Matt “Savage” Wright is kind of a big deal if you watch shows like Naked and Afraid. The Air Force veteran, professional knifemaker, and survivalist is best known on the show as the man who’s bringing home dinner for the team. On Naked and Afraid, he has undertaken challenges in the Bahamas, South Africa, Belize, Thailand, and, in a new season starting April 25th, the brutal and unrelenting Louisiana Bayou. He also appeared on First Man Out, racing survivalist Ed Stafford through the South China Sea. And when he’s not baring all on national television, he teaches survival practice and forges primitive hunting and bushcraft tools for his company, Extreme Instinct.
When I got the opportunity to interview Matt during his short break as he juggled multiple projects, I noticed a trend with him: he is fueled by serving others. You can catch that trend during Naked and Afraid XL seasons. He doesn’t seize leadership roles, he just has the demeanor that people trust and gravitate toward. His goal in the show is to make sure his team does not go hungry. And he delivers with the coveted big game kills. But beyond Discovery Channel, this same characteristic shows up with his talent at the forge and in teaching survivalism: he wants to serve others to help them bring out the best in themselves.
So what on earth possesses a rational human being to strip down to their birthday suit and try to survive around on four different continents? This question has added weight for a show veteran like Matt Wright, when he contracted an especially dangerous flesh-eating bacteria on his foot. For Matt, it is all about the experience of surviving.
Matt has been obsessed with survivalism since early childhood. He recalled that once in elementary school, while his classmates were playing in the sandbox or on the jungle gym, he saw a bunny rabbit and wondered “how can I trap that?” Starting at a young age, Matt was reading about primitive weapons and learning the tradecraft.
One of his favorite tools is the atlatl, an ancient Mesoamerican tool that enables the user to launch a javelin further than a standard throw. Matt himself has taken the atlatl out hunting for pig, turkey, and even attempted an Alaskan moose and bear hunt with it.
Bushcraft and Knifemaker
Before his fame as the mighty hunter in the buff, Matt was a fully-clothed hunting guide in Colorado. During a guided hunt, he was processing an elk for a customer when his knife broke. To him, that may have been the most professionally embarrassing moment in his career. It was a “you had one job” situation. True to form, he adapted to the situation, took the broken blade, and kept processing.
Matt went through several other knives that just would not stand up to the outdoor rigors he needed them for, so he decided to make his own. As he put it “at least if my knife broke, there would be nobody to blame but me.” He has a point, too. What could be more frustrating than having no excuses except that someone else’s product failed you?
Once his knives made their way onto the field, they did not stay with him long. He would take them on guided hunts and the hunters wanted them and bought them. Extreme Instinct was born. He went from selling the knife off his belt to a booth at the outfitter.
Air Force Service
Matt had wanted to serve in the military since childhood. But thanks to a baseball scholarship, he started off in college first. He was in class on 9/11 when the news hit that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. With that, he stood up and went to find a recruiter. Contractually obligated to a baseball scholarship, he was forced to remain in school and bide his time until he fulfill his military service.
When Matt went again to enlist, both the Army and Marine Corps saw the 6’3, 225 pound man accurately nicknamed ‘the Juggernaut’, and both recruiting offices wanted the guy to do heavy lifting. But the Air Force offered opportunities for both his physicality and mentality.
After negotiating with recruiters over his weight, and dehydrating his way through MEPS to make the cut, he joined the Air Force and signed up to become a Tactical Air Control Party Specialist. Before his first deployment, Matt suffered a back injury that put him into a non-deployer status and eventually led to his decision to separate from the Air Force.
Still wanting to contribute, Matt began forging knives again to give away to deployers. Through his company, Matt proudly makes a variety of custom bushcraft, like atlatls, hatchets, and a custom walking stick that sounds like one of Inspector Gadget’s tools. It converts into fishing prongs, hunting spear, monopod, and any variety of other tools. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 outbreak forced his machine shop to shut down, putting the walking sticks on hiatus for the time being.
Extreme Instinct and the Savage Experience
The company also now offers primitive survival training and expeditions. In an admittedly over-optimistic endeavor, he even took his expertise to a homeless community along a riverside in Denver. He taught them how to build primitive shelter, trap small animals, and live off the grid. While they were successful at trapping rats, it seemed that some of the people in the camp were not exactly interested in primitive survivalism. But Matt did not hold the course expecting to spark massive social change, it was just a part of him: help people bring out the best in themselves.
Matt Wright is doing his part to make survivalism and self-reliance attainable to others. It helps empower people and lets them see a new perspective on life. He and his wife, Brooke, also a survivalist, are leading group and individual expeditions into the wilderness to teach the “Savage Experience.” His newest Naked and Afraid adventure, Louisiana Legends, premieres Sunday April 25th on Discovery Channel. You can find his outdoor and survival gear at www.extremeinstinct.com!