What one tool could help the adults end their losing ways?
If anything can, it’s The Boy Scout Handbook.
For the first time this season, the adult challengers on Are You Tougher Than a Boy Scout? were shown with copies of the preeminent Scouting text before embarking on their first challenge against the Scouts.
In case you’re just joining us, Tougher pits current Eagle Scouts against men who didn’t earn the award as youth or are looking to recapture their teenage glory. But when you’re matching 30-somethings against in-shape teenagers, as we’ve found out in the first three episodes, it’s kinda like sending the Miami Heat to play a team of fifth-graders.
But in Episode 4 of Tougher, titled “Where Eagles Fly,” the adults have a secret weapon. Can the Handbook level the playing field? You’ll have to read my recap and review to find out …
Spoiler alert: This recap will include details that reveal who won the competitions in this week’s episode. Don’t read on if you haven’t seen Episode 4 and want to be surprised by the results.
In the first three episodes, the Scouts won all but two of the challenges. Not exactly a Miami Heat-like streak, but close.
So it’s up to these three challengers to spoil the Scouts’ unstoppable run:
- Bill, 37, senior sales engineer: Bill says he’s competing in part for his dad, his boyhood Scoutmaster who died a few years ago. A large portion of his family earned Eagle, but Bill dropped out as a Cub Scout, so “it would be great if I could win this competition for him,” Bill says.
- Paul, 30, retail manager: Paul’s also remembering a loved one who was an advocate for Scouting. Paul was a third-generation Scout but didn’t earn Eagle himself. “My grandfather passed away,” he says. “This week I’m here to win this compeition and honor his memory. Hopefully he’s looking down on me proudly.”
- Marc, 37, probation officer: This former Marine and father of three was never a Scout “because in my neighborhood, we never had any” troops. On Tougher, Marc hopes to regain his youth by testing himself against the BSA’s best.
For this episode, we’re back at Camp Whitsett, nestled in the heights of California’s Sequoia National Monument near Lake Ida and the mighty Kern River. And as Bill, Marc, and Paul emerge onto the playing field, host Charles Ingram calls the Scouts in.
But instead of standing in a line as on previous episodes, this time the Scouts slowly emerge from the woods on all sides like well-dressed, clean-cut zombies.
And when the camera shifts to reveal Keegan ominously standing behind the adults, the long-haired Scout’s appearance is met by a little horror-movie squink on the soundtrack. I didn’t jump, but it’s the little things that make a TV show special, and this minor detail made me smile.
The Scouts quickly switch to their activity uniforms, and the first three step up to meet their adult challengers. Just three minutes into the episode, we get action. I’m digging it; let’s go.
First Challenge: The Pioneer
The three-on-three challenge tests skills for Pioneering and Rifle Shooting merit badges, and hearing this makes 17-year-old Michael pretty happy.
“I finally get a challenge where it’s my home turf. Lashings, knots, building stuff,” he says. “We’re gonna show the adults who the real pioneers are: the Scouts.”
History’s on Michael’s side as he makes that statement. But as they say, that’s why they play the games. Here’s the setup:
First, teams use pioneering poles and lashings to build a bridge to cross a stream. Next, they build an A-frame derrick for crossing a river. Finally, they find a rifle range and load and fire a musket-ball rifle. The first team to hit all three targets wins.
Michael, Bobby, and Keegan represent the Scouts competing against Marc, Paul, and Bill, who is named patrol leader.
At the bridge-building leg, we see another way in which the adults are, um, heavily disadvantaged. Basically, the adults had better build a strong bridge, because if they don’t, it’s going to snap and send them tumbling into the creek below.
Don’t fret, health and safety people; everyone’s wearing a helmet.
The Scouts complete their lashings quickly and get across in no time. They use the provided GPS to track down the second river crossing, where they’ll need to build an A-frame to cross the river.
Back with the adults, SNAP. As I predicted, the logs crack as Bill, the first adult to attempt to cross, makes it to the middle — the logs’ weak point. As Bobby points out later, the poles are thick and tough, so the adults “must’ve done something wrong” for theirs to break.
The adults make it across their cracked bridge without getting more than their socks soaked and move on.
While the adults get lost trying to find the second leg, the Scouts use square and diagonal lashings to build a derrick, which is an A-frame creation that early Scouts — and some modern ones — use to cross rivers.
If you’ve never seen one, it looks like a giant “A” made out of poles. One person stands or sits on the horizontal piece while others hold a rope attached to the point of the A and slowly lower the crosser down. Having been on one before, I can say it’s more difficult and scarier than it sounds.
Bobby manages to “monkey his way across” by staying on the A-frame even as it dips into the water. The Scouts advance before the adults even finish building their structure.
The adults, meanwhile, send their heaviest teammate, Paul, across the river. At this he shows some skepticism about his fellow adults, saying “I have no control … so I’m ready to go into the water at any second.”
He doesn’t, though, and the adults race to the musket range, where they’ll need to select one team member to hit three targets 60 feet away.
Bobby connects with one target before the adults arrive, and Marc kneels down to take aim. Now, Marc has Marine experience, but that’s not as big of an advantage as you might think.
“Although Marc’s a Marine,” host Charles says, “I don’t know if he’s fired a musket before.”
The teams trade hits and misses, but in a tense finish, the Scouts hit all three targets first to win.
“That was awesome,” Michael says after. “Today we beat a Marine on a gun range.”
In past episodes, the first challenge has been followed by a scene showing the adults bickering about who deserves the blame for their failure. We’ve seen it in all three episodes so far: A blames B and C; B blames A and C; C blames A and B.
But this time, in a refreshing twist, Bill accepts the blame as the patrol leader and doesn’t point fingers at anyone but himself.
The Scouts, however, have to point fingers because it’s their job to send one of the adults home. And they take that job seriously. So seriously, in fact, that they discuss little details I never would have picked up on.
Like the discussion about how Marc’s lashing was the weakest one. Michael picks up a couple of sticks off the ground to demonstrate where Marc went wrong by putting the logs too far apart, weakening his ability to tie an effective lashing that would hold their weight.
Night falls, and everyone retreats to their tents for some sleep, until…
Clang clang clang clang! At 5:30 a.m., Michael comes calling, banging a metal cup against a metal pot right outside the adults’ tents.
Could this be the first time in Scouting history that a Scout is awake before an adult? It might be.
The first one up is Marc, who actually seems happy to be up with the sun. “I’ve got that Marine Corps training,” he explains. “As soon as I hear that wakeup call, I’ve got my gear ready, and I’m outside of my tent. I’m here to win”
Bill, on the other hand, groggily emerges last, after being jostled from a “deep, deep sleep.” Now if that’s not Boy Scout behavior, I don’t know what is.
The vote of who gets sent home comes down to Keegan, who elects to send Marc — and not Paul — packing. “Your bad lashing caused your team to lose,” Keegan says. And like that, his torch is extinguished — oh, oops, wrong reality show.
I was sad to see Marc go, because I liked his attitude and his stated motivation for coming on the show. And he impressed at the shooting challenge. Like me, Marc didn’t think the Scouts made the right choice.
“I don’t agree with their decision,” he says. “I thought the Boy Scouts would see I provided hustle and enough drive. I’ve gotta admit that the lashing kicked my butt.”
Then his thoughts turn to his 9-year-old daughter. “I think seeing her dad trying new things is really gonna teach her a lot,” he says, tears welling in his eyes. “Not to be afraid of challenges that she’s gonna have in her life. Just do your best.”
Marc, you may not have been a Scout, but you’ve shown Scout-like values on Tougher. Well done.
Second Challenge: Snakes in a Tree
Look away, Indiana Jones.
In the second challenge, inspired by the Reptile and Amphibian Study merit badge, teams get one minute to memorize the appearance of several different kinds of snakes, including the California rosy boa, Arizona mountain king snake, the gopher snake, and other nonvenomous varieties.
Then, teams race to a tree where several snakes are hanging in bags. Yes, the actual, live snakes are in the bags. Teams pull each snake out of the bag to identify it. Some of the snakes look alike, so this isn’t easy.
The first team to correctly identify six snakes wins.
For this challenge, the Scout competitors are Rob and Denicio, the latter making his Tougher debut.
Rob outlines the importance of this skill. “In Scouts,” he says, “you’re out in the wilderness, so identifying snakes can be the difference between life and death.”
As the challenge progresses, I can’t help thinking, “only on Tougher.” What other reality competition program would ask competitors to identify a snake and then run back down a trail carrying snakes that, while not venomous, could bite at any time?
We’ve seen humans getting up close and personal with snakes before — on shows like Fear Factor, among others. But there’s one key difference: On Tougher, you might actually learn something.
The adults and Scouts remain neck-and-neck as the final snake remains. In the closest finish of the season, Denicio returns with his blotched snake three seconds faster than Bill, and the Scouts win again.
So much for kumbayas. At the adult camp, Bill blames Paul for mistakenly identifying the rosy boa. Paul had told Bill to grab the rosy boa from the second bag, but that bag didn’t contain the right snake after all.
“I went full speed with everything straight to that sack. .. I took your word for it, ran back, and was wrong,” Bill says.
Paul admits his error but feels that Bill still deserves the ax at the elimination. But it’s the Scouts who decide, so what do they say?
“We’ve come to a decision on who deserves to compete against us in the final challenge,” Rio says. “Bill, we’re gonna see if you’re really tougher than a Boy Scout.”
Paul’s out, but before he goes, he shakes Bill’s hand, thanks the Scouts for the opportunity, and reflects on what it all means.
“I definitely am thinking about my family and thinking about my grandfather right now,” he says. “I think he would see how hard I pushed in order to honor his memory. This whole experience in this competition has felt like the pressing of a reset button of some sort. Because I have gotten away from his roots, and I’m excited to get back into it.”
Come on back as a Scout volunteer, Paul. We’d be happy to have you.
Final Challenge: Lost and Found
The next morning, it’s a one-on-one challenge of “survival skills, speed, smarts, and first aid” that uses skills learned in the Orienteering and First Aid merit badges.
Competitors begin blindfolded, and they’re dropped “in the middle of nowhere.” In front of them are several survival items, and they must choose four and find Lake Ida without a compass. But there’s a twist: At some point, they will come across an emergency first-aid scenario and must tend to the victim and safely transport her to the dock of the lake in order to win.
The Scouts choose Michael to battle Bill. Blindfolds go on, the competitors hop into their cars, and they’re off to their separate drop-off points.
At the drop-off points, Charles reminds the competitors via radio that they must choose four survival items and that they’ll want to select these items knowing they’ll be encountering a medical emergency on their path to the lake. He also says they can use the map that’s there but cannot take it with them.
Michael, a Scout with orienteering experience and Bill, who participates in adventure races for fun, each expertly use landmarks on the map to find their locations. The competitors quickly orient themselves in the direction of a creek.
“In Boy Scouts,” Michael explains, “they teach you that small rivers and streams always lead to large bodies of water, so I know that if I follow the stream, I’ll get to exactly where I need to go.”
Let me step away from the challenge for a sec to make a point. This challenge, like many others on the show so far, really does a lot to showcase how Scouts are “Prepared. For Life.” Sure, true Scouts can build pioneering projects and fire a musket.
But more importantly, true Scouts know what to do when someone’s life is on the line. If a mom who’s considering whether to enroll her son in Scouting sees this episode, she’ll get that message loud and clear.
Back at the race, Michael and Bill arrive at the creek simultaneously.
“Now this is gonna be a footrace,” Bill says. “We’re shoulder to shoulder.” And I’m glued to the TV.
But then, Help! Help! As promised, Bill and Michael are faced with the same first-aid scenario. Separate victims, but the same emergency.
Both young women say they were bitten by a snake, and both men use logs and blankets to build a stretcher. They each work to assure the victim remains calm and doesn’t worry.
Bill and Michael make their stretchers without incident and begin to transport their victims to the finish line.
Bill arrives at the lake first and loads the young woman into the rowboat (after putting a PFD on, of course). “I see [Michael] out of the corner of my eye, so I put my all into the final haul,” Bill says.
Michael is close behind, but Bill is already in the water rowing across the river. Bill grabs the flag, and he’s won!
We’ve seen the Scouts show great Scout Spirit in past episodes, but this time the tables have turned. As Michael comes rowing in, Bill is the first person to help him out of his boat.
“I pull in, and who comes to help me? Bill,” Michael says. “That was, like, a classic Scout move, and it was really great to see that. Bill’s a great guy, and he has earned my respect.”
For my money, Bill is the best adult competitor we’ve seen on the show so far. Not only is he the most physically fit of the adult challengers, he also showed the mental toughness needed to succeed in the competition and in life.
After the win, Bill says he has his dad to thank for that.
“My dad passed away a few years ago,” he says. “The million little things he taught me made me the man I am, and I know he would be proud of me today. This proves it. I am tougher than a Boy Scout.”
While he may not have the wide breadth of Scout skills that Eagle Scouts soak in through years of hard work, he proved himself in that final challenge, and my hat’s off to him.
After that rare win for the adults, the final, four-episode count is Scouts 9, adults 3. Bill added a win to the adults’ column, but the Scouts have still dominated so far. What will happen next week? We’ll have to wait and see!
- The show’s name brings to mind Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader? but the format bears some resemblance to one of my favorite classic shows: American Gladiators. The Scouts on Tougher are like the Gladiators in that they’re skilled and represent a yardstick by which challengers are measured. Thankfully, though, Tougher Scouts lack one thing that those Gladiators were known for: spandex.
- Here’s a line you won’t hear on any other reality show: “Dang, this is a great clove hitch.”
- One of the survival items in the final challenge was toilet paper. Thankfully, neither Bill nor Michael chose that as one of their four items.
- I couldn’t help but notice that both of the victims were young women. Rather than only showing women on the show as “damsels in distress,” maybe future episodes could include adult female competitors — there are some tough female Scouters out there — or female Venturers.
- As several commenters have pointed out, Michael, the Scout, was rowing his boat the wrong way! That certainly slowed him down quite a bit. Look at the photo:
Try in Your Troop
Which of these challenges would your Scouts want to try?
I’m not sure how well the snake identification challenge would go over, but a pioneering race has potential.
You could also create a twist on the final challenge. Instead of one-on-one, which could be dangerous, you could blindfold teams of two or three. Just be sure to equip them with two-way radios in case of a real emergency.
Next new episodes
A programming note: On the National Geographic Channel’s episode guide for the show, they’re showing two new episodes next week.
That means the last two episodes of the season will be shown back-to-back on Monday, April 1, beginning with “Face Plant” at 8 p.m./7 p.m. Central and continuing with “Man vs. Scout” at 9 p.m./8 p.m. Central.
That’s two episodes for the price of one. Be sure to tune in and tell your fellow Scouts and Scouters to watch.
My other recaps
Missed an episode? Catch up here:
Episode 1 recap: We’ve only joust begun
Episode 2 recap: A paddle of wills to prove they belong
Episode 3 recap: Something new under the sun
Online viewing options
National Geographic Channel is working on a variety of options for online viewing, but none is live yet. I still haven’t received word on when/where it’ll be posted online, but I’ll blog about it once I get word.
Photographs from National Geographic Channels