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Maine woman survives 21-day 'Naked and Afraid' challenge in South Africa

Charlene "Cheeny" Plante says her background as an Air Force survival instructor came in handy for her experience on the show.

SANFORD, Maine — UPDATE: Charlene "Cheeny" Plante of Sanford, 32, survived the 21-day challenge on Discovery Channel's “Naked and Afraid” show, which aired Sunday, April 10. Plante survived in South Africa with no clothes and only a few survival tools despite having an injury early on and her survival partner leaving the show. Plante survived on little more than catfish, turtles, and a scorpion.  

Discovery Channel's “Naked and Afraid” is not for the faint of heart. It's a rigorous survival show with a straightforward but grueling challenge: two strangers try to survive 21 days in an unknown, remote wilderness with no food, water, shelter, or clothing. 

Contestants are allowed only one tool of their choosing and must use their skills to survive. Friends and family of Sanford native Charlene Plante, or "Cheeny" as she's called, told her for years she would be great on the show, though she knew little about it. 

"I really wasn't very familiar with the show at all. I had watched it a couple of times here and there," Plante explained at her home in Sanford. 

When producers of "Naked and Afraid" asked Cheeny at the beginning of 2021 if she would be interested in the show, she didn't immediately say, "Yes."

 "I was hesitant at first. Then I thought, 'You know, there's a reason why this is happening, and I should go with it,'" Plante remembered.

Growing up in southern Maine, Cheeny said she was always outside making stick forts and fishing. She thought she knew about survival skills until, after graduating from Sanford High School in 2008, she joined the Air Force and became a Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE) specialist.

As a SERE specialist, Cheeny trained pilots and crews on how to survive if they became separated from their aircraft. She taught principles she learned herself on how to survive any and every biome across the world. 

Cheeny continues to put the survival skills she learned and taught to good use as a wilderness guide, and she is also currently training to become a certified Maine Guide. She also works on a lobster boat and paints houses.

"I am always doing something ... when I'm not working, I'm in the White Mountains, or I'm out on the ocean or fishing. I'm doing something," Cheeny explained. 

The 32-year-old adventure seeker has backpacked across the western United States and enjoys rock climbing when she is not busy working. 

Last summer, Cheeny put life on hold when she was dropped in the middle of South Africa for the "Naked and Afraid" challenge. 

"Water was scarce, and food was even scarcer," she said.

This Sunday at 8 p.m. on Discovery Channel, Cheeny's episode airs, so she could not reveal how long she lasted or even the tool she decided to bring with her. But she could talk about the general experience, like the nudity. She said it made her uncomfortable for a hot second, but she grew to love it. 

"It was so freeing. It was amazing. There were cold days and it sucked, but it's one less thing to worry about. You don't have that constriction. You don't have to wear a bra, which is the best part," Cheeny said. 

A camera crew followed contestants around but was not allowed to interfere or talk to the contestants. Cheeny admitted that trying to hunt with a camera crew was challenging, despite their best efforts to be quiet. 

Cheeny was paired up with a woman from Georgia and said she got along with her well. The hardest part of the adventure for Cheeny was not the lack of food or the cold nights sleeping in the dirt. 

"The hardest part was the boredom ... There were days where it was too cold. You couldn't go out and do anything. Or it was too windy, the animals knew you were there, or it was too hot and you couldn't risk dehydration or sunburn. Or in the night when you couldn't sleep, and you're just there with your thoughts," she remembered. 

Along with viewers, Cheeny doesn't get to see her episode until it airs on Sunday night. She said she's still thinking about this life-changing experience, and she would love to be invited back to participate in another "Naked and Afraid" challenge. 

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