qualified for another one? That’s the question that Michael Jefferson’s participation in Naked and Afraid seemed to be answering. Jefferson had previously participated in Survivor, and fans were curious to see how the skills he learned there would (or would not) make his time on Naked and Afraid easier. Let’s take a closer look at how the adventurous cast member fared. 

Jay Byars, Michael Jefferson, and Greg Smith on 'Survivor'
Jay Byars, Michael Jefferson, and Greg Smith on Survivor | Robert Voets/CBS via Getty Images

Naked and Afraid promises a brutally real experience

Naked and Afraid has a somewhat ludicrous premise that draws fans in with its promise of real challenges without intervention from the show creators. As the name suggests, the participants appear in the nude. Typically, strangers — usually one man and one woman — are dropped in a remote location with only a small bag and a single survival tool. Together, they try to survive for 21 days. Their primary challenges are to find food and shelter and then to determine how to preserve their energy while still meeting their daily goals of survival. 

Unlike many similar shows, Naked and Afraid avoids challenges and specific goals. The whole point is simply to stay alive for the entire time without tapping out due to hunger, injury, or illness. The cameras are rolling, but the film crew does not intervene or interact. The show bills itself as a rawer and more primitive experience than its competitors. 

Michael Jefferson was on Survivor

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Jefferson appeared on Survivor: One World in 2012. At the time, he was 30 years old, and he was one of the physically strongest participants in that season’s show, which was filmed on location in Samoa. He lasted for 22 days on the show before getting voted out. He thought he was part of an alliance but — as often happens on the psychologically twisted show — he was tricked, as reported by International Business Times.

Blindsided by an all-female alliance, Jefferson left the set of Survivor but apparently still had a lust for the wilderness. Naked and Afraid seemed like a sure success for Jefferson since he would only need to last 21 days — one day less than he’d lasted in Survivor. However, the skills weren’t exactly parallel since he would have fewer resources available to him on Naked and Afraid, and his survival would depend a lot less on alliances and social status. 

Michael Jefferson went to Botswana for Naked and Afraid

Two years after his Survivor loss, Jefferson once again set to prove his wilderness skills for the world to see. On Naked and Afraid, he was paired with a 25-year-old bartender named Ashley Burns. Burns and Jefferson were tasked with surviving for three weeks in the Botswana wilderness. The biggest threat to their success seemed to be the heat and the lack of water, according to Channel Guide Magazine. They’d be competing with the wild animals for resources, and each brought their own wilderness experiences with them.

Throughout the show, Jefferson referred to his dead brother’s memory. His brother died in a camping accident at the age of 15 when Jefferson was 16. His survival efforts were done in his brother’s honor. This sense of responsibility to his brother was ultimately part of Jefferson’s decision to depart from the challenge on day 12. While that may sound disappointing, his partner tapped out on day 2, requiring a medevac due to dehydration and digestive issues. 

Jefferson was disappointed that he couldn’t complete the challenge, but the night before he decided to leave, he dreamed about his brother. He considered the dream a sign that his brother gave him permission to call it quits. Suffering from dehydration and feeling pain in his kidneys, Jefferson departed the show 20 pounds lighter and got fluids to help him recover.