WHS Alum Completes 21 Days In the Amazon On Discovery Channel’s “Naked & Afraid”
Photographer: Amy Payne
From the time she was a little girl, Whitney Hamblin has always spent her every waking moment barefoot and communing with nature.
“My parents used to have to drag me inside,” recalls Hamblin, a Westfield High School graduate.
It should come as no surprise, then, that during college when a coworker told her that she had hiked the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail, Hamblin was mesmerized. Soon thereafter, she talked her best friend into hiking the Appalachian Trail with her. On March 16, 2016, the two set out on their adventure, logging 15-20 miles a day for six months.
“It was no romantic stroll through the woods,” Hamblin says.
It was, however, prime training ground for what came next. In September 2017, Hamblin was contacted by producers of The Discovery Channel, who had found her through her Appalachian Trail blog and wanted to know if she’d consider applying to become a contestant on their show “Naked & Afraid.”
After talking it over with her mom, Alma, she decided to go for it. To prepare herself to survive the experience, she stopped drinking alcohol three months prior to the show and cut out caffeine six weeks before. She also started walking barefoot everywhere and practiced setting fires in all kinds of weather.
In May 2018, Hamblin, 28 at the time, and her partner for the show Nathan Martinez, were dropped on a tiny island in Brazil, stripped of clothing and footwear and armed with just a small satchel packed with a few essential tools for survival. With every step came the possibility of an injury (Hamblin says she was digging thorns out of her feet for three weeks after coming home). Then there were the relentless bugs, which included fire ants, hungry mosquitoes, pesky gnats, and black biting flies. Hamblin was bitten so frequently, she still bears the battle scars.
“My butt looks like a dartboard that’s been in a dive bar for 30 years,” jokes Hamblin, who can laugh about it now.
In fact, she’s proud of her scars as they represent her tenacious attitude. And that’s what it took to survive 21 days in the jungle. She battled nausea and dizziness due to dehydration, malnutrition and heat exhaustion. She also struggled to sleep, especially the first week as she laid awake swatting away scores of mosquitoes. By night seven, however, her body shut down and she finally caught some shut-eye, though never more than three hours since she had to tend to the fire.
Though the experience was grueling, the pair prevailed, working together to score five major protein kills (one armadillo and four stingrays), setting a show record. Hamblin even got creative with their resources by melting the fat off of a stingray, letting it cool, then rubbing the substance over her sunburned lips and chest.
Though Hamblin admits that she and her partner got crankier as the days passed, they made a pact on night one not to expend their energy on bickering. They always communicated in a respectful manner, which irked the producers, who love drama for ratings purposes. But the duo knew that on the island, as in life, it’s better to build each other up than tear each other down.
Not only did Hamblin leave the experience with big-time bragging rights, but she also walked away with a crystal-clear perspective on life’s priorities.
“I did some of the best thinking of my life on that island because there were zero distractions,” Hamblin says.
She reflected on her relationships, contemplating which ones positively served her and which didn’t. She had a revelation.
“It’s not about where you are in life but who you’re with,” says Hamblin, who wasn’t the only one soul-searching during her time away.
While she was gone, her mother sent her daily messages via Facebook, knowing that if the messages went unanswered, that meant her daughter was still kicking butt on the show.
“I had 21 incredible messages waiting for me when I got back to the hostel,” Hamblin says.
She read them while munching on potato chips that tasted like a million dollars. When she finally returned home a few days later, she collapsed onto her bed at 7 p.m. and slept until 2:30 p.m. the following day.
Future bucket-list items for Hamblin include hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs from the Mexican border all the way to Canada and hiking every trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
“Once you’re bitten by the long-distance hiking bug, it never leaves your head,” she says.