Discovery Channel
Blair Braverman found herself without clothes in the searing African heat, enduring one of the most intense experiences of her life. (Photo: Courtesy Discovery)

What It’s Really Like Being on ‘Naked and Afraid’

Discovery Channel

When experienced wilderness guide Blair Braverman was invited to audition for the Discovery Channel reality show ‘Naked and Afraid,’ she saw it as a chance to live out a childhood fantasy. Here was an opportunity to have a totally wild—if somewhat absurd—adventure that would allow her to prove her mettle or fail trying. Having crossed the Arctic twice by dogsled, she felt she could handle all kinds of discomfort and physical challenges. Plus, it’s just a TV show, right? Then she found herself without clothes in the searing African heat, enduring one of the most intense experiences of her life.

Podcast Transcript

Editor’s Note: Transcriptions of episodes of the Outside Podcast are created with a mix of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain some grammatical errors or slight deviations from the audio.




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Blair Braverman: I'd heard about Naked and Afraid, and I'd seen a handful of episodes. And I always assumed that everyone was in on the joke. Like, okay, they're naked. That's how they made it a survival TV show. It's absurd. And then I got out there, and it was so hard to be naked when it came to interacting with the wilderness. Everything you're doing is managing your levels without that basic shelter. It's, it's so much harder.

Michael Roberts (Host): This is Michael Roberts. And on today’s episode, we’re talking with Blair Braverman about her experience on the Discovery Channel TV show Naked and Afraid. If you don’t know Braverman, she’s an experienced wilderness guide who has crossed the Arctic by dogsled. She wrote a book called Welcome to the Goddam Ice Cube about her journeys.

And if you’ve never watched Naked and Afraid, it’s what it sounds like. Two people, a man and a woman, are deposited into a harsh environment without any clothes. They're given just a few tools—usually a knife, a firestarter, and a pot—and their goal is to survive the elements, the critters, and each other, for three weeks. In the episodes, their privates are blurred, so you can watch with your kids.

[Clip containing trailer for Naked and Afraid:]

Roberts: For most people, the idea of being dropped into the wilderness without any clothes or shoes—so that you can try to survive alongside another naked person you just met? It sounds like a nightmare. But Blair Braverman is not like most people.

Braverman: When I'm in a situation that's difficult and challenging, and maybe a little dangerous, it allows me to focus that anxiety into a concrete scenario where I can take action. You can trade anxiety for fear, and fear is easier to manage.

Roberts: In the spring of 2018, Balir and her husband, Quince, who’s also a dogsledder, were recruited to apply for the show. It seemed to them like the opportunity of a lifetime. Blair had grown up reading survival stories—and now here was an opportunity to be the star of one.

Braverman: It felt like I just opened this email that was like, ‘hey, want to have this wild adventure that you will never, ever, ever do on your own?’

It was a chance to live out this childhood fantasy, like to become my own childhood hero or to fail at it. Who knew? But it was a chance to find out.

Roberts: And while Blair would have seemed to be set up for success given her decade of serious outdoor adventure, her time on Naked and Afraid proved to be far more real—and more intense than she ever imagined.

Roberts: Blair’s Naked and Afraid experience was full of surprises—some of them kind of strange. And they started right away, in the audition process. She and her husband applied for the show as a team and then were flown to Los Angeles for a series of interviews, plus medical and psychological evaluations. They were put up in a hotel room and told to stay put, so they wouldn’t run into any of the other applicants who were there.

Braverman: I was making deadfall traps out of things from the hotel room cause I was really into practicing deadfall traps. So I had like a phone cord and a tray from the little kitchenette, and I was trying to, like, make something that would trap a rodent if it stepped on the right place. You know, every now and then, someone would bring us, like, Mac and cheese to the door. And I think we were in there for two days. They brought us these personality tests.

But there was a, uh, dominatrix convention happening at the same time in the hotel. And so whenever we had to walk to, like—the doctor was in a hotel room, the psychiatrist was in a different hotel room in this big hotel—whenever we walked in the hallways there would be dominatrixes all over, and you're not supposed to look around and see who else might be auditioning for the show. But of course you are. And it was really hard to tell cause you'd be like, okay, like, that really buff woman in a leather bikini, like—survivalist or dominatrix?—I can't tell.

Roberts: Blair and her husband made the cut, but then the producers told them that they wouldn’t be going to the same place after all. Instead, they’d be in entirely different locations, and partnered up with another nude survivalist they’d never met. Just like everyone else who goes on the show.

Braverman: You were just sort of on call all summer, like, ‘well at some point I might go spend a month naked in the wilderness. Don't know when.’

But we mainly just focused on, like, making our feet hard. Like we, we just spent all that summer working together even though we’d be going different places. And like going on barefoot walks.

Like we studied some weird stuff. He studied how to pin down a crocodile, and I was like, ‘please, please don't do that.’ And he was like, ‘I’ll only do it if it's like a reasonable crocodile.’ And I'm like, ‘oh my God.’ And I was, um, like studying how to tap rubber—and stuff—’cause we didn't know where we'd be. So we were studying every environment we could.

Roberts: Blaire says she didn’t think much about the naked part of her coming challenge. She’d spent her early childhood in California doing a lot of skinny dipping, so it just didn’t seem that weird.

She also wasn’t too worried about being horribly uncomfortable. Her only real concerns were serious health risks. She’d had Lyme disease a couple years earlier, and it took her a long time to recover. Plus, in early 2019, she was supposed to race in her first Iditarod, the infamous sled-dog competition across almost 1,000 miles of Alaskan wilderness. She’d been training for it for years.

Braverman: And I felt that I can endure just about anything in a moment. Like a ton of bug bites, you know, being cold, being too hot, all this stuff. I could, I could sit through it. I could just sit and wait for 21 days to be done. I think I know that about myself, but if I ever felt that my long-term health was at risk, uh, I was going to be out.

Roberts: Blair got her call in July. She’d be going to South Africa, to the Limpopo River Basin, a place known for its large elephant population, as well as lions, leopards, hippos, crocodiles, and venomous snakes. The daytime temperatures would be scorching. Then at night, it would drop down to around 40 degrees.

[Clip containing audio from Naked and Afraid begins]

Naked and Afraid Narrator: With one of the highest concentrations of animals on the continent, and triple digit temperatures, the Limpopo Basin is one of the most dangerous environments on Earth.

[Clip containing audio from Naked and Afraid ends]

Roberts: She’d be partnered with a veteran survivalist. She didn’t know who, and in a creative twist, the producers told her that on the 11th day, she and her partner would link up with two other survivalists who’d been camped nearby to complete the remaining 10 days as a 4 person team.

When Blair arrived in South Africa, she spent a couple nights sequestered in a hotel, and then, early in the morning, a small crew of producers came for her. It was time.

Braverman: The production assistant blindfolded me with this really crisp purple bandana. And uh, then I hear her sit back in the driver's seat of the truck and she goes, ‘this is when we harvest your organs.’ I was like, ‘is this funny?’ I can't tell.

Roberts: The drive out to what the producers called the insertion point took a couple hours. Blair spent the time chugging bottles of water and lathering on the sunscreen. She knew her first day out would be one of the hardest. She and her partner would have to trek through the heat and build a shelter before they could boil any water to drink. 

When it was time to get out of the truck and actually be naked in the wild, Blair said it came as a bit of a shock.

Braverman: So then everyone hoists up their cameras and they're like, ‘okay, yeah, take off your clothes.’ And it just felt like, ‘isn't there, aren't there more steps before this?’

It was just weird suddenly to have these cameras pointed at me, and you're stepping into a different universe when you realize like, ‘okay, now I'm just going to take off my clothes in front of these cameras.’ Like something really tangible is changing, and this isn't my life anymore.

Roberts: Naked and Afraid episodes always begin the same way: two people disrobe alone, and then they walk to a point where they meet each other for the first time. For Blair, the getting naked part was far stranger than she had expected. But meeting up with a nude guy in the wilderness? It actually helped her relax.

Braverman: The moment I saw another naked person coming toward me, I felt so relieved. Because it was, it was weird! It was weirder than I was letting myself realize, and all of a sudden I wasn't alone. Like instant, instant loyalty to that person was what I felt

Roberts: Then she recognized him. It was Gary Golding. He’d been on the show before as well as the supersized 40-day spinoff, Naked and Afraid XL. He was one of the more controversial survivalists in its history, known for yelling at people and scavenging really gross food.

[Clip containing audio of Gary Golding on Naked and Afraid begins]

Gary Golding: I have that benefit of experience, so I feel comfortable out here. But this challenge is gonna be different because I’m coming out with a person that’s being here for their first time. Hopefully they’re open minded. Hopefully they take suggestions. Due to the fact that I have experience out here, there are things that I would love to teach them.

[Clip containing audio from Naked and Afraid ends]

Braverman: My biggest worry—because I knew that I'd be there with a veteran—was that my partner would be patronizing, and would not treat me like an equal partner, uh, but would treat me as someone to boss around. Especially because of the gender dynamic as well. So I saw him, and I was like, ‘uh oh, how's this going to be?’

[Clip containing audio from Naked and Afraid begins]

Golding: What’s up? So you must be my partner.

Braverman: Hi. You’re Gary! I’ve seen you...

[Clip containing audio from Naked and Afraid continues quieter under Braverman’s narration]

Braverman: You know, he got to me, and he smiled, and he asked me for a hug.

[Clip containing audio from Naked and Afraid fades back in]

Braverman: I’m Blair.

Golding: Blair, nice to meet you.

Braverman: Nice to meet you.

Golding: What about a hug, huh?

Braverman: Okay.

Golding: We, we’re in it for the long haul together, we could at least give a hug, huh?

Braverman: You know, it’s good to see another naked person out here.

Golding: Yeah.

[Clip containing audio from Naked and Afraid fades quieter again beneath narration]

Braverman: And in that moment I was like, ‘okay, we're going to be okay.’ It's funny watching it with people. Other people are creeped out by the hug, but I found it really relieving that: A. He asked, ‘like, hey,’ you know, there was an opportunity for me to say no. And it was also just breaking through everything. Like, we were going to be naked out there. Like, just, I was like, ‘okay, this is going to be okay, and this is my biggest ally.’

[Clip containing audio from Naked and Afraid ends]

Roberts: Blair and Gary weren’t entirely alone, of course. There were a few cameramen, plus a couple armed rangers. But in the evening, those guys headed back to the production camp, which was well out of sight, leaving some cameras trained on the shelter that Blair and Gary had built—a ring of tangled branches called a boma. On the first night, Blair watched them takeoff, then sat next to the fire with Gary, who soon went to sleep. There was no way she was sleeping though.

Braverman: I just truly sat awake all night. I just didn't sleep. And um, because it just seemed to me like, ‘well, we're going to get attacked by something, and if I'm awake I’ll hear it a split second quicker, and maybe that'll make the difference.’

Roberts: They weren’t attacked, but an elephant did come close to their camp at one point, freaking Blair out.

[Clip containing audio from Naked and Afraid begins]

Braverman: Gary. There’s an elephant right there. *Unintelligible whisper* ...absolutely nothing just look at it. We have a lot of night left to go.

[Clip containing audio from Naked and Afraid ends]

Roberts: The second night was worse. A pack of Hyenas came even closer. She was scared enough to use the emergency radio that they had been given to call the production team just in case.

Braverman: I turned on the radio and I like, turn the dial like they had showed us. And I, um, radioed, you know, wherever the crew on the night shift were a couple of miles away sleeping in their shelter. And um, I was like, ‘yeah, so, uh, we're surrounded by hyenas, and they're coming really close.’ So, I was like, ‘I dunno, maybe, uh, maybe you should help us,’ and you know, the radio crackles and, and I hear the voice come back and they're like, ‘well we can't come out there. There's hyenas, it's too dangerous.’

I was like, ‘are you—wait, wait a moment. Like hold up, hold up.’ I mean that was when I was like, ‘okay, this is 1000% real.’ Cause I knew like we were out there without food, and out there without water, but I, I sort of always thought like, ‘well you have a safety net.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, so we have a safety net when the safety net can get to us safely, but we're the only ones who are actually out here, you know, in our shelter made of sticks surrounded by predators.’

Roberts: The event also brought out a big difference between Balir and Gary. They’d each been given a small video camera that the production team called a diary cam to record their experiences and observations. At the scary moments, Blair tended to focus on surviving. But Gary? he was always ready to start shooting and performing.

Braverman: Whenever anything dramatic would happen, my instinct would be basically if it was wildlife to freeze, um, and his instinct would be, ‘okay, I'm going to help document this.’ And that's why he's very good at several things. He's very good at being a survivalist. He had incredible wilderness skills, and he's very good at being a survivalist on a TV show.

On some other challenge he had uh, managed to, like, do a selfie video of himself puking after eating something, you know, rotten, which, you know, really impressed them. Uh, and he was pretty proud of it as well.

Roberts: As the days went on, Blair was increasingly exhausted and hungry. She wasn’t sleeping at all at night, and then only for brief periods during the day. She and Gary had figured out that they could eat a few leaves in the area after boiling them, but that was hardly filling her up.

Braverman: And I started feeling like my dogs, like when you’re around your dog, and they look around, and they just sort of, it seems like they see the world in terms of edible and not edible and, and objects just sort of glow to them if they're edible. And that's how I felt. Like I'd look around, and nothing mattered except for what was edible. So we had amazing wildlife encounters that I couldn't bring myself to care about because I couldn't eat them.

Roberts: At one one point, Gary was doing some toxicity testing of plants, tasting little bits of them to make sure they were edible and not going to make them sick.

Braverman: And he came up to me, and he looked not good. I think I was gathering firewood, and he walked up to me on this one little trail next to our shelter and sort of wavered and said, uh, ‘Hey Blair, have you ever done mushrooms?’ And I was like, ‘What? What? Like, what’s going on?’ And then before I can answer, he's like, ‘uh, you know, I feel like I did mushrooms.’ And it was just this moment of ‘oh shit.’ Cause we both knew he'd been eating some weird stuff.

Roberts: Gary laid down in the shade, and Blair called a medic, something they were allowed to do at any time to take their vital signs. Gary asked her to get him water, so she grabbed a pot and headed down the steep bank to the river near their campsite.

Braverman: And when I'm down there, I see the fastest snake I've ever seen. And it's the first edible thing we've seen in days. And without really thinking, I grabbed a log, and I ran at the snake, and I pinned it by the tail. And it worked. And the snake is trapped by its tail, and it's like rearing up its head at me, at my bare legs, you know, and all of a sudden realize, like, I am trapped, I don't have my knife, and Gary is paralyzed up that Hill, and this snake could very well be venomous.

And if I let go of it, even just to release it, it could bite me. And I couldn't ask Gary for help cause he literally couldn't walk.

Roberts: She was stuck there, feeling absurd, and not knowing what to do. The minutes ticked by and she began shouting at Gary. Eventually, something like 20 minutes after the whole incident started, he rises up, like he’s back from the dead.

Braverman: And Gary sort of appears over the edge, and he sees what's going on, and he falls forward into this front flip, and comes running with a knife. Like he'd gotten better. It was a pretty short lived reaction, and then I'd beheaded the snake and we ate it.

Roberts: Their next meal was catfish, which they caught with a net that Blair wove from the beard hairs of a dead wildebeest. But even though she was getting some calories, she was feeling worse everyday.

Braverman: I became extremely weak, and it was gradual at first. You know, a lot of it was just, I'm sure dehydration and, and heat. It was, it was very hot. Um, I think it was up toward a hundred during the day. At night It got down to the forties. In both of those situations, clothing helps, and we didn't, we didn't have any of it.

Roberts: There was also the lack of sleep. She’d dealt with sleep deprivation on her dogsledding adventures, but never like this. And then she got that thing on her left cheek.

Braverman: At some point, I got this weird lump on my face. I woke up one morning with this itchy lump on my face, and it, it sort of kept growing, and there were just so many things going on with my body out there that it was hard to identify what might be dangerous and what might not be.

Roberts: As they approached day 11, when they’d need to make a long trek in the sun to meet up with the other pair of survivalists, Blair grew increasingly concerned. She wasn’t sure she could make it.

Braverman: But I was also a little bit hopeful that when I met up with these people, they would be feeling like I was. Which sounds terrible. I certainly didn't want them to be feeling badly. But if it was so normal, like, then I would at least, you know, have a sign that this was just what happened to your body when you were out here. And, uh, you know, we'd all recover and it would be fine.

Roberts: We’ll be right back.


Roberts: If you watch Blair Braverman’s episode of Naked and Afraid, you can tell that she is truly frightened about the trek to meet the other pair of survivalists on Day 11.

[Clip containing audio from Naked and Afraid begins beneath narration]

Braverman: This morning when I got up, I felt like I was gonna tip over. This heat is really taking its toll. I don’t know about making that walk through the sun. I’m worried that even getting myself there is gonna be too much for me.

[Clip containing audio from Naked and Afraid ends]

Roberts: She got through it, very slowly, and it wasn’t pretty.

Braverman: I lost vision several times over the course of it. And my neck was very, very swollen at this point. So when I see myself on camera, I hardly recognize my—the shape of my own face.

Roberts: At the so-called “Merge Point”, Blair and Gary met up with Matt Wright and Molly Falk Jansen. Matt was another veteran of the show, known for his hunting abilities, but also for some bad blood with Gary after the two tangled on a previous episode. Molly was a single mom and criminal defense attorney, mountaineer, and Colorado radio host.

Just like when Blair had first met Gary, she felt an instant kinship with these two other naked people doing this crazy thing in the Afican wild. But she also noticed right away that they seemed pretty healthy, which made her nervous.

Braverman: It was immediately clear that everyone else was very strong compared to me. And, uh, and that I think is when I got quite worried.

Roberts: She knew that something wasn’t right with her, but she also knew that she was on television, and that people were going to be watching her break down. So in addition to being concerned about her health, she kept thinking that she would look incompetent and lazy.

Braverman: I did feel very worried, and on some level humiliated about sort of falling apart in front of millions of eyes. Knowing that this was going to be on camera. I didn't know how it was going to look in the final cut. I didn't know if I was okay or not. And I could sort of do this incredibly public thing and then just dissolve very publicly and look lazy and look selfish, like, you know, when other people are getting water, I just expect them to get it for me. Cause I, I truly, you know, worried about my physical ability to make it to the waterhole and back without really injuring myself.

And um, I would try to look busy, so I'd sit by the fire and like, even if my vision was clouding over, and I couldn't see anything, and the world was spinning, I would vaguely try to be prodding it, so that there wouldn't be footage of me not doing anything.

Roberts: Her other concern was what her teammates thought about her. She’d already been feeling uncomfortable with the way everyone’s roles had been set up. The two men had been on the show before and were essentially professional survivalists. Blair and Molly, meanwhile, were officially labeled as “fans”.

She says she never felt patronized by Gary or Matt during filming, but as she got sicker, the gender roles became even more pronounced.

Braverman: I was aware that, you know, Matt was out hunting. Gary was scavenging and stuff. And Molly ended up carrying water for all of us a lot because I couldn't do it. And I just felt like, ugh, like ;wow, Molly is taking one for the team,’ and there is a gender thing at play here. And it may not be, it may be a coincidence, but that coincidence resonates.

Roberts: On the first morning that the team woke up together, Matt killed a warthog with a bow and arrow, and returned to camp with it triumphantly.

[Clip containing audio from Naked and Afraid begins beneath narration]

Braverman: What?

Matt Wright: You guys order bacon?

Golding: Crap!

Braverman: What? There’s a warthog?

[Clip containing audio from Naked and Afraid fades out below narration]

Braverman: It just was like the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. I mean, and, and warthogs are, are quite ugly if you see them up close. They have these very, very long warts on their face that are sort of rubbery and fascinating. And, uh, and it just, it was just so beautiful.

Roberts: Everyone was ravenous. They cooked the animal, and they ate until they couldn’t eat anymore.

Braverman: It was delicious. Oh my, it could have used a little bit of salt, but uh, oh man, it was good. It was really good. We, like, all gorged—I mean truly gorged ourselves—like, terrible stomach aches. Because we didn't know if the meat would still be there in the morning. Uh, cause we couldn't keep it in our shelter. We buried it. We put it in trees. But it could have all been gone the next morning. It felt almost like an ancient experience to be so hungry. And then gorging and still having that uncertainty.

Roberts: Blair, who’s mostly a vegetarian at home, even joined Matt and Gary in sampling the organ meat, including a bite of testicle. This was mostly because she wanted to keep up her streak of eating all the nasty stuff that Gary had been eating. But she was also really hopeful that all the calories and protein would help her recover physically.

Braverman: Right after I ate, I felt a lot of energy, and I got excited and then I felt worse than before. So, you know, I was getting a lot of energy from the calories, but it wasn't fixing whatever was wrong with me.

Roberts: Soon after, she made a promise to herself: if she didn’t feel better by the morning of day 14, she would tap out—the Naked and Afraid phrase that means giving up before the challenge is over. She also decided that she would keep this promise secret.

Braverman: I didn't tell my partners because I knew they would bend over backwards to give me what I needed to stay. I knew that they would carry me out, if that was what I wanted—without asking questions. I knew that they would, you know, bring water to me many times a day without questions.

They would not ever have made me feel bad for not being able to do anything. And they would have provided me with what I needed. And I knew that if they told me that, it would make a strong case, and it would be tempting. And yet it wasn't about the challenge anymore. It was about some real fears about my health.

Roberts: On the 13th night, Blair stayed awake until sunrise, then walked away from the camp with a diary cam to record her explanation for tapping out. Next came the really hard part: telling her teammates the news. She’d had some sharp political differences with some of them that came out in difficult campfire conversations, but still, at this point, they felt like family. And she was leaving them behind.

Braverman: I was afraid my partners would feel that I was letting them down or abandoning them.

[Clip containing audio from Naked and Afraid begins]

Braverman: I feel like my body is reaching some sort of threshold. And I don’t wanna cross that. So it was a really tough call...

[Clip containing audio from Naked and Afraid fades out below narration]

Braverman: And that was my biggest fear. I didn't want—I didn't want my partners to be disappointed in me.

[Clip containing audio from Naked and Afraid fades back in]

Braverman: ...but I’ve decided to go home. And what would mean a lot is if you’re not disappointed…

Molly Falk: Never.

Golding: Definitely not.

Braverman: I love you guys.

Golding: Yeah, I love you too.

[Clip containing audio from Naked and Afraid fades out below narration]

Roberts: Shortly after Blair tapped out, she took a shower, and the wound in her cheek opened up. She had bright red veins on her arms and her chest. The next morning, her neck felt like it was on fire.

Braverman: So the day after I tapped out, or the morning after I tapped out, I was rushed to the hospital and put on all sorts of IV meds, and we didn't know what was wrong. I was given tests for poison. I was given x-rays. We could not figure out what was wrong.

Roberts: They still doesn’t know. Her two leading theories are a staph infection that went septic, and a bite from a violin spider. Either way, she felt better within a couple weeks, though the hole in her cheek stuck around for months.

Despite everything she went through, Blair says she was always very aware that in the end, it was just a TV show.

Braverman: It was all ultimately a game. You're out there, and you're playing and yes, it's real, it's a real game, but it's a scenario. You're put into a scenario to see if you can get through it. You can't forget that there are people who are in—who are not there by choice—who can't tap out. And my experience gives me zero insight into their experience. It is fundamentally absolutely different to know you can leave at any time.

Roberts: She says that she was nervous before her episode of Naked Afraid aired in March of 2019, but when she saw it, she was thrilled, though it’s hard for her to watch.

The big question I had for her: would she do it again?

Braverman: I would absolutely consider doing it again. Naked and Afraid turned out to be a really good experience for me. Against the odds, I got messed up. It was bizarre, but overall I'm really glad I did it. I just feel like I got to have this weird, weird adventure with cool people.

Also, just the things we saw. Just the animals I got to see up close. I mean, so many elephants, every day, very close. You know, seeing antelope, seeing the birds, listening to the birds, seeing leopards, seeing warthogs, seeing hyenas. I mean, who gets to do that? That was incredible. Like I—no regrets.

Roberts: Still, she says she can’t watch the show anymore because she gets too stressed out. The one giant exception to this rule was her husband Quince’s episode. He ended up in Honduras. His partner tapped out very early, and he spent most of his three-week challenge becoming close friends with a lizard. Blair says she’d definitely go back on Naked and Afraid if she was partnered with him.

Blair Braverman writes frequently for Outside. Starting this Monday, March 16, you can read her new essay about her experience on Naked and Afraid at

New episodes of the show air on the Discovery Channel on Sundays at 9pm.

This episode was produced by me, Michael Roberts, with music by Robbie Carver.

This episode was brought to you by Visit Florida, one of the country’s great adventure destinations. Learn more the unique adventures that you and your family can find in the sunshine state at

We’ll be back next week.

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