Tarpon Springs-raised Nick Albini put his military training to good use on Discovery Channel's Out of the Wild
Nick Albini was a U.S. Army platoon leader in Iraq who once stood locked in an office at the Fort Hood Army base when a crazed gunman killed 13 people and wounded 29 more. So the Tarpon Springs-raised 28 year old knows what fear and deprivation feels like.
But even though he didn't fear for his life, Albini said the month he spent filming the Discovery Channel series Out of the Wild: Venezuela may have been one of his biggest challenges ever -- costing him 30 pounds as it pushed him to his physical limit.
“I don’t care how hard your military training is, they don’t starve you,” said Albini, 28, who can laugh now about the weeks he spent trudging through a forested wasteland in Venezuela. “There were periods of time we would go three whole days eating nothing but bugs, hiking 10 miles a day. There were times when I thought ‘I could really die and no camera guy will stop what he’s doing to stop it.’”
Out of the Wild is a Survivor-style series plopping nine teammates into an isolated wilderness, challenging them to reach civilization with a minimum of resources in one of the most bruising hikes they will ever attempt.
Each hiker is given a GPS beacon with a “panic button” which will summon a rescue helicopter if the situation becomes too dire. Otherwise, the group is on their own, handed a map and sent trudging toward a supply cache with some tools and food before pushing further on their own.
For the show’s third season, Albini joined eight others on a trek that started at the top of Mt. Roraima, a 9,200 foot mountain in a remote corner of Venezuela’s southern frontier. Accompanied by folks who were office workers, a journalist and a park ranger in every day life, Albini assumed the trip would be “like Disneyland” for a guy with Special Forces training and war zone experience.
But the group was only given about three days of food in supplies provided by the production. And when the fishing and foraging got scarce, this lifetime fisherman and survival expert found he had a tough time keeping his cool and even tying basic knots – his thinking muddled by a lack of calories and rest.
“I consider myself a calm person, but I would cuss out the cameramen…and go into this dark hole of resentment, that’s just your body giving up on you,” said Albini, who once competed in Tarpon Springs’ famous Epiphany Celebration dive for the cross. “There’s a shot of me crying – and for me to cry in front a camera after all I’ve been through…but when you find out you have to keep going for 10 miles and all you’ve had (to eat) is a handful of grubworms, that’s challenge.”
In the show’s first episode, viewers see the nine participants struggle with a fear of heights, sickness from tainted water and hypothermia. No one yet knows for sure who should be in charge, and hikers seem as interested in the passing foliage as getting to their supplies or reaching the cave selected as their first camp.
One participant begins the walk barefooted, scrambling over algae-covered rocks and sharp stones. Another -- a park ranger who should know better -- begins vomiting after drinking a canteen of water from a stream filtered through a handkerchief.
Eventually, Albini emerges as one of the group’s leaders, bolstered by his military experience and survival training. But his challenge was also a mental one; learning how to get a group to follow him, when he has no rank of authority in their eyes.
The one thing Albini can’t reveal, is whether anyone pushed the panic button (in the last season, almost half the participants quit in the first few days). Now training to qualify for a Special Forces program in North Carolina, the Tarpon Springs High School graduate looks back on his TV experience as an amazing adventure, which he would never repeat again.
Did he learn anything that stuck with him? “Anybody can make good decisions when everything is going your way,” he said. “But when there’s no food, the weather’s not cooperating and everything is a mess, then can you get people to buy what you’re selling? That was a place I’d never been before.”