Which has been more challenging for Janis Holcombe — being practically eaten alive by bugs in a subtropical region of South America for three weeks or waiting almost a year for the survival show about her experience to air?
The 38-year-old, who grew up in Stafford County, was in southwestern Guyana on the border of the Brazilian Amazon for 21 days last May to film an episode of "Naked and Afraid." It will premiere at 8 p.m. Sunday, April 2, on the Discovery channel.
She can't talk about how she and Viktor Kuhn, a fellow medic, fared, except to say that bug bites covered every inch of every flesh while she was on location, and she still has some scarring from them.
"Wherever we were, that's where the bugs were," she said in a phone interview on Monday. "We were the swarm. Even the crew was feeling it and they had first-world luxuries of clothing and anything they could use as barriers. It was rough."
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But as is the case with many shows that test a person's ability to survive in the wilderness — and in this case without clothes or shoes — the issue became a mental one.
"I knew there was light at the end of the tunnel when it came to the bugs," she said, but initially not knowing when the show would air "and having to keep it a secret in the meantime was definitely aggravating."
Holcombe lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, but will return to the Fredericksburg area for an April 2 watch party at Maltese Brewing Company in Spotsylvania County.
Her episode is titled "A Taste of Their Own Medicine" as for the first time in the show's history, two members of the crew attempted to survive 21 days in a hostile environment.
Holcombe has worked on various episodes of "Naked and Afraid" as part of the nearby crew, ready to assess the situation if someone is bordering on exhaustion, infection or collapse from sheer hunger. She's also a flight paramedic.
Being an emergency first-responder for survivalist shows or everyday life wasn't exactly on her radar 20 years, when she graduated from Colonial Forge High School in Stafford.
Holcombe wanted to be an investigative journalist. But after she earned a bachelor's in media arts and design from James Madison University, she couldn't find a job anywhere.
Her parents, Laurie and the late Bob Holcombe, had been volunteering with Aquia Harbour Rescue Squad. Janis Holcombe became a volunteer emergency medical technician to bide her time "and fell in love with it."
Emergency medicine became her new career and she worked with the Spotsylvania County Department of Fire, Rescue, and Emergency Management. She had some other personal experiences, including suffering a near-fatal medical error, that she can't discuss, either, and they changed her way of thinking.
"I decided to seize any opportunity that piques my interest," she said, including running marathons and spartan races.
About the same time, she noticed that "Naked and Afraid" was seeking medics and she applied. She ended up being on the medical crew for segments in Louisiana, Peru/Amazon, Montana and New Mexico. During the latter one, she fell in love with the "land of enchantment" and later moved there.
While film crews retreat to air-conditioned or heated hotels at night, and leave the pair of survivalists on their own, Holcombe said a medic is always nearby.
"We’re at a camp that’s far enough away to not interfere with the challenge but close enough we can hoof it there," she said, if the contestants use an emergency signal for help.
The medical team also brings in its own food but doesn't barbecue over an open fire because that would "create smells that would waft over" to those who have to forage on their own.
"We're not even allowed to drink water in front of them," she said, because of the demoralizing impact that could have.
During her first outing with the crew, she and other medics joked that it would be cool to be on the the other side of the experience. She thought that sounded like a great idea, applied the way anyone else would and ended up getting paired with Kuhn, who's also a ranger from South Africa.
Even if she had been a medic on her episode, she said the time in the Rupununi region of Guyana "would have been the most brutal environment I’ve ever been in" but she'd go back, in a heartbeat.
"I would 100% do it again, even if I know what I know now about this particular challenge, I would still sign up for it," she said. "It’s changed me mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally, and I am very happy that I did it. I would absolutely go back for another one, preferably not in a bug-infested area."
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425