Johanssons Dining House bartender and West Carroll Marauders rugby team coach Gabrielle Balassone’s physical, mental, and emotional strength has been tested on television before and she succeeded. She did so well that Discovery’s “Naked and Afraid” asked her to return for a 21-day challenge. The episode will air at 10 p.m. Sunday, March 25, on the Discovery channel.
“A lot of people give up because they can’t handle it mentally, and I knew I would be able to handle it because I’m gritty, resilient and I have common sense,” Balassone said.
Sunday’s episode will chronicle Balassone, of Westminster, and her partner’s journey through the snake-filled swamps of Mississippi. They will face unrelenting mosquitoes, nocturnal predators, and a relentless weeklong thunderstorm.
If you’re unfamiliar with “Naked and Afraid,” the premise of the show is simple: Two complete strangers strip down (completely naked) and must survive in some of the world’s harshest environments for 21 days. Previously, Balassone participated in a special fan-episode, in which series super-fans challenge themselves to a special 14-day run in the wilds of Africa.
“It shows people in various emotional states,” Balassone said. “You get to see people thriving and struggling, and clashing with their partners.”
Balassone said she has watched the show since it began airing and knew she could do what the survivalists could do and that she could do it better.
“I wanted to test myself and give it a try,” she said. “I grew up as an outdoors woman — fishing and hiking. I have a wide variety of skill sets like building shelters and catching animals.”
Balassone’s father John Balassone said he started taking her for walks in the woods when she was 3 or 4 years old.
“After work, I’d take her by the hand and we’d take a walk in the woods. She’s pursued the woods ever since,” he said. “She’s not afraid to be out there. I showed her how to catch snakes and snapping turtles. We didn’t eat them, we just caught them and looked at them and released them. She loves hiking and kayaking. She’s very much in touch with nature.”
John Balassone said he’s proud of his daughter’s resilience.
“On the last one, her partner struggled a little bit and he left, and she went on to finish it by herself,” he said. “I think the producers recognized that and realized she was a pretty tough cookie.”
Balassone’s fiance, Carlos Loera, agreed.
“We’re all extremely proud of her,” he said. “She’s the toughest person I know. She has more grit than anyone else I’ve ever met. We’ve been together for a while now and she has the wherewithal to push through anything difficult. It’s just part of her mindset.”
Loera said Balassone was “made for this kind of stuff.”
“The way she was raised gives her that passion for being outdoors and doing things outside,” he said. “Seventy-five percent of what we do as a couple involves hiking and camping. It comes second nature to her.”
Balassone relied on innate skills and said she did not prepare herself for the challenge this time. She had just graduated from University of Baltimore School of Law and was getting ready to take the bar exam, so she got “pretty out of shape and rusty on my skills.”
Every environment throws you a different set of challenges, she explained.
“Africa was cold and very hard to find food, but it was beautiful,” she said. “Mississippi is not beautiful and the bugs are relentless. It’s like living on a wet dish sponge. It rained almost every day and my hair never dried out.”
During filming, survivalists often lose weight. Balassone said she did lose weight but not as much as she lost while filming in Africa. As soon as she was released, Balassone said she went out for a Cajun meal at Three Sisters in Mississippi.
“I had fried shrimp in a crab cream sauce over Cajun rice,” she said. “It was amazing, but it was probably a bad choice coming right out of the wilderness. I enjoyed every bite!”
If You Go
"Naked and Afraid" Viewing Party
When: 8:30 p.m. Sunday, March 25
Where: Johanssons Dining House, 4 W. Main St., Westminster
Balassone will be available to answer questions while she is working. The show starts at 10 p.m.