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Did a Tough As Nails team win $60K while helping First Nation kids?

Did a Tough As Nails team win $60K while helping First Nation kids?
Phil Keoghan watches the Tough As Nails season 5 episode 8 individual challenge, when the contestants assembled bicycles for kids in the Mississauga Nation (Photo by Robin Cymbaly/CBS)

With Tough As Nails approaching its final weekend—yes, two more episodes and season five is over! Alas!—the question in episodes 7 and 8 was whether or not Savage Crew crew could hold off Dirty Hands—and whether Savage Crew could hold it together.

As Phil Keoghan said, “Savage Crew, it’s do or die for you.” They’re down two challenges to four, and there are just nine total. Savage Crew had to win both team challenges in these episodes just to tie and force the tiebreaker.

The team in orange has been a messier team interpersonally, though their losses to the team in green* are always very, very close, so they’re still well-matched, making it anyone’s $60,000.

*I still see Dirty Hands’ shirts as black even though I know they’re dark green. Perhaps I need to get my TV and/or eyes adjusted.

Episode 7: ‘Boom or Bust’

Six people start running across a gravel field with small mounds of gravel on it
Tough As Nails season 5’s final 6—Paul Hamilton, Akeela Al-Hameed, Jessica Hayes, Dustin Bradford, Todd Anderson, and Kenji Ngo—start running at the start of individual challenge (Photo by Robin Cymbaly/CBS)

“This is where you find out what you’re made of, as an individual and as a team,” Dustin said. But his competition, Dirty Hands, was both ebullient and cutthroat. “We don’t want to leave a dollar left for anyone else—we’re taking it all,” Cheryl said.

She’s been the crew boss for every team challenge Dirty Hands won, so she took that role yet again. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?” Cheryl said.

After the teams arrived at a stone quarry, walking across a huge mound of gravel, they learned their task: creating three gabion baskets. That meant assembling the wire baskets and filling them with rocks. Two had to be filled with rocks they broke up themselves, and one that of pre-selected rocks, making that more of a puzzle.

From the technique they were using, it seemed like Dirty Hands was going to win this challenge, too. Savage Crew struggled with the baskets, which had spiral wires that had to be threaded through two panels to link them together. Basically, a big spiral notebook.

Marcus led Savage Crew, which was a curious choice—not because of his skill, but because during the van ride, he talked about valuing actions over words, and words are key for leadership.

I was wrong; he turned out to be a great choice. When Carolina struggled with basket assembling, for example, he just redirected a teammate: “Dustin, can you help Carolina?” Carolina told us: “Every time I get help, life gets better”—a useful mantra for her team and for everyone watching.

But all was not easy on Dirty Hands started struggling, too. “The puzzle is becoming a nightmare,” Kenji said. “We would definitely lose for sure if we take it all out and started from the beginning.”

Each team had one box done, but Savage Crew got their puzzle box first, thanks to Paul. Dirty Hands couldn’t get the lid down on their puzzle box.

“We are literally down to the wire on this one,” Phil said—and Savage Crew beat Dirty Hands by what Phil described as six inches, but looked like several feet of wire to me. I guess TV makes everything look bigger, especially six inches.

A person walks across a gravel field carrying two buckets
Ben walks with gravel to fill holes during the Tough As Nails 5 episode 7 individual challenge (Photo by Robin Cymbaly/CBS)

The individual task had the teams wire the ground for explosives, which the winner got to blow at the end of the episode—something I wish the preview hadn’t spoiled, because it was pretty spectacular.

Each contestant had to run a long wire next to 20 holes. Then, they had to attach wires that were already in those holes to that main line, and then fill each hole with six feet of gravel. The winner received $7,000.

Laying the wire and connecting the other wires to seemed pretty easy: the connection was a plastic snap. Filling the holes was the tough part. Jessica estimated they were 70 to 80 pounds each, and it took 1.5 buckets per hole, Akeela said.

Kenji started filling holes first, followed by Jessica, but Todd and Dustin pulled ahead. Todd thought he’d won, but realized he missed a hole, and Ben won, getting to press the button and set off all the explosives later. The Tough As Nails crew set up some pretty great camera shots that caught it from multiple angles.

Ben was followed by Dustin, Todd, Akeela, and Jessica. That meant, for the first time all season, a female contestant wasn’t in overtime.

To save themselves, Paul and Kenji had to build a hibernaculum for snakes.

A herpetologist showed up with a snake whose name was Star. A very clever editor gave Star its own chyron that said, hilariously, “Star. Snake.”

Into pre-dug pits, Paul and Kenji had to create five layers: logs, rocks, bigger logs, more rocks, and sod.

Kenji had an early lead, but Paul made progress by carrying half his logs in one handful. Kenji said the rocks were 20 to 30 pounds, and they really slowed Paul down.

Kenji finished first but didn’t have an opening for the snakes. But he finished that before Paul, who punched out.

Episode 8: ‘You Can’t Always Be the Hammer’

A person runs across a grassy field holding a yellow kid's bike
Kenji runs with his first bike during the Tough As Nails 5 episode 8 individual challenge, which he won (Photo by Robin Cymbaly/CBS)

Like Friday’s episode, Savage Crew had another do-or-die challenge. One more and Dirty Hands would win; one more Savage Crew win would create a tie.

Ben was ready to sacrifice himself (“I will literally break every bone in my body to get that today,” Ben said) but Dirty Hands was ready too. (“I am hungry today. I want it, and I want it bad,” Kenji said.)

Yesi read something she’d written about the team in the van about their team (“six strangers colliding to form an incredible bond”), and it made Cheryl cry. “I have never worked with a finer group of people,” Cheryl said.

Savage Crew was also bonding. Akeela said they’d “gotten more honest and more open with each other. That’s made us stronger.” Later, Jessica said they’d healed their rifts. “Now we both understand the way that we communicate, and we’re unstoppable.”

This episode’s challenges all took place on First Nation land belonging to the Mississauga Nation. Its chief did a land acknowledgment.

While Tough As Nails challenges mirror real-life tasks, they tend to be built for the show. But episode eight’s challenges were different: each of them left behind something that could actually be used, and wasn’t just going to be torn down or scrapped.

First, the teams had to build a playground. Phil said the team’s work is “going to last for generations.”

It had two identical sides with five structures each, all constructed from natural materials. The fifth part was installing an actual zipline connecting two pre-installed A-frames—and then flying down it to ring a bell and signal they were done.

The cement footings were already poured, though they did have to clean that area and then drill into it, and the pieces were assembled. So, it was basically an installation job. Carly described it as “a hard Sodoku,” though to me it seemed like an Ikea challenge.

Kenji wanted redemption from the last team challenge and did the zip line all by himself. Working on the other zipline, Carolina accidentally rang the bell, which caused some heads to turn. “Sorry, just practicing!” she said.

But it was actually Dirty Hands that rang the bell first, winning the team challenge and the season-long competition, for a total of $72,000 that one challenge—$6,000 each.

Cheryl led each victory, but told the camera, “I can’t take credit for any of these wins, because it was truly a team effort.” I cannot get enough of their genuine humility, and I’d like to take a class in which Tough As Nails contestants teach me how to be so genuinely grateful even in moments of defeat.

For the individual competition, each remaining contestant had to assemble three bikes, of increasing size and complexity. All three had empty tires that had to be filled, too.

In a break from usual challenges, there were no instructions. I don’t mind that as a twist, but maybe not for the challenge where we’re making vehicles for kids?

To make things even harder, the contestants had to run up and down a hill across a field several times: to retrieve their bike, and then with the assembled bike, and then all the way back to get a number for a check, and run back. If they failed the check, they had to return the bike to the other side of the field and repeat.

The bikes—donated by Scott Sports—were being built for kids who were all there to watch, often cheering on the person building their actual bike. The kids also watched as people ran back and forth with their imperfect bikes, and when Akeelah went running with a kid’s bike and its wheel fell off in the field. Oops!

Jessica was first with the first two bikes, but Todd and Kenji pulled ahead. Todd, however, blew one of his tubes, and no spares were available. (Poor kid!) He tried to fix it, but to no avail.

Kenji, who’d worked in a bike shop as a kid, won the $8,000. Jessica was second, followed by Dustin.

That left Ben, Akeela, and Todd as the final three. Ben was struggling with something that gave many of the contestants a challenge: the fact that bike pedals screw on backwards, which is something that I now know should I ever find myself in a bike-making competition.

That gave Akeela a chance to catch up. Ben figured it out and took off, with his bike, and Akeela was right behind him, effectively turning it into a footrace. It wasn’t close, though; Ben got checked first and saved himself from overtime.

For the overtime challenge, everyone walked into a forest, where the eagles Yesi and Jessica constructed in their overtime were back, suspended in the air.

Todd and Akeela’s task: assemble a permanent stand for the eagles. “It’s a short challenge, so you gotta do it right,” Akeela said. “Don’t fumble.”

Guess what Akeela did? Fumbled, alas. She dropped a nut, and between that and Paul saving himself a few seconds by working without a ladder, he pulled ahead and won.

Akeela punched out, leaving five people in the individual competition, and just one woman, her former nemesis and now BFF Jessica. And there is just one week to go in Tough As Nails 5, so we’ll know next weekend if Jessica becomes the second woman to win, or if Ben, Dustin, Kenji, or Todd takes the title.

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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.

Discussion: your turn

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Happy discussing!

Busy Bee

Monday 31st of July 2023

You wrote that Dirty Hands rang the bell first, "for a total of $72,000 that one challenge - $6,000 each." Didn't they each receive $12,000?

Chuck S

Tuesday 25th of July 2023

Great Episodes! The explosion was cool I really liked that they made bikes for kids, but I had to laugh when her wheel fell off - in front of the kid she made it for. Also, your second picture should read "6 of Tough As Nails Final 7" because Ben is not in the picture and he's not out of the game. :)


Monday 24th of July 2023

I also thought Dirty Hands' shirts were black! Or dark gray. But I was shocked to learn that they're actually green. I have a good TV, but poor eyesight.

Between Star and The Righteous Gemstones, there were entirely too many snakes on my TV last night! I know they're necessary, but I still don't want to look at them, eek!

That explosion was SO cool!

I'm so sad Akeelah is out of the individual competition. I guess I'm rooting for Kenji now.

Chuck S

Tuesday 25th of July 2023

@Melissa, Dirty Hands shirts are like that internet dress.. sometimes they're green, sometimes they're black. But whatever, they were the color of winners!


Monday 24th of July 2023

I was sure Akeela was going to win. I thought, “Oh, Todd!” It came down to him not using the ladder and her dropping the screw. WOW. That was amazingly close.

I would be happy with any of the final five winning. They all seem like very nice people.

My BFF was very happy with Kenji’s success in these two episodes. He won the overtime against Paul and won the bike competition. Good for him.