Some Americans may want to send members of Congress to a deserted island, but two U.S. senators — one Republican and one Democrat — voluntarily exiled themselves to an island in the North Pacific to prove Washington can work together.
Sen. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat, and Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican from Arizona, had to survive on the island and work together using only three tools. Discovery Channel filmed the weeklong experiment for a reality TV special, "Rival Survival," which will air Wednesday, October 29.
Heinrich taught Flake how to open and eat clams, and Flake showed his Southwest colleague how to spearfish. The pair acknowledged it may seem “unsenatorial” to drink out of palm leaves, but they had to find their own food and fresh water — and learn to rely on each other.
“In the middle of this pitched election where things are so hyperpartisan, a lot of us really like each other,” Heinrich told NBC News Capitol Hill Correspondent Kelly O’Donnell. “We want to be able to work together.”
These two senators didn’t have a choice once they took the plunge into the shark-infested waters of the Marshall Islands. Flake and Heinrich threw a coconut in the water to test the current and then swam toward the island Eru, where they built a fire, a rudimentary raft and a shelter to sleep under.
"It was my first night sleeping with a Democrat,” Flake joked, “but gratefully not too close."
Neither senator was paid to participate in the reality TV program, and each paid his own expenses. Flake, to his credit, isn't a newbie when it comes to survivalist adventures.
“If we could exist on a deserted isle,” Flake told O’Donnell, “Then maybe we could reach across the aisle." Both senators were able to keep the trip a secret from their congressional colleagues for more than a year. As for what is next, Heinrich admitted it’s probably not a beach vacation.
NBC's Kelly O'Donnell contributed to this report.