In the ultimate test of true love on last night’s episode of The Bachelor, Sean Lowe challenged some of his bachelorettes to plunge into a Canadian lake where the temperature sat just above freezing.
With the exception of one (sensible) woman, the ladies stripped down to bathing suits for a complete (and quick) total immersion, staying under for what appeared to be a matter of seconds, then rushing out.
But one woman, Tierra, began shaking and gasping for air while her lips turned blue. Paramedics carried her off for medical attention. The word “hypothermia” was spoken. Or … was drama queen Tierra faking it for the camera?
Hypothermia is certainly a risk during a so-called “polar bear plunge,” says former Coast Guard physician Alan Steinman. But for most people, core body temperature won’t drop below normal until after half an hour or so, depending on an individual’s weight and body fat.
Assuming that The Bachelor did not edit the plunge segment, Tierra would not have been submerged long enough to develop hypothermia. But that doesn’t mean that she was faking it for the cameras.
A plunge into almost freezing water, Steinman says, will instantly “trigger a number of reflexes, called cold-shock reflexes.”
First there is a sudden gasp for air as the temperature drop significantly decreases the person’s ability to hold their breath. This, perhaps, was what triggered Tierra’s medical meltdown.
“Because of the danger of gasping for air, people should not dive into ice water headfirst,” Steinman says.
The plunge also triggers a sudden release of adrenaline, which increases heart rate and blood pressure. After about a minute, the cold-shock will gradually fade as the heart rate begins to slow down and blood pressure tries to return to normal.
But the body is still reacting.
The contact between the cold water and the person’s skin will significantly constrict small blood vessels. This is a body’s defense mechanism to keep heat inside the body and preserve the vital organs.
Even if Tierra wasn’t suffering from hypothermia, could she have died from the cold shock?
There is a chance that the sudden outpour of adrenaline could trigger a fatal cardiac arrest, but Steinman notes that this is very rare and is more common for those with heart disease. Tierra not only survived the plunge, she survived the even more hazardous “rose ceremony” and will be back to stir up trouble in next week’s episode—and with no fear of the cold. The group is headed to St. Croix.