Tough As Nails episode three opened with a surprise: the exit of not one but two cast members: Tara Alverson and Michael “Eyebrows” Guerriero.
Their simultaneous exit meant that both Savage Crew and Dirty Hands now had an equal number of people, and Mikey’s exit also meant there was no individual elimination challenge in episode three.
That’s a first for the two-season-old Tough As Nails, which has an unusual format that does not actually send players away week to week. While players that lose the elimination challenge are no longer eligible for the individual prize, they stay and continue to compete with their team, where they can win money each week.
Even though there are two players out, the $12,000 prize for team competitions didn’t change, and will just be split among the remaining five contestants, meaning each winning team member gets $2,400 per challenge.
Tara, who works and lives on tugboats in Alaska, lost the first elimination challenge, known as “Overtime,” having been unable to continue because of an injury on her hand exacerbated during the earlier individual challenge.
It was a surprising and emotional challenge, as her competitor, Swifty Sanders, was also struggling with an injury and just pure exhaustion.
Because of Tough As Nails’ format, Tara “punched out” of the individual competition, but did not leave the game. Tara remained in the team competition, eligible to win $2,000 every team challenge, plus the end-of-season bonus of $10,000 per team member for the team that wins the most team challenges.
But she was absent at the start of episode three. “Interesting change of events,” host and executive producer Phil Keoghan told the contestants. “As you know, Tara injured her hand and unfortunately she cannot continue in the competition. She has not been medically cleared.”
While Tara wasn’t technically medically evacuated in an emergency, she joins a list of players who’ve been removed from Survivor and other reality competitions by the show’s medical personnel, who determined it would not be safe for them to continue.
Why is Michael ‘Eyebrows’ Guerriero ‘no longer competing’?
After announcing Tara’s departure, Phil Keoghan said, “Savage Crew, you’re also down a teammate. Mikey is no longer competing on Tough As Nails. He had to go home.”
While he talked, we saw the players, not Phil, and to my ear, his two sentences about Mikey seemed to have been added in post-production, in a process called ADR (additional dialogue recording) or looping.
In the second episode, during the team challenge, Mikey Eyebrows caused Patrick “Freight Train” Hargan to fall into the water during a challenge that involved loading lobster traps.
Mikey pushed a stack of traps out of his way, and that knocked over the stack onto Patrick, who was on the other side of them. Patrick fell into the water just off the back of a boat.
It was a terrifying moment, especially considering the traps could have fallen in on top of Patrick.
Patrick quickly resurfaced in the water, but there was no ladder nor did there appear to be safety divers near by; instead, Phil Keoghan called for safety crew members, and two masked crew members along with one contestant, Cyril “Zeus” Ontai III, leaned over the dock to help Patrick out of the water.
“That’s ridiculous, guys. Come on!” Patrick said when he was back on the dock, and then asked Mikey, “Gotta do whatever you gotta do to win, is that what it is?”
“You were in the way, bro. You gotta move,” Mikey said. The editing suggested Mikey and his team didn’t stop working, and Mikey certainly didn’t help Patrick out of the water.
And he wasn’t even apologetic: “I didn’t mean to push him in the water,” Mikey said, and then in an interview later, said, “Honest, I didn’t see him. I had no passageway to go through. I gave it a push; I guess I pushed it a little too hard, then he went deep sea diving.”
The push itself infuriated me, but Mikey’s reprehensible response was even worse. It’s just 100 percent antithetical to what Tough As Nails has been otherwise: a competition where everyone helps and respects each other.
Even in the elimination challenge, when Tara stopped working and walked away because she was in so much pain, her competitor, Swifty, offered to take a break because he, too, was exhausted. He was pleading with her to stop and then continue when they were both ready, which is just incredibly impressive
Mikey did not face any immediate consequence for that. He returned for the individual competition.
So why did he disappear in the episode following it? Was he removed from the competition for violating its rules?
I think he should have been removed after that incident. But had the producers decided to remove him for violating a rule, wouldn’t that have happened between the team and individual challenges? Or did they wait until between episodes? And if that was the case, wouldn’t they have just explained that, since they showed the moment?
(Update: Phil Keoghan said on an RHAP podcast, “We definitely reviewed it. We had it covered from many, many angles,” Phil said. “We wanted to be convinced that it was unintentional. If it had been intentional, we would have to deal with it. Exactly how we would have administered a penalty, I’m not sure.” Phil said they decided “it was unintentional. … We moved on.”)
Of course, there are many other reasons people might have to leave reality TV competitions, including personal or family-related things. But Mikey’s exit at the same time as Tara’s leaves leaves me with even more questions.
I have asked CBS publicist those questions, including if the dock incident was related to his exit. I will update when/if I hear back, or if we get other information.
Phil Keoghan explains why Mikey Eyebrows was sent home
Update: March 5, 2021. While CBS did not respond to my request, Tough As Nails host and executive producer Phil Keoghan did finally explain why Michael “Eyebrows” Guerriero left season two.
Mikey Eyebrows broke a production rule off-camera.
About two-thirds of the way into RHAP’s Tough as Nails episode 4 recap episode, Rob Cesternino asked Phil Keoghan if he could explain why Mikey left. Phil said this:
“It’s very important for us to have a respectful environment on the set. That’s a priority for us. We do have some zero tolerance rules. Behind the scenes, he unfortunately broke one of those rules, and that’s why he’s not competing on the show any more. That’s really it.”
Mike Bloom asked Phil about how the show chose to communicate that to viewers (i.e. tell us nothing), and Phil said:
“We made the decision that we were just going to inform the audience that he was off the show. Things were moving very, very quickly. And when I say zero tolerance for some things, there’s just not a question. You crossed that line; that’s it, there’s no make-up. That’s what it is.
Everything is explained to all the contestants—all the rules are explained to them. There’s no surprises. “
That certainly is not the case for the audience, who the show and/or network made a clear decision to not communicate with. Maybe there’s an excellent reason for that, but even this answer does not provide a lot of clarity. It will likely lead to more speculation.
Phil previously said during an RHAP podcast that the production determined that the incident with Patrick was accidental, not intentional, And of course, that was filmed, while the rule-breaking that ejected Mikey was off-camera.
Because Mikey’s exit came alongside Tara’s, the teams were perfectly balanced at the start of episode three.
On RHAP, Jessica Liese asked Phil what would have happened had Tara been removed by medical and the teams were left imbalanced, 6 to 5. Phil said:
“It just so happened that the numbers worked in our favor. Chances are that we could be at season 32 and something like this would never happen again. I don’t know how we would cover every variable. We would have found a way. And we would have also worked it out with the rest of the cast so they all felt it was fair.”
In other words: 1) They have no idea, and still don’t have a plan even though it very nearly happened in season two, and 2) If it happens we probably won’t tell you.
I love Tough As Nails, but it’s disappointing how this was handled publicly. At the very least, Phil Keoghan should have said exactly what he said here on television, instead of the vague voice-over that was inserted into the episode: Mikey broke a rule off-camera, and that’s why he was removed from the game.