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Reality TV star and Fallbrook resident Duke Brady on being naked, afraid and getting stung on his, um ...

Fallbrook resident Duke Brady is participating in a survivalist TV challenge on Discovery Channel called “Naked and Afraid XL,” which premieres on Sunday, June 2, 2019.
Fallbrook resident Duke Brady is participating in a survivalist TV challenge on Discovery Channel called “Naked and Afraid XL,” which premieres on Sunday, June 2, 2019.
(Eduardo Contreras/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

If you hang around naked in the swamps of Florida long enough, you’re bound to get bitten by something.

That’s exactly what happened to Duke Brady. Last year, he participated in the Discovery Channel’s fan-favorite survivalist show “Naked and Afraid.”

There he was: Naked. Stung. By a yellowjacket.

On his, um ...

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“I got stung by a yellowjacket on the centerpiece/man part/male anatomy, and it was the sting heard ‘round the swamp,” said Brady, whose nomadic lifestyle has taken him all over the globe, from Arizona to Alaska, but has “always called Fallbrook home.”

“I don’t have anything to compare it to besides sharp, hot burning knives going through pieces of skin that you don’t want them to go through,” he said on the show shortly after the incident.

But that bite didn’t stop him from jumping back into the world of survivalist challenges. He will once again be on a Discovery Channel reality TV show, “Naked and Afraid XL,” which premieres at 8 p.m. on Sunday, June 2. It’s the extreme version of “Naked and Afraid” — 19 more days of desolation than the original show, for a total of 40 days. This time, instead of the swamps of Florida, Brady finds himself and 11 other veteran survivalists in the jungles of the Philippines.

Brady has degrees in communications and film as well as environmental science from The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash. You can say those degrees and the passions that drive him may have contributed to why the 37-year-old finds himself on TV once again.

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On his Instagram account (@dukesurvives), he calls himself a “wilderness guide,” and his love for all things nature is evident — from protecting the almost-endangered snowy plovers to trying to save a red-winged blackbird hit by a car (it didn’t survive).

Brady — who is single because he’s “often too distracted by birds and plants to date properly” — talked to us about his survivalist tendencies, his fascination with the environment and what he thought of the Philippines’ Palawan Island, where “Naked and Afraid XL” was filmed.

Q: You appear to be somewhat of a jack-of-all-trades, what with your interest in wilderness guiding to the arts. Tell us about what you do.

A: I’ve always prioritized experiences over things, and that’s brought me to some amazing places with incredible people. As a research biologist in ecology, I have been extremely lucky to work all over the world in sweltering jungles, craggy deserts and frigid arctic tundra. Being a preschool art teacher for a few years shaped how I see creativity and art: everyone is an artist, from accountant to rock climber. This kind of inclusive perspective has allowed me to practice my own writing, photography and design even as someone immersed in the sciences.

Q: Speaking of what you do, starting Sunday, June 2, you will appear in the upcoming season of “Naked and Afraid XL” on Discovery Channel. What is the premise of the show?

A: “Naked and Afraid XL” is an all-star primitive survival challenge in which 12 previously accomplished survivalists take on whatever nature hands them for 40 days. To bolster the extremity of the challenge, we’re sent out with no human-made protections, aka clothing or outside help.

Q: This is not your first time appearing on a reality show. Tell us about what you did last year.

A: Last year, I participated in the 21-day survival challenge for Discovery Channel’s “Naked and Afraid.” It has a similar premise as the XL challenge, but you’re with only one other person and are given one survival item each and sometimes a shared item. Still, no clothes!

What I love most about Fallbrook ...

I love having access to the wild chaparral hills along the Santa Margarita River, one of Southern California’s last free-flowing rivers. I usually adventure there with my local friends that run Hike It Off, an outdoor clothing and media company.

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Q: You seem to have a thing for survivalist types of challenges — both on TV and in life. Talk about that. Is that something that was instilled in you growing up?

A: Self-reliance has been a guiding theme in my life. We lived on Maui, Hawaii, for several years as kids, and I was usually barefoot and covered in beach sand or jungle clay. My mom earned her college degree as a 40-year-old single parent, and my sister and I absorbed much of her driven spirit. Eventually my stepfather began taking us on extended backpacking trips and self-supported river adventures. Overall, I think I was just lucky enough to be exposed to nature — pun intended — and was taught that the more challenging something is, the more worthwhile it’ll likely be. Also, I think it was pretty formative to have come from a middleclass Fallbrook family; we appreciated and worked with what we had.

Q: Please tell us about the first reality show, and how did you do?

A: Last season, my partner, Amal Alyassiri, and I were sent into the path of Hurricane Irma, battling bugs and scouring for resources in a central Florida swamp. We made a shelter that’s still standing today, speared and trapped fish, foraged for edible plants and berries, and hand-caught dozens of lizards, a turtle and a snake. Out of literally thousands of hours of footage, only 42 minutes gets shown, so what you see is a lot of suffering, but also a successful completion by both of us. I lost over 30 pounds and got stung in the “nether region” by a yellowjacket, but came out feeling strong and thoroughly grateful for the experience.

Q: How about the second show. What can you tell us about what you did and how you fared?

A: I can’t give any spoilers for this season’s 40-day challenge, but since we were set on the tropical island of Palawan in the Philippines, there’s sure to be a lot of water- and jungle-related excitement. It’s been voted the “best island in the world,” but its beauty definitely belies its danger and relentlessness.

Q: Is your participation in these types of shows pretty much a reflection of what drives your passions in your life away from the glare of cameras?

A: I draw a lot from pushing and testing my own inner boundaries. Somewhere along the way, I came to enjoy “type 2 fun,” wherein your experience in the moment doesn’t resemble “fun” at all, but looking back it’s your most prized possession that you cherish because of its difficulty. Specific to these challenges, what I’ve really loved is how intensely grateful I am for everything afterwards. Especially peanut butter.

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Q: One of the most interesting things about you is something called “wilderness guiding.” What is that, and how did you get started doing it?

A: After several years as a biological researcher with the National Park Service, I felt drawn towards a more educational role. I started guiding hikes as a naturalist guide with the historic Camp Denali Lodge and other companies, which I’ve been doing seasonally since 2012.

Q: What’s the most rewarding part of what you do?

A: It’s really rewarding watching people be transformed by a backcountry experience where there are no trails and the grizzly bears decide where you get to hike. I’m always so excited about the plants, mushrooms and critters we’re seeing that it’s easy for me to feel completely satisfied at the end of the day.

Q: What’s the most challenging?

A: One of the most challenging things about being a naturalist guide is managing so many different personalities in high-stress situations. I’ve been charged by bears, had clients break legs, and have had to reroute hikes because of extreme weather. It puts your medical and interpersonal training to the test, but I’ve always been surprised by how people step up when the going gets tough.

Q: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

A: Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.

Q: What is the one thing people would be most surprised to hear about you?

A: I was a geoduck farmer in the Puget Sound.

Q: Describe your ideal San Diego weekend.

A: Hanging out with someone’s dog in De Luz Canyon, grabbing a pint at Prohibition Station and a bite at Small Town in Fallbrook, jumping in the ocean at some point and hopefully catching another foul ball at a Padre game.

“Naked and Afraid XL”

When: 8 p.m. Sunday, June 2

Where: Discovery Channel


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