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It was a hot, crowded summer day at Inks Lake State Park, an hour outside Austin, Texas. Campsites were bustling with families and groups of friends grilling, playing, and swimming in the nearby reservoir. For many it was the start of a relaxing weekend.
Ivy Le, meanwhile, stood anxiously at the park entrance, recording equipment in hand, wondering if all her preparation would pay off. It would be her first time sleeping outdoors, and with three days and two nights ahead of her, there was plenty to worry about: wild-animal attacks, the spiders living in the bathrooms, and an unfortunately timed yeast infection. Still, she made her way to her campsite, determined to carry out her mission.
The camping trip was the culmination of three years of work for Le, an Austin-based podcaster, comedian, and self-professed fan of the indoors, and would serve as the season finale of her ten-episode podcast FOGO: Fear of Going Outside, in which she confronts her aversion to outdoor spaces. As Le puts it, “FOGO is a nature show with the most reluctant host ever.”
Released this summer on Spotify, FOGO follows Le’s preparation for the camping trip from day one, bringing in perspectives from a range of experts along the way. In one episode, a former wildland firefighter and nature educator teaches her survival skills; in another, she attends a therapy session to overcome her outdoor-related fears and hang-ups. Le approaches the material with a mix of humor, awkwardness, and sincerity, making her an approachable guide for fellow beginners.
For Le, the show allowed her to redress the rocky relationship with the outdoors that she developed as a kid growing up in Dallas. As a second-generation Vietnamese American living in a big city, Le didn’t have many natural spaces nearby, and she didn’t see many people who looked like her going hiking or camping. “If I were to tell my parents, ‘Hey, I’m going to go camping for funsies,’ they’d be like, ‘What? Why?’” she says. “They would literally not understand what it was I was about to go do.”
After building a career in creative fields—writing, poetry, and eventually stand-up comedy—she came to podcasting, first as a fan. “I discovered podcasts when I became a mom, while I was breastfeeding my first child,” she says. “I ended up loving the medium so much that I had a running list of like 200 podcast ideas.”
Of those, Le settled on one that had urgency: finding a way to enjoy the great outdoors before it was too late. “It’s not that I want to go outside—I just don’t want to miss out before I die,” she says in the show’s first episode, citing climate change and other threats to the outdoors as her motivation. “My FOMO is in direct conflict with my FOGO…. It feels overwhelming to figure it all out from zero, but if I don’t go now, I might never get the chance.”
At a Spotify accelerator camp for aspiring podcasters who are women of color, she came up with a plan: she would spend six months recording her journey from an outdoors skeptic to, well, a more knowledgeable outdoors skeptic. A Kickstarter campaign followed soon after, in 2018, which raised just enough money for sound equipment and camping gear.
“I think humor is definitely a tool that marginalized people use to live the joyful lives that we’re owed, and to process the experience of being marginalized.”
Le’s comedy is an effective antidote to the self-seriousness she’s noticed in outdoor culture: “You all are a humorless lot,” she tells me. Her beginner’s perspective allows her to poke fun at the outdoor world from a fresh point of view. “Most of the time, I’m not trying to be funny,” she says. “Sometimes it makes you laugh, because you’re uncomfortable or maybe because you recognize something true and that’s your response.” Her jokes about outdoorsy stereotypes entertain and disarm listeners, but there’s also a greater meaning behind them. “I think humor is definitely a tool that marginalized people use to live the joyful lives that we’re owed, and to process the experience of being marginalized,” she says.
Her comedic style is also influenced by her favorite nature shows on cable TV. “I watch almost all the nature shows out there,” she says. “All the hoity-toity ones, the weird ones like Naked and Afraid, I’m obsessed.” In one episode, for instance, a guest host narrates Le’s shopping trip to find camping supplies; the voice-over is excessively dramatic, and the host describes Le stuck in a sleeping bag, like a bear in a trap.
FOGO premiered in May. It was among Spotify’s top 50 most popular podcasts in its first week and earned Le an inadvertent role as a kind of educator in outdoor media. Not only did non-outdoorsy listeners relate to her experiences, but hikers, campers, and other outdoor enthusiasts listened to hear a different perspective. “I did not make the show for outdoor people,” she says, “but I am fascinated that it’s resonating with outdoor people.”
Since completing her camping trip (spoiler alert: she makes it out alive!), Le has considered a few ideas for a second season, but she isn’t in a particular rush. Meanwhile, she’s already achieved one of her main goals for the podcast. “One of the explicit reasons I wanted to make a show that was from my perspective, but not for the consumption of my pain, is that so much of media is made for the white gaze, and I’ve just thought there’s just enough of it,” she says. “I want to be the nature-show host that a person rich with intersectional identities can trust.”