Survivalist senators go to deserted island; can they save democracy?

Sen. Jeff Flake, left and Sen. Martin Heinrich, try to start a fire on Eru, one of the Marshall Islands.

Story highlights

  • Sen. Jeff Flake and Sen. Martin Heinrich spent a week on a deserted island
  • It was a survivalist adventure in the Marshall Islands
  • The Discovery channel filmed them for a special
  • Flake is a Republican, and Heinrich is a Democrat
Is bipartisanship in Washington really dead?
Not for a pair of junior senators from different parties who flew to the other side of the world to see whether they could experience across-the-aisle cooperation by living for a week on a deserted island with almost no provisions.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, and Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-New Mexico, came back to the Capitol from their survivalist adventure in the Marshall Islands last month -- which was shot for an upcoming Discovery channel special -- poking fun at each other like best friends and finishing each others' sentences like brothers.
"All of a sudden he thought he was part of the Screen Actors Guild," Flake joshed. "Five o'clock. No more fishing."
"20 hour limit to the day," Heinrich deadpanned.
They stood for an impromptu session with a small group of reporters Thursday, after stepping off the Senate floor where they had voted, perhaps not surprisingly, opposite one another on a campaign finance bill. They said the idea for the trip was sparked a year ago during a late-night series of floor votes where they compared past trips each had taken to spear fish.
"Jeff had his iPad and showed me some pictures of the last trip he did with his kids. Then I started to show him pictures of fish I had speared on various trips," said Heinrich.
"He speared bigger fish than I had," Flake said. "So I thought ..."
"Hey, there might be some value here," Heinrich interjected, completing Flake's thought.
Flake knew what he needed because he has some previous survivalist experience. A year ago, he and his sons spent a week on a similar deserted island.
Discovery allowed them to take only three provisions on the sandy atoll but the senators refused to say what they were -- "tune in," they responded in unison. But they had clothes.
"That was a nonstarter," Flake said. "We were afraid but not naked."
Asked what skill the other person had for which they were grateful, Flake said, "I'm glad Martin's the engineer type. Because I wouldn't have known how to put together a shelter."
"He opens coconuts with a machete faster than anyone I've ever seen," Heinrich responded.
"That came in handy because that's all we had to drink for a long time," Flake replied.
They were asked whether they think the trip will open doors for them to work together in the future, and they seemed upbeat.
"I think what's missing most around here is trust, and that's mostly because people don't know each other very well," Heinrich said. "I think you need to know each other before you can figure out where you can work together."
Flake said they considered bringing their own GoPro cameras and documenting the trips themselves but then thought Discovery might do a better job.
Discovery "convinced us that if this is to have some value in terms of promoting bipartisanship and trust, it's better for people to see and hear the dialogue between us," he explained.
Asked whether there were any tensions between the men, Heinrich acknowledged "it was pretty stressful."
"This was not a resort experience," he said.
"It was competitive," Flake said.