Jim Morton ’91: Out in the Wild with “Naked & Afraid”

Jim Morton ’91: Out in the Wild with “Naked & Afraid”

A TV producer gets down and dirty following contestants into the jungle

Jim Morton 91

Jim Morton ’91 grew up spending time in the Alabama woods with his dad, forestry major James Morton ’61, never knowing it would prepare him for his future career as a producer of hit reality show “Naked and Afraid.”

Morton says he was Auburn-bound from birth — “Ever since I was a little kid, Auburn was the place. I wanted to go there; it was home.”

Bouncing around between majors throughout his time at Auburn, Morton finally found his calling in radio and TV production classes. “I’m a storyteller at heart, and from that moment on, I was like, ‘this is what I want to do.’”

Before graduating with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and minors in psychology and business, Morton completed an internship at CNN. He worked his way up the ladder in the video journalist program, doing everything from tape editing to producing – and even sports casting.

Taking place at the outbreak of the first Gulf War, his experience in the control room during those tense times convinced Morton he’d made the right career choice.

“I fell in love with fast-paced, live TV. Talk about an adrenaline rush — you have to learn everything you can in 30 seconds, which is a lot more than you think.” After his internship, Morton moved to L.A. and began his career as a freelance producer. His first job was with production company Renegade83, never anticipating it would lead him to the biggest show in his career: “Naked and Afraid.”

Life as a freelance producer landed Morton producing shows of all kinds, toughing through some duds simply for the paycheck, but also getting to do shows he loved, like “The Benefactor” with Mark Cuban and “Only in America” with Larry the Cable Guy. He worked hard and travelled often so much that, once, he had to call the front desk at his hotel to ask what city he was in. One day Renegade83 approached Morton about producing “Naked and Afraid,” and although still unsure, he gave it a shot.

Jim Morton 91 on set
Morton on the set of “Naked and Afraid”

After rushing a contestant on the brink of death to the hospital, eyes rolling in the back of her head, he told his wife, “if I do three seasons of this, it’ll be a miracle.” Yet he is still here, several years later, getting ready for another season.

Although surrounded by nudity for weeks at a time, Morton and his crew find it easy to stay professional to keep contestants comfortable. “To me, they might as well be wearing a flesh-colored jumpsuit,” he said, “We notice the bug bites more than anything.” Ironically, Morton say the weirdest part for him is actually seeing what the cast members where in real life after the show ends.

Years on the show have taken Morton to beautiful places across the globe like Brazil, Ecuador, Belize and Panama. He even filmed a season on his family’s land in Alabama. Morton’s favorite location — also the most desolate — was Guyana, where the crew stayed in a ranch in one room without hot water or power. “It was the most remote place I’ve ever been, and it was pretty miserable, but we had a ball – we loved it.”

During his travels, Morton has seen cast and crew members with deadly bug and snake bites, and was himself once bitten by a scorpion in his sleep. He’s also eaten some unusual things – termites and ants that taste like lemons, grub worms, even iguana — a delicacy in Guyana.

He’s also met some incredible people with amazing stories, like Diego, a local expert who escaped imprisonment from rebel soldiers while in the Colombian Army and dedicated his life to jungle survival. “The people you meet are what make it really special,” he said.

Much of what Morton does isn’t in the typical job description of a producer, like testing safe evacuation routes for the cast by hiking miles and pedaling across treacherous waters. Just getting to and from the set every day is a workout; he loses an average of 20 pounds per season.

The hardest part of his job isn’t the tiresome hiking or constant heat and bugs, Morton said. It’s watching contestants make mistakes, like drinking questionable water, and not being able to help them. The one thing he can do is take on the role of coach and cheerleader, “I can’t see them, or give them water, but I can give them encouragement and make the believe that they’re going to make it.” Morton finds inspiration from the book “Lone Survivor” to tell them to make it through the day or the hour rather than looking ahead to the pain.

“The highs are super high, and the lows are super low, but I remind them they’ll get a little victory eventually.”

JIM MORTON ’91: OUT IN THE WILD WITH “NAKED & AFRAID” Alumni profile for magazine ex 3

While his job is difficult at times, the crew makes every second of it worth it. “The people that work on the show are like a big family – we love working together and everybody gets along, because you have to in such a weird situation. It’s such an incredible group of people, and they’re really dedicated to what they do.”

Throughout his travels, Morton gained a newfound appreciation for the little things in life like air conditioning and fresh water, but most of all – not having to eat rice on a daily basis. “My wife will ask me what I want to eat, and I always say, ‘Anything but rice. No rice,’” he said. The crew eats so much rice, they even joked about making a t-shirt with “Hope you like rice” on the back.

More than happy with where he is now, Morton certainly didn’t expect to be where he is today facing the dangers of nature. “Being in the woods with my dad my whole life kind of prepared me for it. Everywhere we go is hot and humid like Alabama in the summertime, with bugs and venomous snakes.” His love for Alabama brought him all the way back home to Auburn last January. “L.A. just wasn’t for me; I’m a guy from Alabama, you know,” he laughed. Morton enjoys walking around downtown Auburn with his wife by his side and taking in the town he holds so many memories of.

With little time to relax, Morton is already filming for the next season of “Naked and Afraid” in Africa. “This is my first time [going to Africa] and I’m so excited,” he said. While the specific location can’t be disclosed until after filming, Morton said that there will be armed rangers to protect them from the wild animals of Africa.

Morton always wears some Auburn clothing or hat while filming and gets “War Eagle” from people across the globe, like Colombia and Panama. With his crew by his side, the challenges of the wild won’t stop him from filming anytime soon.

“There are times when its absolutely miserable – but you have your friends, you’re all suffering together, and you make the most out of it.”

“There are times when its absolutely miserable – but you have your friends, you’re all suffering together, and you make the most out of it.”

Steve Sartain ’98: Forming A Community For Veterans Down Under

Steve Sartain ’98: Forming A Community For Veterans Down Under

He was a Charter Member of the first U.S. VFW Post in Australia to bridge the gap back home

Steve Sartain 98

Throughout his life, the only constant for Steve Sartain ’98 is that it’s consistently inconsistent.

Born in South Korea into a military family that alternated between Korea and the U.S. every few years, change is all Sartain has known. Yet, no matter where he’s been in his life, Sartain has managed to build a sense of community with those around him, just as he’s done by helping establish the first U.S. Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) post in Australia.

“One of the things missing for me here in Australia was the sense of camaraderie that I had in the military as well as a central group of Americans living Down Under,” Sartain said. “Additionally, there was little to no support for American veterans and their families like they would receive if they were Stateside.”

Out of this desire, Sartain, along with several other U.S. veterans, applied for and got Western Australia VFW Post 12163 chartered on May 7, 2017. From putting on social events to providing services to veterans and their families and supporting the local community, Sartain has worked in several roles in the post to make U.S. veterans feel at home on the other side of the world.

With his father’s service in the Air Force, Sartain is the fifth generation of military servicemen in his family, and he’s been able to trace his family lineage all the way back to the Revolutionary War.

“Having grown up on Air Force bases for most of my life, I always wanted to fly, so right after I got my driver’s license at 16, I flew for three months straight and earned my private pilot’s license, which is still one of the most memorable moments in my life.”

Attending high school in Germantown, Tennessee, Sartain decided Auburn was the best fit for him because of its strong aviation and aerospace programs as well as its top-ranked ROTC unit. What he didn’t realize is that he would get much more than that from his experience on The Plains.

“I specifically remember walking around campus during my first visit, and the fact that just saying “War Eagle” means hello, good-bye or what’s up, I was hooked. I loved my Auburn days, and to this day, I still try to represent Auburn in any way I can in the Land Down Under.”

Steve Sartain 98
Sartain with a Quokka, an Australian marsupial

In his time at college, Sartain was active in March of Dimes, the Auburn Choir and Delta Sigma Phi and Phi Mu Alpha fraternities, but a life-altering moment came during his time as a camp counselor in the inaugural Camp War Eagle.

During one of the academic sessions when campers can speak to advisors, Sartain decided to discuss the hospitality program with Susan Hubbard, now dean of the College of Human Sciences, because not many airlines were hiring at the time. She suggested taking a couple entry-level courses in the major. Because of his background working in the restaurant industry, the classes felt like second nature and he switched.

A couple internships with the Walt Disney World Resort later, Sartain got hired as the hotel manager for the Ritz-Carlton in Atlanta two weeks after graduation and was heavily involved in the Ritz’s college-recruiting efforts. Many of these visits were back to Auburn. During one such trip, he met his wife who happened to be an exchange student from Edith Cowan University in Western Australia; his fraternity “big brother” was eventually the best man at his wedding in Australia.

Although he would occasionally fly, even sometimes taking friends to Auburn gamedays, the itch to get back into the cockpit was too much, and he was sworn into the Air Force in 2001 after three years with Ritz.

“I’ve always said my worst day in the air is better than my best day on the ground.” After completing training in 2003 and with his squadron being deployed overseas, Sartain was one of just three officers running the entire squadron in Florida. With numerous jobs and responsibilities in the squadron and being half Korean on his mother’s side, Sartain got the nickname “Odd Job,” from the Korean villain in the James Bond movie “Goldfinger.”

After more than a  decade of meritorious distinguished service in the Air Force, Sartain relocated to Australia when his Auburn sweetheart got a job offer too good to refuse.

His illustrious Air Force career included flying Combat Rescue deployments across the globe, flying humanitarian missions supporting Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Ike as well as flying 17 rescue missions for NASA’s Space Shuttle program. He also aided in the rescue mission that was dramatized in the film “Captain Philips” starring Tom Hanks.

Sartain’s first job in Perth, Western Australia, was director of the AeroSpace Training Centre for the state government, but once again, the itch to personally get back into the cockpit was too strong. When he got the offer to be the inaugural manager for Western Australia’s Emergency Rescue Helicopter Services, he couldn’t resist.

“The opportunity to be back in world search and rescue was too good to pass up. It is an honor to lead our rescue crews in providing this life-saving service for the state, and continuing to uphold the SAR motto: These things we do, that others may live.”

With a dream job secured, the only piece of his past life missing in Australia was the sense of camaraderie he got from the military. But just as he’s done in dozens of homes growing up, at an unfamiliar school in Auburn and on several Air Force bases, he created a sense of togetherness through the first VFW in Australia.

“Our goal is to continue to support American veterans and their families here in Western Australia. We have been fortunate to be able to increase our post numbers each year, promote the VFW in supporting the community and bring together a tighter-knit Oz-American extended family.”

Steve Sartain 98
Jason Garnier ’97: Pilot By Day, Land Rover Restorer By Night

Jason Garnier ’97: Pilot By Day, Land Rover Restorer By Night

Chasing thrills—and vintage cars—around the globe

Jason Garnier

Jason Garnier ’97 achieved his life-long dream of becoming a professional pilot over 20 years ago. But now he is chasing a new dream, this time on the ground, with a side business, restoring old Land Rovers.

Although he wouldn’t start his company 34NorthDefenders until much later on, Garnier first got his used-motor-vehicle dealer’s license while he was furloughed for two years following the attacks on September 11.

He maintained his license throughout the years, buying and selling used cars on the side, but after he went on a few safari trips while on flight assignment in Johannesburg, South Africa, he developed a love for the iconic Land Rover.

“It’s definitely a niche market,” Garnier said. “They’re very simple, rugged vehicles. There’s nothing fancy about them. It’s something unique – the history, the nostalgia, the simplicity of the Defender. They’ve just stayed true to what they are over the years.”

After buying his first personal Land Rover – a 1975 series III – and selling it in 2016, Garnier was able to incorporate his love for the Land Rovers into his day job while flying a Boeing 777 to places like South Africa, the Netherlands and Australia.

“Flying’s always been my priority, but now, I’m just turning a passion into a business.”

Growing up in Atlanta, Garnier didn’t want to just go to a typical flight school; he also wanted the “big university” experience. So, when it came time to decide on a school, Auburn’s highly regarded aviation program was one of the only places he could get both.

Garnier loved everything about the program and took a co-op with Delta in his junior year at Auburn, leading to a job right after graduation with a regional airline. After three years, Garnier was picked up by Delta, where he’s remained for nearly two decades. By the nature of his longer flights, Garnier’s assignments are typically three to five days, which includes the flight there and back, as well as time on the ground, allowing him to make connections around the world and get immersed in the growing Land Rover community.

Jason Garnier and Family
Jason Garnier (center) with family

Since the Defender was only offered in the U.S. from 1994-1997 and went completely out of production in 2016, demand has skyrocketed. Garnier is trying to provide customers a distinguished-looking vehicle at a reasonable price.

“There are some companies out there that do amazing and beautiful work, but it comes at quite a premium, which isn’t affordable to a lot of people.”

Looking to have just a few vehicles in the pipeline to start off, Garnier currently has three Defenders in South Africa and another in Turkey – all in the restoration phase. Because there are so many people around the world who specialize in restoring Land Rovers, Garnier outsources all the restoration in the places the vehicles come from. He said he expects his current vehicles to be ready for import to the U.S. for sale in the next few months.

And with different styles in mind, 34NorthDefenders, named for the latitude that the pilot’s hometown of Atlanta lies, will offer a traditional Land Rover look, a more economical style for off road and a luxury Defender, or “the Buckhead style” as the he likes to call it.

“It’ll probably never see off road, but somebody will get to drive a pretty cool vehicle – something you’d see in Buckhead,” Garnier said with a laugh.

With his business in the early stages, Garnier hopes to build his business’s name to a point where customers approach him for specific customized Defenders.

“One day, I’d love to have a retail location in downtown Atlanta; that’s probably a few years down the road, but we’ll see.”