Florida Army vet raises awareness for suicide with his own ‘Naked and Afraid’ (PHOTOS, VIDEOS)
MILTON – Jamie Wells isn’t the “Tiger King” – he’s better.
The Milton resident rivaled the popular Netflix true crime docu-series about zookeeper Joe Exotic with his own version of “Naked and Afraid,” a survival show on the Discovery channel. Wells bared his backside as he spent 14 days in and out of the wilderness in Milton, documenting his experiences in photos and videos on Facebook with the hashtag, #betterthantigerking.
“Right now, a lot of people are bored, staying home with the COVID-19, so all these challenges were going around,” Wells said. “I figured as a former soldier, maybe I could do the challenge different. I took a couple of photos and videos and posted it as a joke. All of sudden, I started getting comments from all over. People requested me on Facebook that I didn’t even know. I was like, ‘Wow, we really have something. People are actually enjoying it.’”
The Army veteran started his challenge April 18 for “entertainment purposes only,” but expanded the cause to bring awareness to veteran suicide and the “Adopt a Milton High School 2020 senior” program. To watch, follow Jamie Wells, the owner of Local Boyz Hawaiian Shave Ice, on Facebook.
Wells started his “Naked and Afraid: Milton edition” to cure boredom while people were social distancing because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Bored, they weren’t.
Whether it was starting a fire, scouring for berries or swimming, every day of Wells’ challenge was a new adventure – a naked one.
“I literally have a homemade burlap satchel like they have on the show,” Wells said. “I had my hatchet, steel pot they give you for boiling, my firestarter. I made a walking stick or spear I could use. When I was out there, that’s all I was in – I was barefoot, no clothes.”
Wells’ 10-year-old son, Braxton, posed in a similar outfit with shorts underneath, saying, “Watch out for Naked and Afraid: Junior edition,” Wells said.
Wells admits he wasn’t outdoors 24 hours everyday; but he was outside daily – even the night with tornadic activity. He felt comfortable as a former ranger in the Army.
“It was nice for me because I actually got to back out,” Wells said. “It’s been a while – I retired three years ago –since I’ve gone out and roughed it or done some of those things I used to do in the Army. I built two or three shelters while we were out there.”
Some viewers requested he kill an animal to eat, but no animals were harmed, Wells said. He wasn’t starving after all.
“There was an event one day where I ate some worms,” Wells said. “I showed ‘em like, ‘If you’re out there and you had to survive, you could eat earthworms. You could eat stuff you caught out there.’”
Wells recruited his friend and fellow Milton resident, Mark Barnes, for a couple of funny skits, he said.
“I didn’t have any big apex predators out there to film, so one of my buddies dressed up one day as a werewolf,” Wells said. “We played that two different days, one where he was behind a tree closing in on me and one where he walked up behind me at nighttime to attack me. It went crazy. People were like, ‘Oh my God, this is so awesome.’”
“It was entertaining,” Barnes said. “It was something that gave people a laugh during the quarantine. It was really funny. He spent a lot of time planning what he was going to do next and trying to make it legitimate.”
Wells’ challenge garnered a larger following than he expected.
“I have people still writing me, ‘When’s the next one?’” Wells said. “They were saying, ‘This is better than the Netflix series,’ or ‘This is better than “‘Tiger King’.” Some of my pictures have 100 or 150 likes and comments everyday that say, ‘Now that it’s over, I don’t have a distraction. I don’t know what to look forward to.’ Or ‘I’m going to binge watch this all over again.’”
Wells has family and friends in Gulf Breeze, Pensacola and Pace that watched it – as well as former Army friends in New Zealand and the Philippines, he said. After being deployed four times to Iraq, they knew he had the skills.
“They didn’t expect I would still do some things like that,” Wells said. “When they watched it at first, they were laughing. My mom lives here in Gulf Breeze and she was like, ‘Oh my God, you still got it. You have that personality.’ There was positive feedback. I think one or two people were like, ‘Put some clothes on,’ but everyone else loved it.”
But, he didn’t want do a challenge just for the sake of doing it.
“As a veteran, retired 24 years Army, there’s a 22 a day challenge that goes around to bring veteran suicide awareness, because 22 veterans on average lose their lives to suicide a day,” Wells said. “I started putting that in my message.”
He wanted to do something locally, too, he said.
“The Milton seniors and all the high school and college seniors have pretty much lost the end of their year that they waited their whole life for,” Wells said. “It’s a big event. Here in Milton they have the Adopt a Senior program, where you can adopt someone and give them gift cards or vouchers, so I wanted to bring more awareness to that.”
In addition to his awareness goal, Wells wants to make an appearance on the real “Naked and Afraid.” His friend and a fellow former Army ranger, EJ “Skullcrusher” Snyder, was on it several times.
“We’re hoping that it picks some traction and people see, ‘This guy’s actually got a following. He’s got some charisma. Let’s put him on the show,’” Wells said.