Words & Deeds

Idaho man follows dream career as reality TV survival star

Pocatello man Jeff Zausch holds a spear with a fish on the end of it in the season premiere of “Dual Survival,” which takes place in Brazil.
Pocatello man Jeff Zausch holds a spear with a fish on the end of it in the season premiere of “Dual Survival,” which takes place in Brazil. Discovery Channel

“Naked and Afraid” or not, Jeff Zausch isn’t scared to bare his soul.

The Pocatello native admits that he wants to turn his recent exposure as a Discovery Channel reality TV star into a full-blown career.

Zausch’s dream might sound as foolhardy as spending 40 days in the Colombian jungle without clothes. Or attempting to slay a 6-foot electric eel with a homemade spear.

“I think it’s a very realistic possibility,” he says.

On Aug. 24, Zausch will join fellow “Naked and Afraid” alumni EJ Snyder, an Army combat veteran, on the season premiere of “Dual Survival.” During multiple episodes, the men will face challenges ranging from Louisiana swamps full of menacing gators to hundreds of miles of scorched sand in the Brazilian desert.

“I enjoy walking behind you so much more when you’ve got pants on,” Zausch tells his co-star.

For Zausch, it’s a step in a satisfying direction. Nothing against the nudist novelty of “Naked and Afraid,” but “Dual Survival” commands a higher degree of respect from outdoors enthusiasts.

“ ‘Dual Survival’ is one of the most popular survival shows on television,” Zausch says. “And it’s the longest-running survival show currently. So there’s a lot of companies out there, a lot of outdoor brands. Whether it’s clothing, or stores like Camping World, these are brands and companies that are interested in people like me coming and maybe being a brand ambassador or talking about their product. I think that ‘Dual Survival’ is just opening another door for me in my career.”

What feels like a lifetime ago, Zausch was a geographic information systems specialist at Idaho State University. On a late-night whim, he filled out an application on the Discovery Channel’s website to audition for “Naked and Afraid.” Less than three months later, he was standing naked in the wilds of Madagascar with a woman he’d never met.

The episode aired in 2014. Since then, Zausch has parted ways with Idaho State, appeared on spinoff series “Naked and Afraid XL,” and accepted a more flexible day job. When he’s not filming for Discovery, he works as a behavior therapist in Pocatello.

Shooting “Dual Survival” was a challenge in multiple ways, he says.

In what will be the season’s final episode, Zausch was bitten on the first day of filming and came down with African tick bite fever. His discomfort made for good survival television. “Normally, you would receive antibiotics right off the bat,” he says. “... I actually asked them to hold off.”

In a reflection of the times, he, Snyder and the film crew also wound up taking refuge in an Istanbul airport hotel basement during an attempted Turkish government overthrow last month. “I didn’t ask for that one,” Zausch says.

Zausch says Idahoans who liked “Naked and Afraid” should be entertained by “Dual Survival,” but for different reasons.

“For the viewers, when they watch ‘Naked and Afraid,’ they’re watching a survival challenge,” Zausch says. “They’re watching to see if these people can do it. When you tune in to ‘Dual Survival,’ you’re not watching so much a challenge as you’re watching a survival program to become more educated in the art and the craft of survival.”

Zausch, who started filming “Dual Survival” in May and finished earlier this month, has hit the ground running after returning to Idaho. In the next 12 to 18 months, he hopes to author a book on survival — both in the wild and in America, he says. He also wants to offer week- and two-week outdoor wilderness courses for people looking to escape the tedium of daily life. “Show them an adventure that people have only dreamed about,” he says.

With solid ratings, more Discovery Channel opportunities probably will materialize, too.

“Hopefully, there will be another season of ‘Dual Survival’ coming pretty quickly with me and EJ,” he says.

Nobody’s rooting for that scenario more than Zausch’s wife, Gabby. Let’s face it: “Dual Survival” will be a nice change of scenery.

“She’s happy I’ve got clothes on this time!” Zausch agrees, laughing. “Of course, she has to be very patient with me, as I’m gone for weeks at a time. But she’s incredibly supportive. She loves to watch me chase down my dreams and basically get paid to do what I love.”

Michael Deeds: 208-377-6407, @michaeldeeds

‘Dual Survival’

7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 24

Discovery Channel