All good television shows must come to an end.
And so it is with a heavy heart that tonight we waved goodbye to Are You Tougher Than a Boy Scout?, the six-episode reality series that matched fresh-faced Eagle Scouts against 30- and 40-something adults looking to recapture their teenage glory.
Coming into the season’s final night, the score was Scouts 9, Adults 3. So the adults needed to win every challenge in both episodes to just secure a tie. Call me a pessimist, but I think the BSA National Office softball team has a better chance against the Texas Rangers. (And the BSA National Office doesn’t even have a softball team!)
Tonight’s pair of episodes got off to a good start but ended with a strange, frustrating rule change that nobody saw coming. What was the rule change? And did the Scouts continue their winning ways? You’ll have to read on 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 Episodes 5 and 6 and want to be surprised by the results.
Episode 5: “Face Plant”
With a name like “Face Plant,” it’s got to be good. And sure enough, the episode lived up to its title in a big, painful way. But first thing’s first: Let’s meet our adults.
- Rage, 45, scuba diving instructor: Spent a year and a half in Scouting. “As you get older, you realize … follow-through is everything in life,” he says. “And I’ve come back to finish what I started.”
- Dave, 45, former soccer player: Spent three years in Scouting. His father died from cancer in 2001. “He would say, ‘always keep a positive attitude. Don’t give up,’” Dave says. “And I’m here to win it for him.”
- James, 39, former Marine: Spent eight years in Scouting, Life Scout, 20 merit badges. “I’m here to show that I have what it takes,” James says.
First Challenge: Range Finder
We start things off with a shooting-sports relay involving archery, shotgun-shooting, and a .22-caliber rifle. One competitor for each range, but the twist is competitors needed to use geocaching skills to find the ammo hidden somewhere in the woods.
Dave outlined the task facing him and his fellow adults: “I’m trying to find my way to an archery range to compete against a guy named ‘Robin Hood.’ That’s not good.”
Also not good: Choosing the wrong-handed bow. Both left- and right-handed bows hung from a tree, each clearly labeled.
Dave: “I have two bows. One was a right-handed bow, one was a left-handed bow. I was sure that I grabbed a right-handed bow.”
Compounding Dave’s woes were his lack of familiarity with a GPS device. As the pop-up graphics reminded us, GPS is key to the Geocaching merit badge, created in 2010. In other words, they didn’t have it when Dave was a teenager.
“Those kids and their technical know-how,” says Dave, somehow making himself sound double his age.
Rob, aka Robin Hood, gives viewers at home some tips on how to shoot: Good solid stance, bring bow up to solid anchor point, then release and see where the arrow goes to make any necessary adjustments.
After calibrating with a couple of missed shots, Robin Hood hits the targets quickly.
Dave, it should be noted, doesn’t use Robin Hood’s technique. Instead of pulling back to his shoulder, he just brings the bow midway back and holds it in front of him. Plus, it turns out he had grabbed the left-handed bow. One tiny problem: Dave is right-handed.
Feeling Scoutlike, Robin Hood approaches Dave and helps him with tips on better aiming. That’s great to see in a competition. You never see Kobe Bryant walk over to his opponents’ bench to give free-throw tips to a struggling shooter, but that’s Scouting for ya.
The rest of the shooting stages go pretty much the same way. The Scouts soar through the skeet-shooting range and rifle event, despite a valiant effort from James, a Marine-trained marksman.
The Scouts win, their lead insurmountable. But I get the sense that with more time, James would’ve won. He was more accurate overall, but this was a race, not an accuracy contest.
Around the campfire, everyone agrees that James was the MVP, impressing with his skills and calmness at the .22 range.
But who was on the opposite end of the spectrum? As always, the Scouts decide who goes home, and it comes down to Dave and Rage.
Dave, who picked up the wrong-handed bow, is deemed “not tougher than a Boy Scout.”
“I think if my dad was looking down,” Dave says. “I think he would see that I never gave up.”
Nice parting words, Dave. I’m sure he’s proud.
Second Challenge: Boy Scout Quiz Show
And now for something completely different. The second challenge is out of left field, a quiz show with a presentation style and graphics straight from The Price is Right.
Rage and James go against Diallo, who knows the Handbook better than most, and Rob, who has 132 merit badges. The Scouts are the studio audience, and behind a lectern-shaped log is Charles Ingram, doing his best Alex Trebek impersonation.
The quiz questions were paired with Scout-related tasks. The first person to correctly answer scored points for his team.
The tasks ranged from serious — split a log in half before answering — to silly — spin around in circles to make yourself dizzy before answering.
The questions: What is another name for the North Star? Name the planets in our solar system. How many stripes are on the American flag, and what do they represent?
Rob gets all eight planets. Rage, meanwhile, knows just one of the eight. Really?
“Does he even know what planet he’s on?” asks Keegan from the peanut gallery.
During the speed round, Rage provides more laughs. The task: Name as many U.S. state capitals as you can in 30 seconds.
Rage knows just one capital, while Rob gets 7 correct.
Now, I love trivia. Game nights, Jeopardy! on the DVR, crossword puzzles. So I found this enjoyable, but I would’ve preferred seeing more Scout-centric questions here. Still, I can’t deny it was entertaining to see Rage squirm through these eighth-grade-level questions.
In fact, the quiz show was a lot of fun, and really, you could build an entire show around this format. Show some Scouts sitting around and making funny, but good-spirited, comments while their fellow Scouts compete against adults to answer trivia questions and perform tasks.
It was the tiebreaker that really had me scratching my head. Tied at 40 after three rounds of questions, this final challenge asked the Scouts and adults to act out animals for teammates to identify. Essentially an “animal charades.” The stakes were high — the team that wins the round wins the quiz show — but the Scout link was low. No merit badge that I’ve heard of tasks Scouts with pretending to be a dolphin or acting out the motions of a zebra.
Surely the producers could’ve done better.
“If Rage can only name one planet,” Rio says — “and one state capital” Keegan interjects — “he should probably go home.”
Agreed. And sure enough, the Scouts waste no time and head over to the adult campfire to send Rage home.
“These guys taguht me a little lesson, and I won’t forget lessons like this,” Rage says on his way out. “I’m not a loser, I’m a winner for just being here. I stand strong.”
Thanks for the memories, Rage. You were one of the most enjoyable adults on the show so far. But still, it wouldn’t hurt to invest in a map!
Here’s your chance, James. The final challenge is a three-leg race that includes cycling, climbing, and gunnel jumping? The final task is one I hadn’t seen because it’s rarely practiced anymore.
It’s a from-the-Scouting-archives event where someone propels the canoe by jumping on the stern and bouncing it forward. Who knew this was even possible?
The Scouts tap Keegan to face James, and anyone who’s seen an episode knows that Keegan is a great choice to represent the Scouts. The Yeti is ready.
On the BMX course, Keegan starts to get smaller and smaller in James’ eyeline. “All I can see is Yeti’s hair,” he says.
And then, at last, we get the “Face Plant.” The moment we’ve been waiting for. We’ve seen that clip in the Tougher promos, but it was still a shock in real time. You know how some comedy movies spoil all the good punch lines in the movie trailer? But you still laugh when you see that scene in the actual movie? Same story here — but less “haha” and more “ouch.”
When James goes over his handlebars and into the side of the creek, we expect it. But I still said “ouch!” as if I was seeing it for the first time. Sorry, James.
He survives with just a scrape and moves onto the lake, where Keegan has spotted a problem.
“I get to the lake,” he says, “there’s a canoe with no paddles.”
Ah, so there is a practical use for gunnel jumping. Mental note made.
Gunnels, the term for the side rails of the canoe, aren’t usually made for standing. But if you do stand with one foot on each side near the stern and bounce your weight up and down, you can actually move the canoe forward. Or, at least you can if you’re 17 and fearless. I’ve never tried it, but it can’t be as easy as Keegan was making it look. Then again, what is?
Keegan has obviously done this before. He has a little trouble with aim and falls in the water once, but still takes first place in the challenge.
Of course, the Scouts win and go three-for-three in the episode. After five episodes, it’s Scouts 12, Adults 3.
Admirably, James still finishes even after Keegan has taken the victory. With the Scouts cheering him on, he still chooses to cross the finish line.
“I’ve had an absolute blast,” he says. “This competition has given me the opportunity to now that if I had the chance to go back, I could do it. And that’s a wonderful opportunity to have.”
James’ time on Tougher ends, but the night is just beginning for viewers.
Episode 6: “Man vs. Scout”
This changes everything. Without warning, the show completely changes its format, and some of its Scout cast, for the final episode. Now, it’s my understanding that the last episode of the show to air was actually the first filmed. So that explains some of the confusing changes. But I was left scratching my head more than once, and I bet I’m not alone.
I’ll explain in a second, but first let’s meet our adults.
- Stev, 45, real estate agent: He says he was kicked out of Cub Scouts for dunking a kid’s head under water. “I’m here to redeem myself,” he says.
- Howard, 40, entreprenuer: “I remember going to my mom and said, ‘Mom, can I do Scouting?’ and my mom said, ‘Jewish boys don’t do Scouts.’ So this is my chance.”
- Gregg, 43, general contractor: Gregg’s dad, who died three years ago, really believed in the Boy Scouts. “I really want to win this competition for him,” he says.
First challenge: Arrow Gorge
For the first event, contestants tie a string to an arrow and shoot it across the gorge. Then they cross the gorge on a commando line (hang from a rope and pull yourself across) and then bring the backpack over using the string they shot to the other side.
Cool challenge, but there’s just one problem: It’s the adults competing against one another instead of against the Scouts.
OK, this doesn’t make sense. In the five episodes previous to this one, the adults competed against the Scouts. This isn’t changing horses midstream; this is swapping steeds on the home stretch.
Rather than showing their own skills, all the Scouts can do is just stand nearby to watch and make observations. Their comments were fine, but it’s not exactly the best way to showcase the talents we know the Scouts have. We’ve seen them dominate in previous episodes, after all.
Are You Tougher Than a Boy Scout? If I’m an adult on this episode, my answer is, “Who knows if I can’t compete against one?”
Enough ranting. There’s a game going on, and Howard is having trouble. While Gregg is crossing the gorge, Howard unclips his backpack and decides to cross the river in a raft that’s sitting there for a later event. He’s not wearing a PFD or helmet, as the Scouts quickly point out. Forget the rules, Howard is going rogue.
“I can’t believe what I’m watching,” Gregg says of his adult rival. “Howard’s got no life vest, he’s got no helmet.” And so, of course, Howard then jumps out of the raft into the water to make things more dangerous.
Rio: “That’s the stupidest decision that I’ve seen so far. He might get across, but he didn’t get across the Boy Scout way.”
Once he’s finally across, with clothes and gear soaked, Howard hangs his head.
“My wife said to me before she said goodbye, ‘don’t embarrass the Schwartz name.’ Whether I got across or not is not the point,” he says. “I did not use any Scout skills, and I failed.”
Gregg is the only one to get across the way the challenge was intended, and when he does, he says he feels “like I’m in sixth grade again at my first Scouting meeting.”
Stev, on the other hand, needs the safety guys to come rescue him as he hangs midway across the gorge. With the added weight in his backpack, he was simply too big to pull himself across.
After the adults make it across — each using his own “unique” method — I couldn’t help but wonder how the Scouts, who were quick to judge the missteps of the adults, would’ve done in the challenge. Surely they wouldn’t have gotten stuck midway across or tried to cross the river without a PFD or helmet, but would they have done as well as Gregg?
We’ll never know.
While the adults set up camp, the Scouts grouped to decide who would go home. Gregg wasn’t the first across the river, but he was the only one who did it the Scout way.
The Scouts agree that Gregg impressed them the most, so either Stev or Howard is headed home. After a close vote, it’s Stev who is sent packing.
“I failed at being a Boy Scout twice,” Stev says. “I learned my lesson. At the end of the day, I definitely was not smarter than a Boy Scout nor tougher. I have a newfound respect for the Boy Scouts as a whole. They know how to survive in this stuff, and I don’t.”
Credit where it’s due. I like that.
Second Challenge: Lost and Found
Another head to head challenge, Lost and Found, tests skills used in Orienteering and First Aid merit badges. Like the first challenge, this is adult vs. adult with the Scouts only watching.
Competitors begin blindfolded, and they’re dropped “in the middle of nowhere.” In front of them are several survival items (knife, rope, cash, trail mix, sling, mirror, water bottle, etc.), 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 him or her to the dock of the lake in order to win.
If this all sounds familiar, you’re right. We saw this exact same challenge in Episode 4, but that time it was a Scout vs. an adult. Maybe it’s more of a fair fight, but, again, it doesn’t align with the idea of proving that Scouts are tough. (If you’re a viewer watching Tougher for the first time, you still have no way of knowing whether these Scouts are truly “tough” to this point.)
The two orient themselves based on surrounding landmarks, and then they’re off. Gregg wisely tries to find a stream that should lead to the lake — same as both competitors did in Episode 4.
Howard, meanwhile, is only using the sun to navigate. “I’ve got in my mind this trajectory of heading towards the southwest,” he says.
Eventually, both men find their victims, use supplies to fashion a splint, and make it to the lake. Once there, Gregg is too strong of a swimmer and crosses the finish line first.
Scouts, lights shining under their chins like they’re telling ghost stories, circle up in the dark and decide which adult to send out of there.
It doesn’t take much deliberation. It’s Howard; he’s done.
Howard seems to be leaving with a sour taste in his mouth.
“I was humbled and embarrassed by some of the tactics that I did,” he says. “That’s how you learn, man. If you try and you fail, that’s better than failing to try. And that’s my motto.”
Well said. You can hold your head high, I say.
With Howard gone, Bobby tells Gregg the stakes for the next morning.
“So, Gregg, I hope you get a good night sleep tonight,” the Scout says. “You’ve got a big day tomorrow. You’re taking us on. I’d like to introduce you to our fellow Scout and our secret weapon,” Rio says, and then opens the tent to reveal… “Big South.”
He comes out guns blazing — literally. He’s holding two shotguns that he swings to his shoulders as he emerges from the tent. The producers added a “gun cocking” sound effect, but Will never actually pumped the shotgun — I watched that scene several times to make sure.
The scene looks dramatic — light coming from the tent, fire turning everyone’s faces a reddish-orange — but it felt unsafe to me. Maybe I’m overprotective, but something about a Scout coming out swinging guns around like he’s in a Tarantino movie gave me pause.
And when Gregg laughs, it’s hard to tell whether he’s laughing out of fear for what he faces the next day or because the drama is being laid on so thick.
Third Challenge: Range Finder
Four Scouts — all wearing eye black like linebackers — get to compete in this one. Finally, we get to see the Scouts in action!
Gregg, the last adult standing, goes against Brennan, Rob, Will, and Bobby in a shooting sports relay.
The contestants navigate using a GPS device to find the appropriate weapons cache for each event: tomahawk throwing, archery shooting, skeet shooting, and musket firing.
Gregg struggles on bow and arrow, wasting 15 arrows just to get himself calibrated, but he performs well at the shotgun range. At the musket-firing event, Gregg has a chance to catch up and does so.
Gregg hits the target with his musket first, and he snags the win for the adults.
Rio is quick to praise his elder challenger. “Gregg’s a total rock star,” he says.
Gregg, meanwhile, is just grateful for the chance to appear on the show.
“I never got to be a Boy Scout like you guys. I always missed it. I’m probably gonna start crying,” he says. “I’m a little bit overwhelmed right now.”
And so even though the episode wasn’t perfect and had several things I would’ve changed, it still shows the real connection everyone has with Scouting. That’s true whether they were a Scout themselves or whether someone they cared about also cared about Scouting. That’s the real message here, isn’t it?
For Gregg, it was his late father that was a big advocate for the Scouting movement.
“I’m on cloud nine,” he says. “I feel great. When I come out here, I’m connected to my dad, and it means a lot to me.”
And like that, the show’s over. What a great ride. So many cool challenges, so many impressive displays of real Scout Spirit, and so many top-class Scouts showing adults how it’s done.
But I, for one, am left wanting more. All that’s left is to cross our fingers that a second season will happen!
What would you want to see in this hypothetical second season? For me, it’s tougher challenges, tougher adults (including some women), some Venturing presence, more locations, and even more great Scouts.
Come on, National Geographic Channel. Give us more!
- Loved Rob’s comment about Rage’s reading glasses. “That was something of a surprise. Did not expect to see Rage bust out the granny reading glasses.” Dave comes to his teammate’s aid: “That’s what happens when you turn 40.”
- Something I learned today: “S.O.S.” is not an internationally recognized ground-to-air signal.
- Two of the coolest challenges of the season — and certainly two of the most memorable — involved canoes. I loved tonight’s gunnel jumping challenge and the canoe jousting from Episode 1. I hope to try these myself some day.
- Stev, in Episode 6, says he brought a backpack that weighs “50, 60 pounds” For one weekend? What was in there? A 25-pound dumbbell?
- I’m glad the producers didn’t follow stereotypes about Scouting and have the Scouts wear their field uniforms (Class A’s) for this show. That might have said “Scouting” to someone who doesn’t know the organization, but those of us involved in the BSA know that the activity uniform is appropriate for, well, activities.
- In Episode 6 before the second elimination, the adults are told they’ll have to prepare that night’s meal. But we never see them doing that, unfortunately.
- Speaking of uniforms, those blue “Prepared. For Life” T-shirts the Scouts have worn all series sure are nice. Memo to the fine folks at the Supply Group: I’d buy one.
Try in Your Troop
Which of these challenges would your Scouts want to try? Gunnel jumping? The Boy Scout quiz show? Share your ideas in the comments section.
Options for online viewing
Nothing to report on the streaming front, but once National Geographic Channel says anything about when/if/where you can watch Are You Tougher online, I’ll blog about it. Stay tuned.
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
Episode 4 recap: Snakes for the memories
Photographs from National Geographic Channels