Something new under the sun (‘Are You Tougher?’ Episode 3 Recap)

Did we finally have a fair fight on our hands?

After two weeks of pitting adults who didn’t make Eagle against teenagers who did, Are You Tougher Than a Boy Scout? turned up the heat last night.

Forget excuses like “I came three merit badges short” or “my troop folded.” This time, two of the adult competitors made it all the way to Eagle. Surely that would mean an end to the adults’ dismal run, right? I mean, one win for the adults in six challenges so far? That’s below the Are You Tougher? Mendoza Line

Just how did these 30-somethings fare against fellow Eagles half their age? You’ll have to read my recap and review of Episode 3, “Buoy Scouts,” 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 3 and want to be surprised by the results. 

Let’s meet our adults. As always, each of the adults was a Scout as a boy, but for the first time, two are Eagle Scouts. The other finished as a Life Scout.

For the Eagles, the motivation for appearing on Are You Tougher? wasn’t figuring out whether they could have been Eagle Scouts had they stayed in the program. It was recapturing that teenage glory that fades as they learn “this old body isn’t really doing what it’s supposed to anymore.”

You can’t stop the hands of time, but these three were willing to turn back the clock and try:

  • Marc, 38, financial advisor, Eagle Scout: “I’ve been underestimated my entire life,” Marc says. “They think I’m too big, too slow.” Marc says he earned 80 merit badges as a boy.
  • Jason, 36, advertising sales, Life Scout: Jason quit Scouting at 16. “Now’s the chance to go back and knuckle down and accomplish something that I really wish I would’ve accomplished earlier in my life,” he says.
  • John, 37, operations manager, Eagle Scout: “I want to prove to myself that I’ve still got what it takes,” John says. “That I could still pass a test as if I were 17.”

Episode 3 took us to Lake Isabella, a reservoir about an hour northeast of Bakersfield, Calif. And temperatures topping out at 105 degrees meant the Scouts weren’t going to be the only thing testing the adults this week.

First Challenge: The Gauntlet

tougher-e03-2One thing I love about Are You Tougher? is how quickly the show gets into the action. Forget the bickering that’s commonplace in reality TV these days — this show fast-forwards to the challenges within the first two minutes of each episode.

With the sun glaring at them, three Scouts and three adults took on The Gauntlet, a three-part race down the beach that tested skills used in the Kayaking and Archery merit badges:

  • Part 1, Kayak Haul: Carry an inflatable kayak a quarter-mile down the beach and hand off to the next teammate. 
  • Part 2, Kayak Race: Paddle the kayak a quarter-mile down the lake to the third teammate.
  • Part 3, Crawling Archery: Crawl under a net and then be the first to hit the target, a small fleur-de-lis inside a lifesaving buoy. (Ah, “Buoy Scouts,” I get it.)

Marc, who says he’s taught Archery merit badge at camp, volunteers to run the anchor leg, and nobody argues.

The first leg pits Trent, 16, against 37-year-old John.

And when John says, “I’m not gonna be the one that falls or gives up,” you get the feeling that the opposite is about to happen.

The run’s only a quarter-mile — one lap around the track at your local high school — but the deep sand, the oppressive heat, and the awkward size and shape of the kayak made everything tougher.

Sure enough, midway through, John’s legs gave out, and he quickly handed the Scouts a 50-yard lead.

But adult Jason vs. Scout Keegan in the paddling leg proved to be an even battle, and both fought the winds on Lake Isabella admirably. The race was neck-and-neck as Rob, a Scout with the nickname “Robin Hood” squared off against Marc for the final leg.

Rob sized up his competition: “Marc’s not only an Eagle Scout, he’s also an excellent archer. So I know I have to relax.”

Both guys got their arrows knocked and ready. They pulled back, and then — commercial. They know how to create an agonizing cliffhanger, don’t they?

Back from break, Marc, who says it’s been five years since he shot an arrow, had trouble with his first attempt, sending the arrow way off target.

Jason, standing nearby, encourages Marc to channel his younger self: “Go back to childhood, man.” And did the show’s producers make a joke about Marc’s age right then? At that very moment, a pop-up informed us that the bow and arrow dates back to the Stone Age… Come on, Marc may be the oldest adult out there, but he’s only 38!

Rob, as he’s done all season, was right on target and hit on his third shot. The Scouts won. Again.

First Elimination

As they set up their tents, it was time to play everyone’s favorite Are You Tougher? game: pass the buck.

Marc, who “couldn’t hit the side of a barn” with his bow and arrow (Jason’s words, not mine) blamed Jason for paddling too slowly and John for losing ground during the footrace. And then — stop me if you’ve heard this before — Jason blamed John and Marc, and John blamed Marc and Jason. 

Ah, the circle of strife.

Jason tried to move on, saying, “we got our butts handed to us by a bunch of kids, and I don’t wanna let it happen again. And dare I say that setting up these tents is the only thing we’ve done correctly as a team.”

Then came a you-can’t-make-this-up moment of editing as we immediately cut to the adults struggling with a sagging tent. Genius.

At the Scouts’ campsite, Rio clarified the guys’ predicament: “Marc and John are Eagle Scouts,” he said. “They’re one of us. To me the decision is clear: One of these Eagle Scouts is going home.”

When they gathered the next morning Charles Ingram, the host, laid it out plainly, as well: “All three of you made mistakes that contributed to your team’s loss.”

But it was John, in a close vote, who was sent packing. He was the most visibly fit of the three, but his struggles with the physically demanding relay did him in.

John’s parting words show he learned character lessons on his trail to Eagle, though.

“I’m going away both a winner and a loser,” he said. “It’s OK to fail, as long as you learn from that failure and make your life changes for the positive.”

I’m a big Survivor fan, and the majority of speeches from recently eliminated contestants on that show are vitriolic and self-serving. So it’s nice that the parting words so far on Tougher have been introspective, humble, and very pro-Scouting.

Second Challenge: Scout Camp Games

Here’s a chance for you to play along at home. See how you’d do in this trivia test. And, for added intimidation, let me tell you that the Scouts aced it on their first try — six for six.

The three possible answer choices are in parentheses after each question:

  1. The bowline knot is best used for what purpose? (Rescue, Boating, Lashing)
  2. What color are poison sumac berries? (White, Purple, Yellow)
  3. On what side of a tree or rock does moss usually grow? (South, West, North)
  4. In navigating, what does UTM stand for? (Universal Transverse Mercator, Unilateral Traverse Method, Universal Trans-Meridian)
  5. What type of California toxic plant is edible? (Poison Oak, Grape Ivy, Stinging Nettle)
  6. What clouds are known as streak clouds? (Stratus, Cirrus, Cumulus)

Find the answers at the bottom of this blog post.

tougher-e03-3After reading each question, teams of two — Marc and Jason for the adults, Michael and Trent for the Scouts — searched a field of logs for the answer. One possible answer was on the bottom of each log, meaning a lot of flipping logs upside down and carrying them to Charles for approval. If they were wrong, they had to carry the log back to the field and waste precious time.

Jason correctly compared it to the game Memory. “You not only had to guess the right log to find the answer you need,” he said, “but you also need to remember what you just turned over.”

Logs with the correct answers were stacked to form a pyramid, and teams had 25 shots with a giant slingshot to topple the stack. 

Midway through the trivia portion, Marc got dizzy. He was dehydrated and overheated. He couldn’t take any more, and he sat down to receive medical attention. Running on sand at the hottest part of the day will do that to you.

Marc recovered, but he could no longer help Jason carry logs. That meant Jason needed some support from the Scouts. And he got it, in the form of some cheerleading from the sidelines.

“It feels great,” Jason said, “even though I’m in competition with these Scouts, that they’re encouraging me as well.” Scout Spirit wins the day.

The Scouts knocked down all but one of their logs before running out of ammo, leaving a window open for the adults. If they knocked down all six logs, they’d win.

With two shots left and two logs still standing for the adults, the Scouts were getting nervous: “Man, they have better aim than we thought.”

With their final shot, Marc and Jason toppled the two remaining logs, and the adults won. It was the first time on the show that the adults won a two-on-two or three-on-three challenge, and just the second win for the adults in the eight challenges that have aired so far. 

Michael was shocked. “Honestly, I did not see this ending coming at all,” he said.

Ditto for Marc, who was humbled by his fellow adult’s tenacity. “I am extremely impressed with Jason,” Marc said. “Before this competition, I didn’t think he should be here. He showed his colors. He shows his Scouting colors.”

Second Elimination

In a true-to-life scene, we saw Scouts skipping rocks on the lake as they stood around chatting.

But this time, instead of talking about school or movies or girls, these guys were deciding the fate of the remaining adults. The rules said one adult had to go.

It must be said that the need to eliminate an adult after the adults won the challenge confused me. The adults — well, Jason at least — worked hard for this victory and seemingly didn’t get any reward for winning.

Still, rules are rules, and someone was going home.

Keegan said it well: “Jason’s ‘best that he could’ is better than Marc’s ‘best that he could.'”

Sure enough, Marc was sent packing, and now both Eagle Scouts were done. Now the fate of the adults rested on the broad shoulders of Jason, a former Life Scout.

But first, Marc’s parting words: “I grew up in Scouting, and this weekend really proved to me that you can’t always just stand on your laurels and say I’ve done it, been there, got the T-shirt.”

That’s a good reminder to all Eagle Scouts out there: Getting Eagle isn’t the end of the journey, it’s the beginning.

Final Challenge: Sink or Swim

tougher-e03-4After an unlikely defeat, the Scouts were looking for some payback.

Last week’s final challenge matched three Scouts against one adult, but this week it was back to a one-on-one, winner-take-all bout. I prefer that.

The task combined Geocaching merit badge skills with a ride on a personal watercraft, also known as a Jet Ski. Before you ask, yes, personal watercrafts are authorized at Scout summer camps. (Read this excellent Scouting magazine article from last summer for an inside look at PWCs.)

Here’s the setup: Jason and Rio each had to find a GPS device and shovel in their rowboat. Then they used geocaching skills to track down binoculars and the key to their personal watercrafts, both buried in the sand.

Using the binoculars they needed to locate the flag on the other side of Lake Isabella, before racing one mile to opposite shore on their PWCs. First to grab the flag wins.

A pretty straight-forward challenge, but for me, simple is good.

“Oh, I forgot to tell you one thing,” Charles shouted at the guys. “Your boats are sinking…”

As their boats filled with water, Jason and Rio searched desperately for the hidden items. Rio found his and hurried back to shore with his items, giving the Scouts a big lead, or as he put it, the “sweet taste of a head start.”

The geocaching portion gave Jason pause. “They didn’t have GPS when I was a Scout,” he said, but fortunately for him, the devices were pretty easy to figure out.

But not for Rio, apparently, as he entered a wrong number and was thrown off course temporarily. Soon enough, though, he found the giant X made of rocks and the binoculars buried beneath.

I have to say that this geocaching was much easier than any I’ve done. Typically in geocaching, knowing the coordinates gets you close to the hidden treasure, but the fun part is finding the cleverly hidden cache — out of sight for a normal passer-by, but within reach of a keen-eyed geocacher. These caches were buried under a giant X, so let’s call this “geocaching light.”

Rio found his Jet Ski key first, strapped on his PFD, and began scanning for the flag.  Not tough to find, because host Charles and all the Scouts were standing right next to it. In the end, Rio’s lead was insurmountable, and the Scouts added another win to their total.

Final count through three episodes: Scouts 7, Adults 2.

But as Jason pointed out, the Scouts didn’t gloat. “In the awesome spirit of Scouting, the Scouts are cheering me on,” he said.

After they gave him a nicely engraved “Prepared. For Life.” knife, Jason reflected on his brief but emotional trip back in time.

“I might not have been tougher than these Boy Scouts,” he said, “but I’m certainly tougher than the Boy Scout that I used to be.

“Man, I tell you, it was just great to be among such a respectable and accomplished group of youngsters, and to show them that I still have something left in me that I wanna give back to Scouting, and here I am. So, literally, my hat’s off to you guys.”

Stray Observations

  • I haven’t mentioned it before, but the show’s introductory text gives a nice overview of what Are You Tougher? is all about and why it’s an important tool for changing the conversation about the BSA. Here’s the full text, which host Charles Ingram says before each episode:
    • “For more than 100 years, the Boy Scouts of America have taught boys the value of teamwork, outdoor adventure, and being prepared. Now, three men looking to recapture that Scouting glory, put their life experience against the Scout experience. They’ll take on the next generation of Scouts in a series of challenges.”
  • Seeing a medic come over to Marc confused me. You’ve got a half-dozen Eagle Scouts, each with the First Aid merit badge, standing nearby. Surely one of them could’ve helped Marc recover. I get that there’s liability involved, but still, this seemed like a missed opportunity.
  • It appears Rio has taken on the role of spokesman for the Scouts. He’s typically the one who addresses the adults at elimination time, delivering the good and bad news to the competitors. I think it’s a role he handles well. Perhaps a career in broadcasting is in his future?

Try in Your Troop

Which of these challenges would your Scouts want to try?

A giant slingshot? A geocaching race? A kayaking relay? The options are only limited by your imagination.

Next new episode

The next episode, titled “Where Eagles Fly,” airs at 8 p.m./7 p.m. Central on Monday, March 25, on the National Geographic Channel.

My other recaps

Missed an episode? Catch up here:

Episode 1 recap

Episode 2 recap

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.

Trivia Answers

Answers in bold:

  1. The bowline knot is best used for what purpose? (Rescue, Boating, Lashing)
  2. What color are poison sumac berries? (White, Purple, Yellow)
  3. On what side of a tree or rock does moss usually grow? (South, West, North)
  4. In navigating, what does UTM stand for? (Universal Transverse Mercator, Unilateral Traverse Method, Universal Trans-Meridian)
  5. What type of California toxic plant is edible? (Poison Oak, Grape Ivy, Stinging Nettle)
  6. What clouds are known as streak clouds? (Stratus, Cirrus, Cumulus)

Photographs from National Geographic Channels

About Bryan Wendell 2891 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.