‘Naked and Afraid XL’ stars describe wearing clothes again after filming: ‘It was like a religious experience’

Gwen Grimes and Jonathan Bonessi had no qualms enduring the scorching savannah of South Africa for 40 days completely nude.

The retired police officer and chef joined 10 other veteran survivalists from all over the U.S. to take on a grueling kill zone on South Africa, a land so punishing that generations of ancient tribes were said to have banished the weak in order to live. For the first time, four teams must learn how one can make it with little to no vegetation, minimal resources and hungry predators nearby for the extreme survival series “Naked and Afraid XL.” Each survivalist must prove their worth to the group, or risk being cast out.

Grimes and Bonessi spoke to Fox News about what it feels like to finally wear clothes again, why they would ever agree to appear in a show like “Naked and Afraid XL” to begin with, as well as the surprising skill they learned along the way.

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Fox News: How does it feel to finally wear clothes again?
Jonathan Bonessi: I mean, it's wild. That first time you put socks on, for me anyway, it was like a religious experience. I felt like I had armor on my feet, just from a thin layer of cloth and nothing like it. Nothing like putting on clothes for the first time in that long.

Fox News: Did this experience make you feel differently about hygiene, especially that we're now in a pandemic?
Bonessi: I had a theory out there of developing a thick crust on me to repel anything that was trying to get in, that I didn't want in. And you'll have to watch to see if it was successful or not. But yeah, I think that's a solid piece of advice for the world now is: Develop a thick crust.

Fox News: Some viewers may say, “There’s no way I can go naked during a challenge like this one without feeling insecure." What would you tell those people?
Gwen Grimes: You can do anything you set your mind to, it's all mental. You just got to figure out the mental game of it and punch through it.

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Bonessi: I mean, nobody ... well, I shouldn't say anybody, but most people don't want to get naked in front of a bunch of strangers. But once you take your clothes off and you're naked in front of a bunch of strangers, you see how it feels, it’s too late.
Grimes: Yeah, it's not that big of a deal really.

Fox News: What does it really take to survive being in the wilderness with just a few tools while being faced with everything from predators to hunger? 
Grimes: You need to have your survival skills on point if you're going to go out there, it's no joke. It is life and death. You really need to know what you're doing.
Bonessi: Absolutely. The skills are very important, and problem-solving techniques are super important as well because like you said, minimal tools and you got to make everything work with what you got and you got to keep your head on straight. It's easy to lose your cool and make rash decisions, but you really got to be deliberate with everything you do out there. Because any little misstep can put you in the ground.

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Fox News: What's one surprising skill that you learned or even improved on while filming?
Grimes: That’s an interesting question. I was not familiar with African flora and fauna. I have a general knowledge of North American flora and fauna, but Africa was a totally new skill set for me as far as what you can eat, what you can harvest, all that kind of stuff. And so that was a quick learning experience for me.

Bonessi: Absolutely. You learn real quick what you need to do out there because you look at pictures of the plant life and the animals out there. And then when you're naked and you're starving and you see it and you're like, “Oh, what was that thorn supposed to look like that I can eat?” So you pick it up quickly and you remember and you could see them from a mile away after a while. Like yeah, I can eat that.

Fox News: Was there ever a point where you felt like giving up because it just became too much? 
Grimes: My motto is never to give up. Never surrender.
Bonessi: Yeah. I mean, same over here. I may or may not have felt like I wanted to leave at some point, but my strategy was just to never admit it. So I just wouldn't let myself talk to myself like that and I'm just like, I'm going to get out of there. So you're going to have to wait and see if it works.

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Fox News: How does one stay mentally sane during this challenge, especially when it comes to dealing with other contestants?
Grimes: You really need a strong mental game out there. You've got to be able to weather through a whole bunch of storms, both personal and interpersonal, and be able to navigate different situations that are thrown at you on a daily basis. And if you can't keep that mental strength, you're going to end up tapping out.
Bonessi: Absolutely, the mental game is probably 80 percent of it and trying to ... you have to curb your own demons, you have to be confident with yourself, and you got to be confident with your tribe. You got to stay... you're with other people and you need to work together. And working as a family is the way to go.

Fox News: Now the most important question: Why? Why do a show like this one?
Grimes: How many people in the world can say that they've gone out naked and survived in the South African Bush?
Bonessi: Yeah. We get to see places and things that most people will never see and up close and very personal. And it's an amazing experience. So I mean, we have to suffer in the process, but that's an experience on its own. It's really something that puts everything in perspective after you get out of it.

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“Naked and Afraid XL” airs Sundays at 8 p.m. EST on Discovery.

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