Skip to Content
reality TV reviews, news, and analysis since 2000

How was that Tough As Nails ATV mud challenge fair? Whoops?

How was that Tough As Nails ATV mud challenge fair? Whoops?
Akeelah runs for the ATVs as Cheryl falls during the Tough As Nails 5 episode 4 individual competition (Image from CBS preview)

Tough As Nails season five started just one week ago, and we’re already 40 percent of the way through the season! CBS!!

This weekend’s two episodes left me with very different reactions. Friday night’s episode had some terrific challenges, including an especially creative individual challenge involving building structures capable of holding a literal ton of weight.

But Sunday’s episode had an individual challenge, involving driving ATVs through mud, that was surprisingly unfair. Let’s discuss the good and then the questionable!

Episode 3: “Zink About It”

A person leans against a railing and talks into a radio
Phil Keoghan watches the team competition in a molten zinc facility during Tough As Nails 5 episode 3 (Photo by Robin Cymbaly/CBS)

Savage Crew had a good cry on their way to the job site, and not because Carolina was the first out of the individual competition. It was Paul’s wife’s birthday, and he got a letter from her that said: “a year ago you were fighting for your life with cancer.”

The teams arrived at Corbec, a company that is “Ontario, Canada’s, largest molten zinc facility,” Phil Keoghan explained, an explanation I appreciated because I almost confused it with Ontario’s largest non-molten zinc facility, or Saskatchewan’s largest molten zinc facility.

Teams had to assemble a trailer, which was not as simple as that sounds. First, they had to weld its three sides on, then attach it to a crane, which dipped it in zinc. Then the teams were responsible for wiping off drips, grinding off hardened drips that they missed, and then attaching the rest of the parts.

“Zinc about how you want to get his job done,” Phil said. How has he not won an Emmy yet?

Iron Worker Yesi took the lead on Dirty Hands, while warehouse supervisor Paul was boss for Savage Crew. “Trailers, that’s easy stuff for me,” he said.

But it was not easy stuff. Dirty Hands finished their trailer welding first; Savage Crew was a literal mess.

While running tools through the molten zinc, Akeela told us, “it was 800 degrees, but as a firefighter, I didn’t feel a thing.”

Yesi said it reminded her of raking in a zen garden; the editors then brilliantly cut from that quiet, peaceful process to Savage Crew shouting at each other as they attempted to attach their trailer to the rack.

As it got dark—I wonder how long the zinc had to dry for—both teams worked on finishing their trailers outside. Somehow, Savage Crew caught up, and then Dirty Hands made a fatal mistake by not attaching the bed of their trailer correctly, so the overhang prevented their gate from closing.

Savage Crew won. But all was not well.

People run across a factory floor, carrying a large metal structure
Savage Crew members Dustin Bradford, Jessica Hayes, Marcus Jones, Carolina Paredes, Akeela Al-Hameed and Paul Hamilton take their trailer frame to get coated in zinc during Tough As Nails season 5 episode 3’s team competition (Photo by Robin Cymbaly/CBS)

During the final stage, Paul yelled at Jessica to be quiet, which came up in the van later: “Paul, do not tell me to stop talking and keep working,” she said. Paul tried to excuse his behavior by saying, “I was excited, and it was like cheering you guys on.” LOL try again. Jessica called bullshit, and said “that was disrespect.” Paul did eventually apologize.

Carolina said, “I just hope that it doesn’t affect our team.” The next day, Jessica apologized (why?!) because she “called you out in front of everybody,” and said, “I don’t want that to change our team.”

The individual challenge was the one teased in my DVR’s description, saying the contestants “are tasked with designing and welding a structure that can withstand the crushing force of 1 ton of weight.”

They had 90 minutes to build and weld a structure that was at least three feet tall and could withstand that weight for 10 seconds.

I love the creativity required here; it reminded me of high school physics class, and building little containers to protect an egg when it was dropped, or building bridges out of spaghetti and glue. We played with our food a lot in my physics class, I guess.

I wish Tough As Nails gave them more time to plan or design, and talk through that, as I would have loved to know more about the strategies—or lack thereof!

The winner got $3,000, and the winner was Paul, who built a very narrow column, on top of which he added four pipe pieces to make the required height. I thought those would snap off, but they did not.

Cue the montage of almost everyone else’s structure bending, snapping, and breaking under the weight. Those whose structures lasted the least amount of time were Yesi and Jessica, who headed into overtime for the second time.

Their overtime task was constructing a metal eagle out of 13 pieces using 26 nuts and bolts. There was no diagram to give them instructions, just a model, so somewhat similar to Survivor puzzles we’ve seen.

Yesi decided that “bolt cutters will slow you down,” so she twisted wire to retrieve her pieces. Alas, what really slowed her down was that she put her wings on backwards, and instead of unscrewing the whole wing, she started taking off individual pieces.

There was so much tension as the other competitors watched, desperate to scream out help but not allowed to do that. So not exactly like Survivor!

Jessica asked for a check and it was not correct: her tail was flipped. Jessica managed to correct it before Yesi even asked for a check, saving herself yet again.

They were both crying at the end. “Ultimately, I have a strong team, and tomorrow’s another day,” Yesi said.

Tomorrow was actually Sunday, two days later, so let’s go on to that episode.

Episode 4: ‘Man Made It, These Hands Can Fix It’

Six people wearing black shirts and six people wearing orange shirts stand in a line on a dirt field; a person in a plaid shirt looks at them
Tough As Nails season 5 contestants Cheryl Lieteau, Kenji Ngo, Yesi Reyes, Carly Steiman, Todd Anderson, Ben Dempsey, Phil Keoghan, Paul Hamilton, Marcus Jones, Akeela Al-Hameed, Jessica Hayes, Dustin Bradford, and Carolina Paredes listen to Phil Keoghan explain the episode 4 team challenge. (Photo by Robin Cymbaly/CBS)

In the van, Carly suggested Dirty Hands deal with their communication issues by giving a “speed check,” citing a study that drivers who speed don’t arrive all that much faster.

They got to test that while helping to build part of a motocross track. Specifically, they had to construct three dirt hills—which, whoops, I should refer to by their real name, which is “whoops.” Unless you’re talking about one, then it’s “whoop.” Oops.

Those three whoops hills had to be 19 feet wide, 12 long, 1.5 feet tall each, and they were given a template to help shape and measure.

Once again, we saw two very different approaches. Dirty Hands got their first whoop done, though—whoops!—they failed their first check. But then their whoop passed its second test.

Savage Crew, meanwhile, moved to the second and third while others finished up the first two, not waiting for them to be perfect.

Which strategy would pay off? Dirty Hands had the first two approved first before Savage Crew’s first was even approved, and then Dirty Hands got a check on the third before Savage Crew even got the second approved.

People with shovels and a wheelbarrow stand on a mound of dirt; a green template stretches across it
Dirty Hands members Ben Dempsey, Kenji Ngo, Cheryl Lieteau, and Carly Steiman work on their whoops during the Tough As Nails 5 episode 4 (Photo by Robin Cymbaly/CBS)

With that, Dirty Hands evened up the team challenge score 2:2, and I love a Tough As Nails season where the teams are so evenly matched.

The loss, however, led to another tough van ride for Savage Crew. Dustin said, “I think we got to talk about how we feel, or we’re just going to have underlying tension going forward.”

Paul’s contribution to this: “I can’t stand dirt.”

But Carolina wanted to get to those issues. “Some of you don’t fucking listen; you just talk over who’s boss,” she said. “Just listen for once.”

Carolina pointed out that she’s punched out of the individual competition: “I’m just so fucking mad right now, and I don’t want to be like this.”

As a result of punching out, Carolina and Yesi didn’t get to participate in the individual challenge. Phil Keoghan introduced it as “a fun job.” I’d call it a bad job.

The basics were great: Run down a muddy track, get on an ATV, drive it back down that track through the mud, attach a log that’s one-third of their body weight, and then drag it to the end of the course.

There was $4,000 on the line for the winner.

Since there were two parallel tracks, they ran it two at a time, in five heats, but these were not races: ultimately it was the two slowest that would be in overtime.

The 10 contestants did draw randomly for spots, and those who were in the later heats really got screwed, I think.

The track looked roughly the same for each run, but it seemed to me like the first people to go had a massive advantage: they tore up the course, making it even harder to drive through for each subsequent heat.

I’m honestly not sure how you’d even make 10 muddy tracks exactly even and fair. But re-using the same two definitely seemed unfair, and all you have to do is look at the actual results.

In the first two heats, the four contestants got their ATVs to the end of the track without needing the help of a winch.

Carly and Paul, who were in the third heat, each needed the winch to pull them out of the mud. In heat four, Kenji and Dustin got stuck, too. Todd and Ben, who went last, also got stuck—though Ben stalled his ATV after gunning it.

The winner was Marcus, who was in the very first heat. Cheryl, who spent time lying face-first in the mud after injuring herself, and then limped all the way to the ATV, said, “I can’t believe I’m in fourth place.” I cannot believe that either! She did not need a winch, which might explain how much time that added.

Even sketchier: We saw no times on screen, and Phil did not announce times, either. Phil did say Akeela was three seconds behind Marcus, and that both finished in “under a minute.” But there was no further mention of times, and those are certainly not specific.

This was my least-favorite challenge of the season so far—and of all of Tough As Nails, really—and it sucks for Carly and Paul that they were sent to overtime based on that.

In overtime, Carly and Paul had to replace two shocks on ATVs. One twist: there was a pressure washer available to clean the muddy ATV. After replacing it, they had to drive the ATV.

Carly at first decided to use the pressure washer; Paul was taking off his wheels while Carly hooked it up before abandoning it. Carly also screwed up by jacking up her ATV before taking off her wheels. So, she was behind the whole time, and had to punch out.

She did finish the task, though, and asked Paul to back off when he offered to help, wanting her “dignity,” as she said. At least she very clearly and fairly lost that overtime challenge, which is more than I can say for the individual competition.

All reality blurred content is independently selected, including links to products or services. However, if you buy something after clicking an affiliate link, we may earn a commission, which helps support reality blurred. Learn more.

About the writer

Discussion: your turn

The writing here is the start of a conversation, and reality blurred values your contributions to that conversation. We’ve created a community that connects people through open and thoughtful conversations about the TV we’re watching, the pop culture we’re consuming, and the stories about it.

To share our perspectives and exchange ideas in a welcoming, supportive space, there are rules for commenting here. By commenting below, you confirm that you’ve read and agree to those rules.

Happy discussing!

Bad Mitten

Thursday 20th of July 2023

Phil was just on RHAP and addressed this/you. He was very complimentary of you in general (think you got mentioned at 3 different points during the podcast, including him thanking you at the very end) so you should check it out!

Andy Dehnart

Thursday 20th of July 2023

Thanks! I Wrote about it yesterday—and yes, Phil was so very kind!


Saturday 15th of July 2023

I totally agree , the ATV competition was so unfair. To think that someone who face planted into the mud and was laying there in pain for who knows how long? …. Came in 4th? You can totally see how much mud accumulated on the ATV’s tires after each run. Whoever came up with this challenge gets an “F” (failure). Sorry , I just think the contestants deserve better. 😊


Friday 14th of July 2023

I hadn't thought about the ATV mud issue. It would have seemed like Ben would have been a whiz at that and yet he did seem to have lots of trouble.

Maybe it was unfair?

Well, who said life is fair?

My BFF likes Kenji and doesn't like Paul. I understand why he likes Kenji but don't understand his Paul dislike. He says Paul acts like a know-it-all. Like that's a bad thing.

Lyman Sevinop

Friday 14th of July 2023

I honestly want the person eliminated in episode 4 to be brought back, that was a terrible final challenge.


Wednesday 12th of July 2023

The atv competition was serious bs. The machines clearly had 4x4 decals. However I did not see one front wheel spin. If they were engaged. None would have gotten stuck. We’re the contestants told to not use that feature. It’s just the push of a button on the handlebars. Please explain to me why that feature wasn’t used??


Friday 14th of July 2023

@Randy, my husband said the same thing. He noticed the 4WD thing right away. He was thinking that the contestants maybe didn't know how to operate an ATV or accidentally turned it off/hit the button during all of the pandemonium of being stuck.