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Did Tough As Nails trash one team’s chance at $60,000—or one pair’s immunity?

Did Tough As Nails trash one team’s chance at $60,000—or one pair’s immunity?
Mister Frost carries mattresses during Tough As Nails 4's team challenge, which Savage Crew won, earning them $60,000. (Image via CBS)

Tough As Nails had some nail-biting tension in its three episode 8 challenges, though two of them left me with questions.

I’m apparently not alone in that, as I’ve already received one e-mail message telling me, “This was not fair to the others that were competing. So, wrong!!! You have officially lost me as a regular viewer that would not miss a show.”

I feel for whoever at CBS, and other networks, has to field these kinds of messages. DELETE DELETE DELETE

Anyway, it’s the penultimate week of Tough As Nails season 4! It will conclude with a two-hour finale next week, just in time for me to be possibly be away from a TV that night, alas.

I have very much enjoyed this season, though I also realized I haven’t quite latched onto the teams themselves, as was evident by my screw-up in last week’s recap that confused the two teams at one point. I honestly couldn’t name which people are on which team.

My working theory is that it has to do with what the players wear during the individual competitions, which include both orange-ish and black-ish colors, except not necessarily matching their teams.

Like, I could have sworn Ilima is on Dirty Hands, but no, she’s Savage Crew, and started the episode by telling us: “Dirty Hands better watch out, because Savage Crew’s coming hard today.”

Their hard coming (sorry) is because they’re one win away from the $60,000 team prize. “Our backs are against the wall,” Beth said, which would explain some of the tension on their team.

Their job: Clean two alleys that Phil Keoghan said had illegal dumping—yet they also had “same number of refrigerators, same number of tires, same number of everything.”

So did the producers illegally dump an equal number of trash, or did they just stumble upon two identical alleys? It’s obviously the former, and also obviously they did this with permission, but still kind of funny that they trashed two alleys just to have the teams clean them.

The alleys were incredibly long, as some beautiful drone tracking shots illustrated. They each looked like the yard of a hoarder on Hoarders who’d filled their house and was now using their lawn as a storage space.

Savage Crew had smart strategy, such as rolling their tires down the alley, while Dirty Hands fought. Beth was mad that Ellery put tires on the truck before the dirty mattresses. “I don’t know how many times I said don’t put the tires in first,” she said. Ellery replied, “I understand, but that doesn’t help us right now.”

Phil said the garbage truck was “crushing somebody’s dreams” as it smashed an old sofa, and at least at the time of crushing, seemed to be very sad, very dirty dreams, though I’m sure in its glory days that couch was magnificent.

The final step was sweeping leaves and pressure washing, and that’s never been more dramatic, as the two teams approached the finish line at almost the same time.

The question I had here was just how exactly a win would be measured. Were they just pressure washing away leaves? What if there were several leaves left? How many is too many? The edges of both alleys looked dirty, but were they supposed to be clean?

At the end, Dirty Hands had a bunch of leaves they’d blown into the neutral zone, and had to clean those up, and meanwhile Savage Crew finished, winning both the $12,000 and the $60,000, so ultimately $12K each.

There will still be one more team competition for $12,000, though, because the producers are ready for a possible tie—or a situation where one team wins everything and destroys the other, which has not yet happened in four seasons.

Five people sweep and pressure wash leaves in an alley
Sergio Robles, Ellery Liburd, Jorge Zavala, and Synethia Bland shortly before Dirty Hands lost the Tough As Nails 4 team competition (Image via CBS)

After the loss, Sergio and Jorge had an emotional heart-to-heart conversation about, well, emotions.

“A lot of people think showing your emotions as a man makes you weak,” Jorge said, “and that’s something that I see in you—like, you share how you’re feeling, and that’s something that I hope I’m able to do one day.”

Sergio said, “You’re doing it right now, my man.” SOMEONE GET ME A KLEENEX.

Jorge later said in an OTF interview, “It’s a lot of weight to carry, holding your emotions in; honestly, it’s like an anchor; it holds you down.”

Look at Tough As Nails: having important conversations about toxic masculinity without the host barging in and narrating!

The individual challenge, which was down to just half of the cast, had those six pair up to fix a water main leak and tap the water main. The winners received $8,000, so $4,000 each.

Long Beach Water’s demo of adding a tap to a water main was pretty impressive, and the kind of thing that I’ve never seen before.

When it came time to pair up, Beth observed that “Mister is the hot commodity,” as everyone was angling to be his partner. He ultimately chose Ilima, saying they’ve had a connection since the first day.

For the task, producers constructed sandboxes under the water pipe setups, so that it immediately became a foot-deep mud pit. Clever!

Mister and Ilima tightened their clamp in the wrong position, and had to undo it, costing them time that was likely the difference between winning and losing, considering how close it got.

Right when I thought it was interesting that no team had yet to touch their instruction binder, Larron and Jake forgot to lube up their screw. Phil told them they’d missed a step, and said, “read your instructions.”

This is what so angered our CBS correspondent, and I see that. But I also imagine that, given that they’re drilling into a high-pressure water pipe, safety trumps all, and proceeding despite doing something wrong could have been a safety issue. If it wasn’t a safety issue, and they screwed without lube, and finished first, would Phil have then said, You missed a step, so you lose?

Jorge and Ellergy tapped the pipe first, and Jake and Larron caught up, but then missed another step. Yet somehow they caught up again and managed to win.

Jorge and Ellery came in second, putting Ilima and Mister in the elimination challenge.

A person standing in an alley, with their hands on their knees, and a pressure washer on the ground
Ilima Shim prepares to pressure wash an alley during the Tough As Nails 4 episode 8 (Image via CBS)

To determine who was punching out, Ilima and Mister had to retrieve five items from a sewer, one at a time: keys, cell phone, glasses, hammer, and an alligator, a funny nod to the urban legend. When Ilima pulled out the gator, it was dripping wet and flopped onto the pavement, and looked rather realistic for a moment.

Interestingly, there were several moments where we saw them fishing into the holes as if they had GoPro cameras on their poles, but they clearly did not. So were those pick-up shots filmed later?

Ilima said she did a version of this as a kid at her grandmother’s house, playing, and quickly got ahead, pulling three items out.

But while doing so, she accidentally pushed the cell phone and keys out into the actual sewer pipes, making it impossible to fish them out. “At that point, it’s game over for me,” she said. I’m not sure if this is bad challenge design or clever challenge design, but it was frustrating that, as she said, there was nothing to be done.

Thus, Mister won, and like so many other people this season, made that win about someone else. He repeatedly expressed concern that he paired up with Ilima, thus contributing to the elimination of one of his teammates.

Crying, he said, “I take team very serious—team means family.” Ilima said, “We’ve all created an awesome bond.”

Ilima’s exit means there are no women left in the final five of the individual competition, the first time that’s happened. (Season one had an all-male final three, but two women in the final five.)

Remaining are Ellery, Jake, Jorge, Larron, and Mister. Who will win Tough As Nails next week? Considering the types of final challenges the show has had in its past three seasons, my money is on Jorge or Mister, but the others have certainly demonstrated that they’re tough competition.

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart

    Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.

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Thursday 16th of February 2023

Since people seem to be venting, I have to add mine... I REALLY want them to stop doing things involving water in California. We're in a drought! Stop wasting water!

Ahhh, thanks. :)