My first thoughts were who did they cast me with and why am I here?
I was an interior designer among survivalists who did this ”not dying” thing for a living. I would look over in awe at the filmmaker who ate McDonalds for a month, Morgan Spurlock, and I would hang out daily with an Olympian, Janeshia Adams-Ginyard, along with proud members of the military. As days went on, I realized many of my tribe members had a mindset beyond the girl next door from Wayne, New Jersey. Yes, I’ve been through my share of rough times, but at the end of the day I never claimed to be a caveman and this was just a personal challenge.
This experience went beyond not showering, brushing your teeth, or sleeping on anything, it was more about starvation, intense side effects that included nausea, dry heaving, and non-stop migraines. I had never gone longer than 24 hours without food and moving into 48, then 60 hours, your body goes into starvation mode. Your heart begins racing and your body enters a dark place.
The harsh weather conditions of the Colorado Rockies wore us all down quickly. At night we shivered in our bear skins and during the day we would strip down, lying on the dry barren land as our hut constructed of furs would attract flies. At times I thought we were in a 3rd world country, napping during the day as a swarm circled around the top of our shelter. A bug climbed into my ear one night and buzzed in my drum for 12 hours until if finally fell out. Our faces were destroyed by the sun and mud was our only protection. When we attempted to smear it on our face the dirt would tear at the sensitive skin beneath our eyes. Our lips grew another lip, a thick layer of chapped skin that bled and hardened so we could barely speak.
My cast mate Janeshia was my rock. She pulled me through the first few days, and every morning we would walk to the top of a mountain and pray. Those were the good times. Occasionally we would sing songs like Killing Me Softly by The Fugees, because, in a sense, we were being killed softly and could feel our bodies shutting down each day. When our water ran out, it was a choice between eating snow (my idea) or drinking from the water-well that a mouse died in the night before. I would wake up with black and blues covering my legs from sleeping on branches of pine needles. The firewood reeked of must and mildew mixed with tobacco from the months of snow and rain before we arrived.
Grass was my morning coffee, chewing on it carefully to get whatever nutrients I could. It didn’t taste like those fancy wheat grass shots, it was full of all kinds of pungent flavors and you couldn’t swallow it because it was indigestible. Dandelions were my breakfast. I would gag on the dirt that got embedded in the flower. Stinging nettles were our lunch. If your tongue or fingers touched the wrong side they would sting you like a bee. You had to either cook them down or eat them very carefully. When we were run down, we gnawed on spruce sap, which tasted like chalk, grit, and pine mixed together. It was our only source of Vitamin C. That taste alone would immediately send me into a dry heave. I didn’t go to the bathroom for a week, and my mind was fixated on my sudden addiction to food.
I became food obsessed, and the strangest part was talking about it was the only thing that gave me relief. I would talk for hours about recipes, the foods I craved, missed, and quickly this became my favorite pastime. I wish there was something out there I could swallow, something that could fill my stomach and satiate my hunger pains, but the pains never went away. I lost 9 lbs in 6 days coming in at an already low weight of 117 lbs. We had one meal – a fish and a half split between 2 people. I didn’t have many skills in the wilderness, but I discovered I could catch a fish with my bare hands.
I didn’t eat the snail because I knew one little morsel of food would not kill the intense pains. I did however eat minnows wrapped in mint leaves – 10 to be exact, and as gruesome as it was to force feed them to myself, my stomach continued to rumble.
On day 4 my left rib popped out from the lack of back support and fat around it. It was a peircing uncomfortable pain the added to the hunger. I had to be pulled out and examined by the medic before continuing.
Hours later my castmate Robb Wolf who had a background in sports medicine was able to pop it back in. I had to secure the rib with an ace bandage in order for it to heal back in place.
It felt like a 6-day hangover, but without the booze or crazy party stories from the night before. On the last day I used all my will to hunt a chipmunk. I pulled myself through the woods falling with each step carrying a large rock. Walking 500 feet felt like a mile in our heavy rawhides. When my body finally began blacking out each time I stood up, I knew the hours after would only cripple my body further before I would have to be hospitalized. My face was severely sunburnt and my arms were covered with cuts from grabbing branches for fire wood and our new shelter. I was aware that the damage I did to myself would already have far-reaching consequences after the show, and when the decision came to move forward and wait another 48 hours for a chance at food, I began to break down. I grazed on grass for the remainder of the day praying, but when the sun began to set, the mosquitos at our new camp became unbearable, and the thought of sucking on one more cattail (weeds from wetlands) I couldn’t swallow, left me with a final decision. It was time to go.
It wasn’t until I came home that I realized how much of an effect this experience had on my body. I became addicted to sugar. Yes, sugar! I had no idea how much sugar our bodies consumed in just one week’s time, and when I got home it was all I wanted. I vigorously tore down the aisle to the bakery department, loading donuts in a bag, while stuffing a danish in my mouth. In my shopping cart lay bags of cookies, brownies, and chocolate. I never really liked sweets, but something beyond me was kicking in. I had a new appreciation for junk food and the preservatives we had all come to despise. I never liked brownies, but I was SUDDENLY proud of Duncan Hines and how far we had come from grass and dandelions.
That week I ate 2 pumpkin pies, a tub of cool whip, and it didn’t stop there. I pounded 5 candy bars in one sitting, and actually got out of my car at a stop sign to grab a bag of cookies in the trunk. My body was having all kinds of weird reactions, getting the shakes when I needed sugar, sometimes taking my mind back to that scary place in the wild. I no longer recognized myself and when I saw a squirrel run by, my instinct was to kill it.
The fire that became our TV haunted me in my apartment when I awoke to what I thought was a smoky haze – my legs getting burnt from the flying sparks. I panicked screaming. It took me a minute or so to realize I was home safe and was just experiencing some minor effects of PTSD.
I was also riddled with separation anxiety, worrying about my cast mates; an attachment that left me sleepless on many of the nights that followed. Now that we are all back safe and sound, we are bonded for life. I am still close with many of them. It was an experience I’ll talk about with friends and family, but now I am lucky to have it captured on film.
My souvenir from Colorado:
What I have learned: Never get your moccasins wet. They take hours to dry and if you remove your feet they will harden so you could never get them back on.
On a deeper level…
To give lots of hugs. I realize how important it is to let people into your world and share your life. The caveman bonding around the fire with strangers brought that to light – how separated we are in our day-to-day activities. I’ve now made it a mission to embrace my fears, eat sweets, and experience as many moments with the ones I love.
To brownies and pumpkin pie, I salute you!