Webster native Dan Link cannot get enough of being naked and afraid.
In 2019, he was a contestant on the Discovery Channel series Naked and Afraid, in which two-person teams are dropped in the middle of inhospitable (to say the least) settings without clothing, food or really anything and challenged to survive by their wits.
Three years ago, Link spent 14 days in Chiapas, Mexico, a wet, cold, forested state on the border of Guatemala, with a hunter from Oregon named Holly. There, the bare pair endured all sorts of indignities, hardships and terrors. Said Link, “I froze my tush off” — but only when he wasn’t dodging venomous snakes, territorial jaguars and blood-sucking bugs.
Last year, he got a call from the cable network to appear on the show again. This time, he and another contestant — a leathersmith from Arizona named Meghann — were deposited in the even less appealing-sounding Chihuahuan Desert along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Temperatures ranged from the low 50s at night to 120 degrees during the day in the drought-plagued region. It was so hot and dry that even the cacti “were wilting away,” said Link, 30.
“The skin on my hands and feet was splitting open and my lips were so chapped and covered in scabs at one point that I thought I might be permanently disfigured,” he said.
So, why would someone put himself through such an ordeal — for a second time — when the show offers no big cash prize (unlike Survivor, its inspiration)?
“A friend of mine had a great quote,” Link said. ‘Adventurers do this (expletive) once, morons do it twice.’ Really, though, this challenge pushes you outside of your comfort zone in ways you can never begin to imagine, and I believe it’s only when you’re pushed outside of that zone that you grow as a person. If you can overcome it all, you learn so much about your own physical and mental abilities.”
Plus, “The feeling of accomplishment when you reach that final day is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before,” he said.
Getting to the final day was a good deal tougher in the desert. During his first go-round on the show, Link had to make it two weeks. This time, he was tested for 21 days and — spoiler alert! — leather smith Meghann “totally left me early … so I had to do 17 of the 21 days alone.”
Not that he is unaccustomed to solo adventures in remote locales. The 2008 Webster Thomas High School graduate is based in Honolulu, Hawaii, but he served two years in the Peace Corps in Nicaragua and works as a field biologist in the uninhabited Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, where he camps for weeks on end to study endangered species.
Of course, he wasn’t totally alone for Naked and Afraid. A camera crew was there filming his every move around the clock. But because of the coronavirus pandemic, they were masked and distanced, and because of the harsh climate, they always wore hats and sunglasses, so that made them feel far away, he said.
“It took weeks to really put names to ‘faces,’ which was a very isolating feeling on top of everything else,” said Link, who attended Monroe Community College and in 2012 earned a bachelor’s degree in marine biology from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.
Link said “an incredible amount of footage” was boiled down to make his 40-minute episode. It’s called “Sand Trapped,” and can be streamed anytime at discoveryplus.com.
“The term ‘reality TV’ might cheapen this experience in some peoples’ minds,” Link said, “but it is all way too ‘real.'”
And it may get real again at a future date.
“I have my eyes on the 40-day Naked and Afraid XL challenge,” he said. “Discovery will have to cast me for that, though.”
Reporter Marcia Greenwood covers general assignments. Email her tips at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @MarciaGreenwood.