Another weekend, another two episodes of Tough As Nails season five. Next weekend: the season finale. Two more weeks to go with this nutty schedule!
But there may not be two more weeks to go for the team challenge, which despite how evenly matched the two teams are, got lopsided this episode.
Meanwhile, both physical and emotional trauma affected some of the contestants as they picked up apples, hammered stakes, went shopping, and loaded trucks.
Episode 5: ‘How Do You Like Them Apples?
“So, everybody’s good today?” Jessica asked as Savage Crew drove to the team challenge at an apple orchard. “The energy, I love it this morning—it feels good.”
Jessica told us, “we have to stick together as a team” and that she wanted to “motivate, encourage, and keep the morale up.”
And: cue disaster. As Carolina said, “we’re all alpha, and we all want to win.”
The task was introduced by Lia Mort, Tough As Nails’ only female winner to date; she appeared first in disguise, pretending she worked in apples.
The task: pick up baskets of pre-picked apples and get them onto a trailer being pulled by a tractor. On paper, this seems relatively easy: it’s just picking up baskets, putting them onto the trailer, and dumping the apples into large containers. (Professionals drove the tractors at the same speed, so the teams didn’t have to worry about that.)
This meant it was a game of both endurance—there were multiple rows, back and forth—and strategy. Akeelah immediately started crossing over toward Dirty Hands’ rows, which was allowed, and grabbing their baskets. Dirty Hands team members then started doing the same.
Savage Crew rotated positions on their trailer, while Cheryl was stuck on Dirty Hands’ trailer due to her injury.
Savage Crew seemed positioned to win, giving people breaks, but they were comically bad at actually getting the baskets onto the trailer. Apples went everywhere; it was like they were trying to miss. It gave me anxiety every time I saw an apple tumble over the edge of the trailer, or fly through the air. They’re expensive!
At the end, everyone was drenched in sweat and exhausted. The winning team had collected 5,984 pounds, and the losers just 4,875 pounds—a 1,000-pound difference.
Dirty Hands won. Savage Crew, as is their tendency, congratulated themselves, and Akeelah was concerned about her team’s happiness. “What the fuck just happened?” she asked. “We got beat today—they whopped our ass.”
I understand her frustration: It’s one thing to accept a close loss; it’s another to be almost indifferent to losing by such a massive margin. This turned into major conflict: Jessica said, “I can tell you I did my best,” which is a helpful way to stick together as a team, effectively blaming others for failing. Akeelah also helped things by saying, “I’m sorry, but I don’t believe you.”
This got heated; Carolina said, “screaming’s not going to make anything better” and “we can’t let this break us.” Oh no.
Phil Keoghan had previously told the teams that the apple challenge was “the toughest team competition, [and] tomorrow’s going to be the toughest individual competition.”
That individual competition: hammering stakes next to apple saplings, and then tying the tree to the stake.
While the height of the stakes was adjusted based on their own height, they each had the same 25-pound fence post driver, which seemed a little uneven, considering the differences in upper-body strength. (I went looking to see if there are different weights of them, and there are, but I ended up just laughing at this guy’s smile and pose, especially compared to what we saw in the episode. He’s so clearly not doing any work!)
Then again, it really came down to technique. Kenji realized he didn’t have to slam it down, but instead could just let the 25 pounds do the work for him.
As a result, he won. Dustin had finished first, but on one stake, didn’t finish his pounding. Likewise, Marcus would have finished second, except he missed one tie. Missing that took him from second to second-to-last, so he was in overtime along with Cheryl.
Excuse me: Cheryl Fucking Lieteau, as she calls herself and as the other contestants yelled out while she worked away.
Cheryl told us, “Marcus is taller, he’s got bigger muscles. But I’ll tell you what: I’m going to kick his ass.”
That is exactly what she did. Their task was to squeeze apple juice: gathering apples, grinding them, and then squeezing that pulp until juice filled four jugs.
Both put too many apples in their grinders at first, making that part difficult. Cheryl, however, had gathered her supplies, and that made it easier for her to transition as she squeezed juice, and she easily won.
That was an impressive victory, but my favorite moment in the episode came during the credits, when Tough As Nails aired a deleted scene: Phil Keoghan breaking an apple in half with his bare hands, and then juggling other apples, ending by saying, “How do you like them apples?” Give this man an Emmy already.
Episode 6: ‘Just Trying To Be Me’
“I hope you are ready for an inside job,” Phil Keoghan told the contestants at the start of episode six. I certainly was ready, because I assumed this meant they’d be robbing a bank from the inside, or doing corporate espionage.
After the store closed, they had to race through the aisles, gathering 45 different items (with different quantities of each), then check out and load everything onto a truck.
Some of the items included two 20-gallong storage containers, one heavy duty hose reel, two resin Adirondack chairs, and one pair of hedge shears.
The one list per team they were given said “BOLD words appear on product. ITALICS are descriptors, not necessarily on product.” Some products had both; others had just one. So the chairs were all in italics: “Adirondack Chair – Red – Resin,” while the clippers said “Hedges & Shrubs – Hedge Shears” all in bold. Tricky! And fun!
Dirty Hands chose Cheryl as their crew boss yet again, because she’s helped them win before. She decided she’d hold the list, and they’d all move through the store aisle by aisle. But that meant people couldn’t find her or the list, so they quickly readjusted.
Savage Crew chose Jessica, who decided to pair people up and split up aisles, leaving the list behind. Each pair had 15 items to gather.
Jessica paired herself with Akeelah to mend their rift. “If Akeelah and I could get on the same page, we would be unstoppable,” Jessica told us.
Without the lists in front of them, it was a little more challenging to find the correct thing, and there was a lot of running through the massive store.
My favorite moment came when Yesi, pushing a cart and running with Kenji, bumped the front of a stove, shattering its oven door. I guess Phil Keoghan is now the proud owner of a doorless oven!
Dirty Hands caught up, and both teams started checking out at the same time, but Savage Crew had two inaccurate items and had to go back. Dirty Hands finished checking out first.
In a fun callback, they loaded their purchases into the trailers they built earlier this season.
Dirty Hands won, though just barely. Again, these teams are well-matched—though Dirty Hands is now just one win away from the $60,000 bonus, as they have four wins.
For the sake of keeping things interesting, I hope Savage Crew can win the next two, so the team competition goes all the way to the tiebreaker.
At the end of the challenge, Jessica said, “It’s fine, you guys. It is fine, we did great.” Guess who said “no we did not”? Yep, Akeelah. While this was very close, she was right that had they not made mistakes, they would have won.
“We made mistakes that we need to fix,” she said. “You guys don’t want to be honest, we’ll keep losing like this.”
On the drive to the individual competition, Cheryl was giving a pep talk, and ended up turning toward an emotional confession: “We live in this world that’s constantly telling us who we should be. It’s taken me half a century to find myself in there. What a waste,” she said.
“The world has changed. It’s safer to be me,” Cheryl said, explaining that she’s faced questions about her identity: “Who am I? Am I Black? Am I white? Am I gay? Am I a girl? I’m just trying to be me.”
This was a lovely moment and immediately made me think Cheryl was in trouble. It’s already remarkable that she’s continued despite her injury.
The individual competition was another run in pairs, which, meh. Each pair had to load a bunch of stuff onto a truck; drive a quarter-mile loop of dirt road with logs, rocks, and many bumps; and then unpack everything back onto the pallet.
This took place on a course that seemed purpose-built for this challenge, with a raised mound in the center so the other contestants could watch. And unlike many tasks, this seemed to have no real-world purpose. Still fun, though!
The twist was that they had two heats; the losing pairs faced off again, which basically gave a pair a chance to save themselves. It played out like this:
- Dustin & Kenji vs. Todd & Jessica, which Todd & Jessica won. Dustin and Kenji had a comical approach to packing the truck.
- Cheryl & Akeelah vs. Paul & Ben, which Ben and Paul easily won.
- Dustin & Kenji vs. Cheryl & Akeelah. Dustin and Kenji kept the same strategy, and they both took off on the course at the same time. Cheryl and Akeelah were almost ahead, but they lost a bunch of stuff at the end.
The winners won $6,000: $3,000 each to Paul and Ben.
Cheryl and Akeelah were in overtime, and their challenge was basically a Big Brother challenge—carrying liquid across an obstacle course and filling a tube—just with concrete as their liquid. The obstacles included walking through tires, and then across a balance beam.
Before it began, Phil asked if Cheryl wanted to compete, saying the medics pointed out she could tear something and really injure herself. “I have to run my own race,” she said. I’m going to go for it.”
On her first attempt to cross the balance beam, Cheryl fell. I recoiled and gasped and looked away, it was so scary.
But Cheryl just bounced back up. “It looked a lot worse than it was,” Cheryl told us. Yesi said, “She’s teaching us a lot, that you just find your own rhythm.”
Alas, Cheryl had no real chance, not that it was easy for Akeelah. Akeelah started addressing her estranged father as she struggled, basically working out her conflicted feelings to motivate herself.
“Throughout our lives, we carry a lot of anger, a lot of resentment about things that happened in the past that we don’t have control over,” Akeelah said. “And I didn’t realize how much resentment I carried.”
Will releasing some of that—or admitting that to her fellow competitors?—affect their team dynamics in the next episode, and keep them in contention for the $60,000?
This story was edited July 20, 2023, to be more specific about the number of incorrect items Savage Crew had during the shopping challenge.