A Self-Proclaimed ‘Coonass’ Brings It To The Naked And Afraid TV Show On Discovery
By Brad Goins
Those who want to appear on the Discovery Channel’s Naked and Afraid program typically submit videos that show them exercising their survival skills. The popular show gives a pair of contestants (who have never met each other before) a chance to survive 21 days in an especially harsh environment. Each is allowed to bring nothing but a single survival tool. And they must do it all in the buff.
In a marked exception to standard procedure, Lake Charles’ “Diggie” Derrick Roberts submitted no tape before he was chosen to appear on the show. Roberts says the producers of Naked and Afraid sought him out because they had seen Instagram videos of Roberts wrestling alligators under water. The producers told Roberts they were looking for something “wild and different” for the show.
Roberts started wrestling alligators at an extremely young age. He says when he was four or five, his “paran” — godfather — threw a two-foot-long alligator at him. In that initial confrontation, the youngster ran away from the beast. Years later, he got comfortable with diving into the water and going after a gator with a huge knife.
Before he appeared on Naked and Afraid, Roberts was told to stop working out and to put on 20 pounds of fat. “It was amazing,” he says. “I got to eat everything.”
The show was filmed in August, 2019. As is customary, when Roberts arrived at the survival site — KwaZulu Natal province of South Africa — he had to go in completely nude.
The unclothed Roberts cuts quite a figure. His body sports a gallery of tattoos. On his back is the Bible verse Isaiah 54:17 (“No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and this is their vindication from me, declares the Lord.” NIV.). On one arm is tattooed the word “DRAMA” and on the other “BOMBA.” A tattooed alligator winds down Roberts’ neck and arm, resting his head at the crook of Roberts’ elbow.
Roberts, who sometimes sports a mohawk, has tattoos on his head. One reads “Mvskoke Creek” — the name of a Native American nation with which Roberts has a genetic connection.
Like each contestant on Naked and Afraid, Roberts got to bring along one survival tool. In his case, it was a bow that had been handmade in Westlake by Kyle Griffin. Roberts was also allowed to bring arrows (broad heads, field tips and blunt tips) and a quiver he stitched entirely from buffalo skin.
‘I Put On A Show’
Roberts makes much of his “coonass” personality. He draws a definite distinction between the terms “Cajun” and “coonass.” I asked him if the partner he had been assigned to work with on Naked and Afraid gave him any grief about his accent. He said she told him, “you probably need subtitles.” Derrick says he retained perfect calmness in response to the comment.
Did Roberts and his partner on the show get along in general? Did they work well together in their grueling efforts to survive? “I’ll leave that to the show,” he says. “Let’s just say it’s interesting. I put on a show.”
“It’s going to be a wild, wild, wild, wild ride. There’s going to be a lot of bleeping in the show. I definitely have a coonass mouth.
“You will see conflicts. You will see arguments. You will see me chewing ass. [I believe] if you say it, own it.”
Roberts is emphatic that coonass is not synonymous with dumb. He says his IQ is 137. And he says his coonass exuberance often works in tandem with his intelligence. “I’ve always been wild,” he says. He says the producers of Naked and Afraid were pleased with his performance on the show; that they “liked the way I thought about things and attacked problems.” They felt he did things with “ingenuity.”
Roberts maintains a Facebook page dedicated to his Naked and Afraid Experience: “Diggie Naked and Afraid.” On that page, he expounds on a personal philosophy built around the practice of the same sort of wildness he displayed on the program. He writes, “Be wild! Be open to what life has! Live your best life by not being afraid to do the things that put a smile across your heart! I am Diggie, I am Diggdaddy, I am all of it and won’t stop till the casket drops! Go out and do those things!”
‘A No-Give-Up Situation’
Because the Discovery Channel (obviously) owns the Naked and Afraid show, Roberts could only give me a very limited amount of information about what happened in his episode. He did say that “food sourcing” — or the steady acquisition of food — was the single biggest survival hurdle he and his partner faced. (That is very often the case in the program.)
He was also challenged by the common problem of cool night temperatures. In August, the KwaZulu Natal province is 80 in the day, but nights are quite chilly. “You definitely need a fire,” says Roberts.
His mindset going into the show was “this was a no-give-up situation.” His driving motivation was his two sons, aged 12 and 19, the oldest of whom is bipolar. Roberts wanted to demonstrate for them that a person can do anything as long as he has willpower.
Roberts says he wanted to teach his boys “how to be men.” He said he thinks contemporary men have gone through a process of “blankification.” As for those who have no idea what “blank” might mean, Roberts advises “for more details, just watch the show.”
And he had other motivations to do well in the show. If he failed, he thought, his buddies back home might not be above razzing him a little. “You don’t understand the people I would have to talk to at home.”
But it all worked out for the best. On a show that very often breaks even strong people, Roberts stayed the course. “I was satisfied with how I acted,” he says.
Throwing Out Thanks
Roberts is now 42. He says the ages of the participants on Naked and Afraid are “all over the range.”
Before he went on the show, Roberts, who spent six years in the Air Force when he was younger, worked hard while training with Tracey Webb, who helped him prep survival techniques.
Now that the show is in the tank, Roberts wants to “throw out thanks” to the people who “made this the best journey it could possibly be.” One of these is his older brother Kendall Styron, with whom he used to go fishing in Little Chenier and Creole.
He’s also thankful for his wife Jamie. Roberts said that all the decisions about the show were made by the family. One result was that Roberts was denied the option of spooning on the show. (Since the night temperatures are often cool, the two naked contestants — who are generally of different genders — usually lie next to each other and spoon in order to generate body heat. Roberts had to find other ways to avoid hypothermia.)
The show aired April 5 at 7 pm on the Discovery Channel. You can watch it at any time at the channel’s website.