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North Park Local Stars in Discovery Channel Reality Show

A new survival show challenges contestants to master the wild


North Park resident Maria Herrera in Discovery Channel's American Tarzan. | Photo courtesy of Discovery

Maria Herrera, a North Park resident and events bartender for the Marine Recruit Depot, spent a few weeks in March on the island of Dominica for American Tarzan, a new reality series premiering tonight at 10 p.m. on the Discovery Channel, in which challengers compete to conquer nature’s obstacle course and live off the land. We chatted with the certified personal trainer about racing Tough Mudders, spending a week in the Peruvian jungle by herself, and the hardest part about being on reality TV.


How did you go from being a bartender to a reality TV star?

Application online! My friend sent me a link to the application and she said, “You should check this show out. It’s right up your alley.” And I thought, why not? I really didn’t expect anything to come of it. But I read about it—survival obstacle course racing. That’s what I love to do anyway. I figured I’d send in the application and 10 minutes later I got a phone call. And then it went from there. After the phone call, they set up a Skype interview, then we took a series of different interviews and evaluations to make sure I was more of a Ralph rather than a Jack or a Piggy, make sure we were not going to get all Lord of the Flies out on the island there. I made no promises—I get hungry. But after a few interviews, they offered me the slot. And I said, “Absolutely, let me know when.”


How experienced are you with obstacle course racing?

After I was able to walk again [following a significant body injury via street luging], one of my buddies talked me into doing a Tough Mudder. It was fun, but I’m very competitive so it was a little too easy for me. It snowballed from there: I did the Tough Mudder and then I decided to do the Spartan Race because that was actually timed. I did well at that, so I started doing Spartan Races Elite. I started trying to see how much farther I could go, how much faster, how much more could I lift. And ever since then I’ve been challenging myself to do more and more. I did a 40-hour endurance event a month recently.


How did you prep for the show?

American Tarzan's Maria Herrera | Photo courtesy of Discovery

I already had a survival background. I went to Peru a couple of years ago and decided to spend a week alone in the rainforest with nothing, just to see if I could. I didn’t know exactly where we were going, but I went online and studied all I could about the plant life—what was safe to eat and what was medicinal, things like that. I know how to build shelters, start fires, and all that. I needed some assurance that I was going to have something to eat.


What happens in the course of American Tarzan?

Race in the daytime—jumping, climbing, swimming, obstacles—and most of our evening was spent [making and finding] food, fire, water, and shelter. We always had checkpoints that we needed to get to. It was a lot of deciding what was an important use of your time.


What was one the hardest parts of being on the show?

Being cold. We stayed in the same outfit the entire time, so it was miserable. Trying to keep myself motivated when I’m cold and shivering and trying to keep a fire going was the hardest.


Where do you like to go in San Diego for an outdoor workout?

I like to run trails. I like to go to the beach, or early in the morning by the convention center.


Would you ever do reality TV again?

I don’t think I would do any of the real drama-filled shows, but if it involved me going out in nature and being wild, I would do it.

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