Spending three weeks naked and hungry in the Panamanian jungle may not be for everybody, but Forrest Galante seemingly thrived on the experience.
The 25-year-old graduate of Coast Union High School in Cambria would do it again “in a heartbeat,” he said after earning the highest survival skill score ever in the “Naked and Afraid” reality show on the Discovery Channel.
Filmed in September, the “Double Jeopardy” show, the show’s eighth episode and first in its second season, first aired Dec. 8. It attracted five and half million viewers, a new high for the show, and continues to air regularly in the Discovery Channel rotation. Participants are dropped off with no food, no water and no clothes.
Galante met his partner, a female he’d never met before, on the beach, with both wearing nothing but smile.
He forgot he wasn’t wearing any clothes “after about 15 minutes,” Galante said. “There’s too much other stuff to focus on.”
That “other stuff,” in this case, was gathering food and building a shelter. Each contestant — if that’s what they’re called when there’s no prize, other than survival and pride — is allowed to bring only one item.
An avid diver with a degree in micro-cellular developmental biology from UCSB, he brought a dive mask, thinking it would make spear fishing easier. His partner brought a machete.
The pair fights the elements and, occasionally, each other, for several days, before stumbling across another contestant pair nearby. Not to spoil it, but they do join forces and survive, in more or less good order (and many pounds lighter). Galante, who moved from Zimbabwe to Cayucos in time to spend two years at Coast Union, recently became engaged to his high school sweetheart. She was a Bay Area resident when they met when she was visiting Cayucos.
They now live in Santa Barbara. Galante said he’s now been bitten by the outdoor film bug and would take that opportunity should it arise again, but for now is working on a website about cuisine of all nations.
“If you’re going to Zanzibar, what will you be eating?” is the kind of question the website will answer, he said. The website, http://www.travelgrub.com, tells what local diets around the world are like, and offers the opportunity to comment on the food.
Galante is no stranger to the exotic. As a high school student, he did a show and tell for first graders at the FFA Field Day at Coast Union in March 2003, handling garter, king and corn snakes, several of which he owned.
His takeaways from the Panama experience? “I’m so humbled,” Galante said. “I thought going in, ‘oh, I can handle this.’”
But it’s not so easy without life’s basics we so often take for granted.
“A water filter, a lighter — without them it makes such a difference,” Galante said.
With no prize, why do it? “Just pride of accomplishment,” he said. “It’s a challenge, like somebody who climbs Mt. Everest.”
Follow Bert Etling on Twitter at @betling.