As the XL version of the long-running reality show returns for another season, participant Matt Wright shares the experience with PEOPLE

By Steve Helling
April 21, 2017 06:28 PM
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Naked and Afraid XL premieres on Sunday night, meaning that nine new survivalists will be dropped off in Ecuador’s treacherous Amazon basin, 100 miles from the closest city. For 40 days, the participants will struggle to find food, water and shelter in one of the most grueling and unforgiving environments on earth. (They’re initially split up into three groups, but they’ll soon merge together.)

Only a select few people truly understand the hardships of doing the show, so we’ve asked veteran Naked and Afraid participant Matt Wright to share his experiences this season. Here are his recollections of the beginning of his adventure.

The first day of Naked and Afraid is just like that nightmare where you show up to work and realize you forgot to wear any clothes. As I entered the jungle, I was like, ‘Here we go again.’ The realization that I now have to strip down butt-ass naked in front of two other dudes that I just met is hilariously awkward. It just feels wrong and out of place.

(I felt like I should have had a step up on doing the show with another naked guy after filming a shortened version with PEOPLE’s Steve Helling in Belize last year. But nope, it’s still weird to make new friends while naked.)

RELATED VIDEO: Watch a PEOPLE Staffer Survive Naked and Afraid

So here the three of us are naked — and we fiercely and awkwardly avoided eye contact while leaving our clothes behind.

But the strange nude awkward moment only lasts for a few minutes. Ten steps into the jungle is all it took to realize that being naked with other people wasn’t nearly as serious as being thrown into the wild. We were stark naked and we needed to survive. It’s dangerous, and the least of your worries is that someone else can see your junk.

We had one survival item each, so everything is a resource. That’s when your mind begins to buzz. You’re processing a world of foreign information: what can you use? What can you eat? How are you going to stay alive? I’m pretty good at concentrating on these things, but it’s hard to stay focused when you’re simultaneously trying to keep jungle critters from biting your junk.

Discovery Channel
Credit: Discovery Channel

I literally walked for about a minute before a 2-inch long thorn decided to embed itself in the arch of my foot. That happened at the exact same moment that I had to slap a nasty spider away from my, um, most vulnerable area. (When a guy is on Naked and Afraid, he spends a lot of time thinking about how to protect his junk from bugs. It comes with the territory.)

Those first few moments were a reminder: yep, we’re naked as hell and barefoot in one of the most inhospitable places on earth.

There was no down time on the first day, and by nightfall, I had made a vine-laced bed topped with palm boughs. It was surprisingly comfortable – until an onslaught of biting insects attacked me from my ears to my butt crack. We had 11 more hours to go, and all I could think was, ‘It’s going to be a long night.’

Discovery Channel
Credit: Discovery Channel

That was before it got cold.

You don’t have a thermometer out there, so I have no idea how cold it got. (Unfortunately, it wasn’t cold enough to get rid of the bugs. Nothing about nature is easy.) So now, on top of having bugs all over my virgin skin, I’m shivering. And this is night one. If I survived this experience, I have 39 more nights before I was going to have a hot shower and warm bed.

When that happened, all I could do was laugh — and wait for the sun to rise so I make tomorrow a better day.

Naked and Afraid XL premieres Sunday night at 10 p.m. ET on Discovery Channel.