In the Philippine jungle, a fever-stricken Jeff Zausch dipped his body into a creek for hours to decrease his dangerously high body temperature.
It was at 105 degrees on the 51st day of Discovery Channel’s TV show, “Naked and Afraid XL,” which has aired this summer.
His teeth were violently chattering, his body was shaking uncontrollably and he had never felt so cold in his life. But the 2005 Century High School graduate and his partner Laura Zerra were 10 days from being the first contestants to complete an edition of the “Naked and Afraid” series that was as long as 60 days.
“I wasn’t scared. I was just determined,” Zausch said. “I just said as many prayers that night as I had in the entire 60-day challenge up until that point. I was praying nonstop, asking God to help my fever. To me, ultimate failure would be tapping out of this challenge.”
On July 21, 1.82 million TV viewers discovered they both completed the journey.
“The entire 60-day challenge was a roller coaster,” Zausch said. “Moments of unbelievable success and moments of unbelievable tragedy and difficulty.”
Zausch has made three successful appearances in the series, previously spending 21 days in the Madagascar desert and 40 days in Colombian wilderness.
He started the show alone in September with Zerra, who also had appeared in the series multiple times. Then, 12 individuals joined the fray 20 days into it to complete their 40-day sojourns.
The start of the adventure was almost as adverse as the end for Zausch as a super typhoon wreaked havoc, forcing him and his partner to start from scratch after beginning to find their footing in the opening days.
“It was the most unbelievable torrential rainfall that I’ve seen in my life,” Zausch said. “The entire jungle was completely flooded in over 3 feet of water. Everything that we worked for up until that point was destroyed.”
During bad days at the Philippines, Zausch made sure to laugh, smile and glance at a photo of his girlfriend and dog to keep his spirit up.
“If I got hit by a typhoon or got a thorn 2 inches deep on the bottom of my foot, any time I was struggling, I would take out that photo and look at that and realize what I have to look forward to when I go back home,” Zausch said. “That helped me keep positive.”
Zausch’s body temperature had never risen as high in his life than it did in the last juncture of the 60-day trek. The scorching fever was caused by bacterial meningitis from a cut on his foot. Chipped teeth from intense chattering is a reminder of the adversity endured.
During his 60 days away, his girlfriend Erin Munoz received updates from her cousin, who was Zausch’s videographer. But her cousin stopped sending texts when Zausch was in bad condition because of concern about worrying her.
The show’s staff measured Zausch’s body temperature before giving him two hours to decrease his fever. Sitting in a creek with cool water up to his neck, he got it down to 103, which was enough.
“That was one of the scariest moments I’ve ever had on any ‘Naked and Afraid’ challenge because I knew this was something so serious that it could not only take me out of the challenge, but it could actually leave me with lifelong disability,” Zausch said. “But I was able to overcome the fever and complete the 60-day challenge.”
While his fever did decrease, the end of his stay in the Philippines was not the conclusion of his health woes, stemming from meningitis.
He was hospitalized for weeks after returning to Dallas — where his girlfriend lives. Antibiotics were injected into his heart using a stent.
“It was a very scary deal for many weeks when I got back home,” Zausch said. “But fortunately I had some of the best infectious disease doctors in the world there at the Dallas hospital and I was able to pull through.”
After 121 combined days spent on the “Naked and Afraid” series, there is nothing left to do for Zausch.
Except continue being a full-time survivalist.
It has been his trade since his first appearance in the “Naked and Afraid” series in 2013. He has sponsors in Shadetree sunglasses, ABP Tactical, Under Armour and Carhartt.
This year, Zausch said he will participate in what will most likely be a 21-day edition of “Naked and Afraid” with his girlfriend who has never appeared on the show, meaning he will have to carry more responsibilities than when he was with other survivalists.
Before that, he will participate in a new survival show in the fall that is not part of the “Naked and Afraid” franchise. He couldn’t reveal details about the undisclosed Discovery Channel venture.
If you can believe it, he said the new show will be even “bigger and badder” than his latest 60-day foray in “Naked and Afraid XL.”