Aug. 24 update: To see how Team Eagle Scouts finished, read this.
When assembling a supergroup to race across rugged backcountry terrain using whatever means necessary — paddling or mountain biking, rappelling or climbing, orienteering or canyoneering — you’ll want a Scout or two on your side.
Or, better yet, you’ll want an entire team of Scouts.
Team Eagle Scouts, consisting of four Eagle Scouts and one recipient of the Venturing program’s highest honor, will compete in the World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji, a reality competition series devised by Survivor creator Mark Burnett and hosted by Bear Grylls, Chief Ambassador of World Scouting.
”Without my background in Scouting, I wouldn’t have stood a chance,” says Team Eagle Scouts captain Eric Lillstrom, an Eagle Scout, Vigil Honor member of the Order of the Arrow and former summer camp staffer. “Scouting is where I learned to be a leader, and the most important lesson of all in this case was to lead by example.”
All 10 episodes of the show, which was filmed last year before the pandemic, are available to stream beginning today on Amazon Prime.
Bryan on Scouting reached out to Team Eagle Scouts to get the spoiler-free scoop.
What is Eco-Challenge?
In Eco-Challenge, 66 teams from 30 countries compete in a grueling 416-mile race through the South Pacific nation of Fiji. Each team of five must work together to solve problems and navigate Fiji’s gorgeous but often-impenetrable terrain, traversing across water, dirt, mud and rocks along the way.
Instead of a GPS device, teams must navigate with nothing but a map and compass.
”After each expedition leg, we would think to ourselves, ‘well at least the next section can’t be harder than what we just did,’” Lillstrom says. “But it was always harder.”
As physically draining as the race was, competitors had their mental stamina pushed to the brink as they were forced to work together to solve problems. If any team member decided to drop out or could not finish, that entire team was disqualified.
Based on that description alone, you can imagine why the Boy Scouts of America was asked to field a team. Those are skills Scouts practice at weekly meetings, monthly campouts and weeklong adventures.
“Adventure racing is Scouting’s sport,” says Corey Mullins, a member of Team Eagle Scouts who is a BSA professional and former Philmont staffer. “It tests everything you learn in Scouting to the extreme. This is the perfect environment to test how well Scouting prepares youth for any challenge they face.”
Team Eagle Scouts raced against a lineup that includes a team of firefighters from Western Canada, a group of computer scientists from Uruguay and a team of Australian Scouts.
How will Team Eagle Scouts fare? We’ll have to find out together by watching the show.
Meet Team Eagle Scouts
Eric Lillstrom, team captain
- Eagle Scout
- Expedition guide for polar explorers who leads multiweek expeditions to both poles
- Adventure guide for the Northwest Passage, leading kayaking trips in the Great Lakes
- Former employee of the Bay Lakes Council and Camp Makajawan
- National Camp School aquatics staff
- Eagle Scout
- National Geographic Adventurer of the Year 2010
- Climbed five of the seven tallest mountains in the world, including Mount Everest in 2018
- Participated in the NASA Twins Study
- Experienced freestyle skier, mountain biker, kayaker and rock climber
- Represented the BSA at the 2016 Report to the Nation
- Lifelong Venturer and recipient of the Summit Award, Venturing’s highest honor
- Boardercross competitor and 2022 Winter Olympics hopeful
- Messenger of Peace Hero Award recipient
- Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award recipient
- Eagle Scout
- Philmont backcountry manager, COPE camp leader, and search and rescue camp leader
- Ultramarathoner and competitive mountain bike racer
- Employee at the Pathway to Adventure Council in Chicago
Charley Walton, team assistant captain
- Eagle Scout
- Outdoor educator and conservationist at Philmont Scout Ranch
- Studies mechanical engineering at Oklahoma State university
- Participant in Philmont’s Roving Outdoor Conservation School
A ‘ragtag group of individuals’
Several Eco-Challenge teams are veterans of the race, which first aired in 1995. That includes a team from Japan that has been racing together since 1996 — before some members of Team Eagle Scouts were even born.
Compare that to Team Eagle Scouts, which had met only twice before traveling to Fiji.
“Before the race, we were all strangers,” says Matt Moniz, an Eagle Scout who helped rescue climbers after a Mount Everest avalanche in 2015. “Scouting is the only thing that our team had in common. We all knew how to communicate and rely on each other when we needed it the most.”
Mullins calls the team a “ragtag group of individuals” who had spent a combined 96 hours together before the race began.
”In all aspects, our team should have fallen apart in the first 24 hours,” he says. “However, there is one thing that we had that others did not: what we learned from Scouting.”
‘Shared experience in Scouting’
While preparing for the race, the group stayed at the home of Katie Hancock, a Venturing Summit Award recipient who earned the 2016 Messengers of Peace Hero Award.
Lillstrom, the team captain, says the group clicked immediately, bonding around their “shared goofy sense of humor.”
And it helped that each member brought their own unique expertise in outdoor skills like outrigger canoeing, rock climbing, mountain biking, stand-up paddling, hiking and even escape rooms.
But again, none of those skills matter when you’re on Day 5 of very little sleep and seemingly endless high-stress situations. Or when you’re trying to use a long pole to paddle a bamboo raft called a Bili Bili — an ordeal Moniz compared to “paddling a bathtub with a matchstick.”
That’s when the mental side, which the team also sharpened in Scouting, really kicked in.
”Luckily, all team members had a background that developed the grit necessary to keep going,” Lillstrom says. “Our shared experience in Scouting gave us the framework to work together as a team without knowing each other very long. Our teamwork and positive attitude was what got us through — no question.”
How to watch Eco-Challenge
Cheer for #TeamEagleScouts as you watch World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji, streaming now on Amazon Prime Video. The show is recommended for viewers ages 13 and up.
Watch the official trailer below.