Elijah Naidas had never gone camping before, let alone spend nights on end away from his home, parents and technology — deep in the Sierra National Forest of California.
But that quickly became his reality.
Elijah was one of 16 teenage contestants cast out of 14,000 applicants from the U.S. on the new HBO Max reality show "Karma," that premiered on June 18.
"Karma" is a competition series where kids aged 12 to 15 are sent into the wilderness for up to 30 days to solve mental and physical challenges alongside a teammate. The laws of karma outweigh anything else, though — what goes around, comes around.
"It’s so crazy," said Elijah, 15, of Palm Bay. "I was taken away from my entire family, no phones ... it was eye-opening."
Contestants were thrown into the physical challenges right off the bat, competing in two back-to-back almost immediately. Though a natural athlete and varsity basketball player at Palm Bay Magnet High School, Elijah was nervous to see how he would perform, but he said it ended up not being as bad as he imagined.
The hardest part was adapting to the environment, Elijah said. Going from sleeping in a cushy, air-conditioned bedroom to a sleeping bag in a wood cabin on a chilly mountain night in August wasn't an easy adjustment.
There were perks, though, such as watching shooting stars with fellow contestants, he said. Forming close bonds with the other teens was one of Elijah's favorite parts.
"We all come from these different places and backgrounds, but were able to come together on the show," Elijah said. "It was life-changing."
Elijah never thought he'd be cast on the show and didn't prepare much for his audition video, having filmed it barely awake and still in his pajamas, but the teenager is grateful to have taken away invaluable life lessons from his experience.
"It showed me there was more to the world than having to be on technology every second," he said. "And that I might not know everything ... I depend on my parents a lot. When I was out there by myself, I got to reflect on how important my family is to me."
The Naidas family — mom, Wendy; dad, Deuel; two sisters and brother — will have a small watch party at their home Thursday to see Elijah in action.
All eight episodes of "Karma" will be available on HBO Max, a subscription-based streaming service.
This story originally published to floridatoday.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the USA TODAY Network - Florida.