Southeast Student Survives 21 Days in South America as Part of Reality TV Show


Buck Zack croppedCAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., May 5, 2015 — Southeast Missouri State University student Zack Buck of St. Louis put his survival training to the test when he auditioned and qualified for an episode on Discovery Channel’s “Naked and Afraid.” The segment will air May 10 and chronicle his 21 days of survival in the Rupunnuni Savannah of Guyana.

“Imagine being dropped off in a hot, humid tropical grassland and being told to go that way and survive. Knowing all the plants in Utah and Missouri does not help you when you have never been to South America,” Buck said. “We had to trial and error things, looking at different trees and plants for what they could provide us and going on treks to find food that sometimes paid off and sometimes not.”

Those that didn’t pay off contributed to him losing 28 pounds over the three-week period. But he says he now knows his limits.

“I do not take for granted what I have. Where walking out into the sun can kill you or standing up can make you blackout due to malnutrition, this challenge is no joke. It’s deadly if you make the wrong choice,” he said. “Perspective is what I have gained, and I am blessed to have had the opportunity to live like a bum for 21 days and come out on top.”

“Naked and Afraid” follows two people, a man and a woman, who are dropped off naked at a remote location somewhere in the world and must survive for 21 days. Each person can bring one personal item from home.

Buck brought a custom M18 knife made by a blacksmith from Indiana. He says it is heavy but is a “wood chopping machine great for carving bush craft but difficult for cleaning game with its wide tip. It is nice to see such craftsmanship that reminds you of something you would see a knight carrying around England.”

Buck said as he watched the “Naked and Afraid” show, he became interested in it. He also knew a friend, Luke McLaughlin, who was a participant in the show’s third season.

“I enjoy survival television and was hooked when I started watching the first season of Dual Survival on Discovery Channel.  I always thought that would be a fun experience and a great way to test your skills. After a few years of training, I felt I was ready to take the challenge,” he said.

Buck’s survival episode was filmed last October. He took time off from Southeast to prepare for “Naked and Afraid” in Utah, where he spent two summers and most of last year working with at-risk youth in the state’s western desert. There, he learned to bow and hand drill embers from sticks, make primitive weapons like bolas or a four-pronged spear, strong cord cordage strengthening sinew or plant fibers for use.

“All of this was possible because I took a chance and went to work in Utah for three separate summers. I learned to be patient, rock a party on attitude when things get tough, the bad times will pass, and that we are given all of our survival needs in life. I am thankful for that,” Buck said.

In addition to his experience in Utah, Buck says his experiences in Southeast’s Department of Health, Human Performance and Recreation helped prepare him to survive for 21 days on the show. He took a course called “RC 450: Outdoor Adventure as Treatment,” a course required for the Outdoor Adventure Leadership minor at Southeast with Dr. Tom Holman, associate professor of health,  human performance and recreation. This led him to a wilderness therapy company called Outback Therapeutic Expeditions, where he “indirectly learned the primitive living skills I needed to go on the show and survive,” Buck said.

Buck, who is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in recreation with an emphasis in outdoor adventure leadership at Southeast, says he plans to finish his remaining three classes to graduate from Southeast and is enrolled in classes for this summer.

Looking back on his three weeks in South America, he says he enjoyed all the sounds he could hear, from howler monkeys swinging during the night to a “symphony of birds” waking up for the day.

“I remember struggling in the middle of the challenge and hearing a hummingbird hum, reminding me of my grandparents who loved hummingbirds. This made me feel like I was being watched over and gave me a sense of relief,” Buck said.

He says some sounds annoyed him, especially mosquitoes that kept him from sleeping while buzzing in his ears at night. He only had five minutes of peace in between the flies of the day and mosquitoes of the night.

But he says he is passionate about the outdoors.

“I enjoy providing people with the chance to get outside, to be able to get people off of a screen for a few seconds and experience being outside, to feel the wind on their face, smell the sage brush, or hear a hummingbird hum – it seems to be rare today,” Buck said.

He says he came to Southeast because of the opportunity to play football. He walked on to the team as a defensive end in 2007 and played through 2009. He also met his wife at Southeast.

He enjoys spending time with his wife and playing board games like Settlers of Catan, training his survival skills, walking his dogs at the park, playing sports like football or volleyball and peaking mountains. He loves to explore and road trip, hike, backpack, swim, and “seeing what a tourist trap town has to offer.

“I am just a normal guy that knows primitive living skills. I am currently working on running survival-based clinics in Cape Girardeau,” Buck said.

He encourages any students interested in learning to make fire from sticks or be updated with survival-based posts and clinic information to email him at, like his Facebook page, and follow his Twitter page.

To Southeast students, he offers some advice.

“Pursue something that will make you happy. Volunteer with a service fraternity and you will find that giving to others makes you happy too,” he said. “Realize that college is about getting your degree and real life happens after college, so don’t make the mistake of thinking it lasts forever.”