Gimme shelter: Troy woman’s ultimate survival test to air on TV

It’s been close to two years since Kaila Cumings came out of the Colombian jungle.


She’d lost 15 pounds, she was fatigued, she’d survived a harrowing, steep vertical descent of a large rock wall, at a time when all her senses and strength were sapped and she felt, for the first time during her three-week survival quest, completely vulnerable.

Well, there was also that one night when she became violently ill and threw up all night, and a medic had to zip in and give her a shot in the buttocks so she could go on.

She’d not consumed much protein in the preceding days, she figures now, and the whip snake she had caught, killed, cooked and eaten earlier might have been too much for her system at the time.

“I told them when I went into this,” Cumings said, “that I’m way too stubborn to quit. I told them, ‘you need to know that.’ I said, ‘If you take me out of here, it’ll be in a body bag. I’m too stubborn to ever tap out.’ ”

Sounds like good television.

Well, that’s just what it was.

Cumings, a 28-year-old single mom who makes custom knives for a living from her home in Troy, was a competitor on Discovery Channel’s popular reality series “Naked & Afraid.”

Her episode airs on Sunday, May 14, Mother’s Day, at 9 p.m., and again at 11:02 p.m.

Her adventure, shared with a stranger of the opposite sex, a yoga instructor from Colorado named David Michael Scott, was filmed in July of 2015.

“They kept pushing the episode back for some reason,” Cumings said. “I literally found out two weeks ago it was going to air. They’d kept in touch with me throughout the whole process, and they’d given me air dates so many times.”

But the segment now appears in TV Guide, validation that it’s happening May 14.

The reality series is in its seventh season; episodes pair a male and a female survivalist, who meet for the first time in a wilderness setting, the task being to survive 21 days together, naked.

They are on their own to find or to produce water, food, shelter and clothing.

Neither Cumings nor Scott can say whether they survived the full three weeks, not before the episode airs.

Cumings is 5 feet, 4 inches tall and weighs 120 pounds. The youngest of seven children, she experienced the outdoors from about the time she was old enough to walk, she said, eventually learning to hunt and fish with her father, Doug, and learning how to live off the land.

Cumings and Scott each wore rough, cross-body satchels, which held a diary and a camera. They were each allowed to bring one helpful item; Cumings’ choice was a large machete, which she made.

A Monadnock Regional High School graduate, Cumings sold her gun collection to start her knife-making business, which she markets on social media and features on a YouTube channel. She also makes tomahawks, hatchets and multi-tools, like bottle openers, she said.

“I’m not a full-time blacksmith,” she said. “I’ve done it before, but it’s so much work that goes into it for the return you make.”

Before she made knives, she wrote reviews on them. That, and her survivalist background, put her in touch with others of that ilk and eventually led to her trying out for and landing a spot on a filmed episode of “Naked & Afraid.”

That lengthy vetting process included several rounds of tests, interviews and a 600-question psych evaluation, she said.

More than anything, perhaps, Cumings said she remembers the first day in the jungle, how cold it was, and having no immediate shelter. They managed to build a fire, but it did not provide enough warmth. Scott, however, had the idea to heat rocks in the fire and put them in the satchels, and Cumings … well, all she did is weave a blanket from palm tree leaves.

They had their nicknames: “Hot Rocks” and “Blanket.”

She said she got along with Scott for the most part, despite “being completely different people.”

She said: “The first day out there, I told him, I don’t care about your background, and I refuse to fight with you. This is about survival, not drama; if I want that I’ll watch ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians.’ ”

It turns out, she said, he was like a brother; they had “that love-hate relationship.”

She said they did take charge of their journey from the start. “We found food right away, we got a fire going, and we had water and shelter fairly quickly.”

But it got real just as fast, she said.

She did discover yuka, a jungle potato that grows from the ground, and made regular yuka stews, adding coconut and mango. “We ate a lot of snake, and a lot of crazy concoctions,” she said.

But it was not nearly enough to prevent the big weight loss, or the hair that she lost from lack of nutrients. “I had bald spots,” she said. “It’s not uncommon among females for that to happen.”

Getting to the film site was not an easy task, either. It was a mountainous region of the jungle and where they eventually settled in was at a large ravine at high elevation, Cumings said. The insertion process — for Cumings, Scott and the show’s crew — was done largely by horseback.

The other challenge Cumings most remembers, was simply passing time amid the difficult elements.

“You don’t have a cellphone to grab, or a remote to pick up and a TV to turn on. I found out a lot about my partner, and he found out a lot about me.

As for being naked, that never fazed her, she said. She called it a “gimmicky” part of the show that does what it intends to do, which is draw in viewers. She said she has never had a problem being naked, but in the jungle it was arguably one of the biggest obstacles. “Clothing,” she said, “is a huge part of survival. It protects you from sunburn, from cold, from scratches and scrapes.”

She considers herself tough, by most measures. She did say the bugs were “pretty gross.” Spiders “the size of my head,” and cockroaches and baby scorpions. “Until we had a shelter set up, they crawled all over you.”

Interestingly, Cumings said the show’s producers approached her right away about coming back to compete again, on its “XL” edition, which is a 40-day survival excursion. She agreed. So, she put the 15 pounds she lost back on, and another 15, she said, in preparation for the bigger endurance test.

Then they changed their minds. “All of it messed my metabolism up pretty good, and it still isn’t back to normal,” she said.

However, the adventure, she said, “truly changed my outlook on life. It sounds silly; you’re only out there for three weeks, but that’s a long time without food, water, living off what you can make or find, and without clothes. I learned a lot about myself.”

She said she hopes this part comes across in the show, her almost daily “crazy dreams” about ice cream. Soft-serve vanilla ice cream. “When I came home, I ate it for a month.”


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