A paddle of wills to prove they belong (‘Are You Tougher?’ Episode 2 Recap)

Whoever said “less is more” apparently hasn’t watched Episode 2 of Are You Tougher Than a Boy Scout?

Tonight’s episode of the new National Geographic Channel show was, to me, superior to Episode 1 because it gave us more of what we Scouters and Scouts love about the Boy Scouts of America.

We got more Handbook-inspired Scout skills, more fast-paced adventure, and more unscripted examples of Scouts living the Scout Law. 

We also saw challenges that were generally more competitive than in the first episode, with the adults holding their own against the Scouts. But which side came out on top? Did any of the adults prove they were tougher than a Boy Scout? Keep reading 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 2 and want to be surprised by the results. 

Here’s how the show works: Each week, a new trio of adults squares off against the same rotating cast of superstar Scouts. The order is this:

  • Three-on-three challenge.
  • Scouts vote to eliminate one adult.
  • Two-on-two challenge.
  • Scouts vote to eliminate one adult.
  • The last remaining adult competes against one or more Scouts to try and prove his toughness.

This week’s theme for the adult contestants could be summarized simply by saying, “I’ve got something to prove.”

Lee, 40, a computer engineer, has two sons in Scouts and wants to show them that, “No matter where they go, Dad will still be tougher than them … at least for a little while.” Lee dropped out of Scouting as a First Class Scout.

Then there’s David, 29, an academic adviser whose three best friends achieved Eagle. David quit three merit badges short of Eagle and wants to show his buddies who did reach that rank that he now has what it takes.

Finally, Paul, a 44-year-old mortgage broker who dropped out of Scouting as a Life Scout. He came “back to prove to my Scoutmaster and myself that I am tougher than a Boy Scout.”

Let’s get to the first challenge.

First Challenge: Total Rappel

tougher-e02-2When the episode opened with the group gathering on a bridge over a river, you knew something was about to go down.

Or, in this case, someone was about to go down.

The Scouts (Rio, Keegan, and Michael) and adults (Lee, David, and Paul) each had to rappel off the Johnsondale Bridge into a whitewater raft waiting below.

Once everyone was safely in the raft, teams had to identify a taut-line hitch, release a knife, cut their raft free, navigate the Kern River’s Class III rapids, carry the raft on a brief portage, get back on the river, and try to reach the finish line first. Whew!

The challenge tested skills used in the Climbing and Whitewater merit badges. 

Once the Scouts were in the raft, Michael had no trouble finding the taut-line hitch. “The second I spotted it, dead giveaway,” he said of the knot’s signature three loops. Credit to the adults, who also identified the knot from among a half-dozen others without a problem.

Once all the teams were underway, the Scouts launched ahead like they had a hidden motor under their raft. “It was head to head at the start,” Rio said, “But it came down to a simple thing: teammwork.”

Rio was the rudder, reading the water and pointing out obstacles, while Keegan and Michael provided the paddle power.

The adults saw the Scouts’ success and one said, “Watch the line the Scouts take.”

But as it turned out, rafting was the easy part. Next came the portage, which required teams to carry their rafts up the trail and to the next part of the river.

“It’s like a thousand pounds,” Keegan said as the Scouts muscled the raft up the hilly trail. “If we’re having trouble with this boat, I can’t imagine when the adults have to do it.”

He was right. Instead of carrying it over their heads and using their shoulders and legs to help carry the load — the technique the Scouts employed — the adults used their arms to carry the raft just a few inches off the ground. Every few steps they’d set it down and double over for a break, panting, exhausted, and losing all their momentum.

Their lead growing, the Scouts started a chant that included the words, “We are young and you are old.” Now, I don’t know whether the producers put them up to that, but, to be honest, I had some concerns with that moment. It seemed arrogant and contrary to the Friendly attitude demonstrated over the rest of the show (keep reading for an impressive example from Will). 

The Scouts won the challenge, and afterward we saw both teams debriefing at their separate campfires.

For the adults, it was all complaints. David complained about Lee, Paul complained about David, and Lee complained about the heavy raft.

At the Scouts’ campfire, the decision on whom to eliminate came down to Paul vs. Lee. The Scouts appreciated that Lee, the patrol leader, stepped up into his leadership role, admitting that taking the reins of a group is something a Scout eagerly volunteers to do when it’s needed. They were impressed.

Ten Essentials

“Sun’s up; they’re not,” Diallo, a Scout who didn’t compete in this episode, said before blasting an air horn near the adults’ tents.

It was 5:30 a.m., and that meant it was time to get up.

“I didn’t know where I was,” Paul said. “Didn’t know if I was in the gymnasium in high school.”

David, however, knew to expect an early rise because “things always get started early at Scout camp.”

Diallo was there for more than a wake-up call. His visit was for a surprise pack check. He wanted to see whether these wannabe Scouts had packed the Ten Essentials: pocketknife, first-aid kit, clothing, rain gear, water bottle, flashlight, food, fire starter, sun protection, and a map and compass.

This was a brilliant, twofold teaching moment. It taught the viewing public the 10 items they should take along on any outdoor adventure. And it taught viewers one of the ways that Scouting helps make young people “Prepared. For Life.”

David, though, wasn’t prepared. When it was his turn for Diallo to peer into his pack, David was all apologies, saying, “It’s all bad, I’m sorry.” And if David’s three friends who made Eagle could see him now? “They would think that was an embarrassment,” he said.

Moments later, in a unanimous vote, David became the first to go home. He was humble, and a little emotional, in defeat.

“I wish the other guys good luck,” he said, wiping his eyes. “Just because I’m not tougher than a Boy Scout doesn’t mean one of them can’t be.”

Second Challenge: Unhappy Camper

Other than when it’s about to storm, there aren’t many times when setting up a Scout campsite is a race.

So “the 100-yard dash of setting up a Scout campsite” might not have been based in reality, but it was entertaining nonetheless. Teams of two had to start a campfire, pitch a tent “to perfection,” and properly hang a bear bag.

Keegan and Michael were tapped to compete against Paul and Lee, the remaining adults.

Keegan helped the Scouts get their fire started quickly, but the adults built a taller fire, allowing them to burn the string and move on to setting up the Coleman dome tent.

In one of the most relatable moments of the show so far, Paul and Lee struggled with a tent they hadn’t set up before. How many of you were thinking, “been there, done that”? I sure was.

After a lengthy battle to figure out the rainfly, the adults gave up their lead to the Scouts, who set up the tent with ease.

Next was a simple toss of a bear bag over an elevated line, and it was over. Just like that, the Scouts took the second challenge. 


Are there three scarier words in the English language than “Hungry Cub Scouts”?

An adults-only challenge tasked the grown-ups with cooking a traditional campfire meal for Cub Scouts, who would also serve as the judges.

The dishes were two Boy Scout classics: Chili Mac and Train Wreck, a toss-everything-in-the-pot breakfast dish.

While dicing onions for his Chili Mac, Lee cut himself and started bleeding.  Keegan, one of the Scouts watching nearby, made a good point: “If you’ve got blood in the food, you can’t serve that.”

Fortunately for those poor Cub Scouts, the host called off the challenge and disqualified Lee.

Lee, meanwhile, took the news pretty hard, admonishing himself as the Cub Scouts lined up for a bite of Paul’s Train Wreck.

For his misstep, Lee was sent home and told he’s “not tougher than a Boy Scout.” He shook the hands of the Scouts before reflecting on the experience.

“My wife gave me one bit of advice when she left, and it was, ‘keep your head,'” he said. “I kept my head for two days, and the last challenge I failed myself by not thinking all the way through. I just feel like I let my kids and everybody down.”

But Michael, one of the Scouts, gave Lee’s story a happy ending. “Lee owned up to his mistake,” Michael said. “If I was his kid, I’d be proud of him.”

Michael’s right. Being a Scout is about appreciating yourself for who you are, mistakes and all. Lee was a little too hard on himself for my liking, and I hope he looks back on his time as a contestant fondly.

Final Challenge: Iron Scout Challenge

tougher-e02-3Three men entered, but only Paul remained for the final showdown, the ominously titled “Toyota Iron Scout Challenge.”

The three-part event tested skills necessary for Rifle Shooting, Pioneering, and First Aid merit badges.

For rifle shooting, contestants needed to hit three targets with a .22-caliber rifle. For pioneering, they had to complete the fourth wall of a pioneering tower and shoot a slingshot from the top to break some glass jars and retrieve a map. And for first aid, they were to follow that map to Lake Ida and handle a life-threatening situation.

This event pitted adult Paul against Scouts Will, Rob, and Rio. Each of the Scouts got his own task in the challenge, but Paul had to do all three by himself. OK, wait. Is it really fair that this 44-year-old mortgage broker had to battle not one but three of the nation’s toughest Scouts in the same challenge?

Last week’s one-on-one obstacle course with just one adult and one Scout made more sense, so I would have preferred to see this constructed similarly. But hey, it made for some great TV anyway.

Eyes and ear protection on. Shooters ready. Let’s go.

Will, aka “Big South,” hit all three targets with little problem, sending an impressive cloud of yellow smoke into the air and signaling that Rob could head off to the second stage of the challenge.

But Paul was having a terrible time even seeing the targets because his safety glasses wouldn’t stop fogging up. “I’m just guessing where it’s going,” he said. Not good when you’re talking about rifle-shooting.

And then came one of my favorite moments of the show so far. “Big South,” who had already completed the challenge, brought his safety glasses over to Paul so the adult could see his target through glasses that hadn’t yet fogged up.

He didn’t have to do that, and someone with a win-at-all-costs, killer instinct wouldn’t have. But these are Scouts we’re talking about, and Friendly, Courteous, and Kind are part of the fabric of these guys. So I was impressed with the move, but I can’t say I was surprised.

Paul put it well afterward. “I’m on the range and I’m sweating like crazy, and all of a sudden here comes some Scout spirit,” he said.

OK, sure, “Big South” knew the cameras were rolling and pointed right at him. But you get the sense from the reserved Scout that he’s that way in his everyday life. In fact, I’d guess all these Scouts are.

With his next shot, Paul hit the target, drawing applause from the Scouts and letting him move on to the pioneering tower, where Rob was already hard at work on his diagonal lashings.

When Paul got there, he proved he knows his way around a rope and is no stranger to lashings. Color me impressed.

Rob, an avid archer, had no trouble with the slingshot task, but like “Big South” before him, Rob showed Scout spirit by giving Paul some pointers on how to properly aim and fire.

These Scouts are giving Scouts everywhere a good name. This isn’t “old lady crossing the street” stuff. These are real Scouts showing they’re competitive but aren’t willing to step on others in the name of winning. You have to respect that.

Rio, meanwhile, took off for the third and final task: first aid. The task brought us back to Lake Ida, where we enjoyed canoe jousting last week.

Rio looked almost excited to see someone fake-drowning in the lake, and said, it’s “time to put my Lifesaving merit badge to work.”

He completed a by-the-book water rescue, dragging the Scout back while being sure not to let the victim turn the rescuer into a second victim and push him under. Classic technique.

He brought the victim to shore, and the Scouts won again. For the first time so far on the series, the Scouts won every challenge.

Paul finished second, but he didn’t feel like the loser. “I know I’ve lost,” he said, “but I feel pretty good about finishing.”

“These guys are Eagles, and they’re the best ones in the country, and they certainly proved it today,” Paul continued. “You showed your true colors. Starting out with ‘Big South’ with him trying to help me with the shooting. I got to the tower, you guys were cheering me on. You showed yourself true Scouts.”

Diallo gave Paul an engraved “Prepared. For Life.” knife as a token of the Scouts’ appreciation and respect.

“I let my Scoutmaster down because I dropped out of Scouting,” Paul said. “I feel like I’ve redeemed myself, and [my Scoutmaster] would be proud of me.”

I’d say he would indeed.

Stray Observations

  • “Yeti” may be a fine nickname for the long-haired Keegan, but “Pyromancer” fits his skills better. That kid has proven in back-to-back episodes that he can start a fire essentially just by looking at it.
  • For the second week in a row, the Scouts won the three-on-three and two-on-two challenges. And so for the second week in a row, we don’t know what happens if the adults win one of these challenges. We know the Scouts don’t get sent home, so what happens? Perhaps we’ll find out next week.
  • Line of the show came from Paul when he saw a bunch of Cub Scouts approaching: “They’re getting smaller!”
  • Did anyone else notice that the maple syrup shown in the explanatory recipe for the Train Wreck breakfast dish was called “Boy Scout Maple Syrup”? Is there such a thing, and if so, why haven’t I heard of it/tasted it?
  • With the bear bag task, the producers missed an opportunity to mention and define “smellables” — pointing out those nonedible items that should also go into the bear bag. And a shout-out to Philmont Scout Ranch, where I first learned about bear bags, would’ve been a nice touch.
  • Charles Ingram, the host and a former member of US Marine Force Recon, has been quietly doing an excellent job. I appreciate that he knows when to speak up and also when to let the Scouts step into the spotlight.

Try in Your Troop

Once again, I can see several challenges that translate perfectly to a troop or crew campout.

You might not have a whitewater river near you, but you can certainly create a race to see who can (safely) build a fire and set up a tent. Who’d win in your unit, the Scouts or the Scoutmasters?

And a cooking contest where visiting Webelos Scouts are the judges seems like a great way to make visitors to your troop feel welcome.

Which have you tried in your troop? Which do you think your Scouts would want to try?

Next episode

The next episode, titled “Buoy Scouts,” airs at 8 p.m./7 p.m. Central on Monday, March 18, on the National Geographic Channel.

Online viewing options

National Geographic Channel is working on a variety of options for online viewing, but none is live yet. I 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

About Bryan Wendell 2913 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.