Senior Airman Tyler Lucas stared at his hand. Wrestler, actor and host Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson had just shaken it while welcoming him onto the set of NBC’s hit show “The Titan Games,” where competitors race each other in intense physical challenges.
Premiering in January 2019, “The Titan Games” attracted almost 100,000 applicants but only accepted 64, including seven current and former military members. With muscled physiques and military-inspired attitudes, Lucas and his brother were among that lucky seven.
Lucas jokingly sniffed his hand once Johnson left. “I’m never washing this hand again!” he announced. It was only then that he noticed cameras; they had captured the whole scene.
Thankfully, his hero worship never aired — but millions saw the 26-year-old computer analyst advance to the season finale, winning three events along the way.
“The military is ever-changing, so you have to constantly be open to change,” Lucas explained. “That’s exactly what this show was about: seeing how composed you are when faced with new challenges.”
Indeed, a significant portion of competitors on current obstacle course shows — like “The Titan Games,” NBC’s “American Ninja Warrior” and Netflix’s “Ultimate Beastmaster” — have had military backgrounds, reminding civilians that composure amidst challenges is normal for the nation’s armed forces.
Even when competing with nearly no preparation, as Air Force 1st Lt. Luke Russell did for “Ultimate Beastmaster” in Season 2.
The Palm Coast, Florida, native had auditioned for ANW but was asked to apply for Beastmaster’s sophomore season. Since the debut hadn’t aired, and producers were staying mum about the show’s obstacles, Russell had no idea what to expect.
“My main focus was not to make a fool of myself,” the 31 year old admitted.
Since obstacle course-dedicated gyms are relatively sparse, Russell had to get creative as he jumped, swung, climbed and balanced his way across each obstacle. With names like Faceplant, Dreadmills and Digestive Track, the Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, physician assistant faced competitors from six nations racing through the beast-shaped obstacle course, trying to steer clear of the blood-red water below.
Remarkably, Russell advanced through his episode’s first three levels before finishing in fourth. Since then, he has also course-tested for ANW and won multiple Alpha Warrior — a military-affiliated obstacle course — competitions.
But first, “Ultimate Beastmaster” was the perfect chance to demonstrate how an American service member competes.
“[Beastmaster] is an opportunity to be a good sportsman and conduct yourself with class,” Russell said. “If you compete well and, more importantly, carry yourself well, you can do a lot of good for how the public views the military.”
Whether it’s the public or fellow soldiers, Army Capt. Jeri D’Aurelio knows what she wants people to see when they watch her: strength.
As a popular female ninja on ANW, D’Aurelio has qualified for the show’s national finals twice. Additionally, she’s one of the few women to compete on its sister show “ANW: Ninja Vs. Ninja,” where her team finished in the top eight in 2018.
“[Ninja] has made me stronger than most of the guys I work with, and that gets you respect in the Army,” she said. “It gives a good first impression, and then it’s up to me to keep that reputation with my work.” She is an Army JAG stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado.
D’Aurelio was a Texas gymnast before turning to ninja after law school. “I never grew out of the love for climbing and swinging on things,” she laughed.
ANW gives her a chance to do just that in front of millions, sometimes with only a month or less of training.
“I seem to always be coming straight out of the field to compete and just keep lucking out,” she said. This upcoming season will be no different; if everything goes to plan, D’Aurelio will barely return from her current deployment to compete on Season 11.
No matter. “I think my training for ninja helps me in my military career,” she said. “And I like to prove my worth in each.”
Band of brothers
Staff Sgt. Kyle Lucas proved his worth alongside little brother and fellow airman Tyler Lucas on “The Titan Games.” Though the former Penn State football player lost his only event, Kyle saw the value in his military service on such a visible platform.
“You’ve got guys who deploy and do tough jobs; these shows are a chance to show their skills,” he said. “It helps people see that we’re more than just a uniform.”
Indeed, Kyle, age 28, showed exactly that to more than four million fans when he openly cried after missing the chance to compete against Tyler.
“I think that was kind of a shock for [Tyler],” the crew chief explained. “Being brothers, we don’t really express our emotions too much.”
But given how far apart their assignments are — Kyle in Colorado and Tyler in Germany — the siblings weren’t sure when they would see each other again. Thankfully, the duo got three weeks together in California, cementing their bond as brothers, athletes and military members.
“A lot of people said, ‘We’re so proud of you; you really represented us well; you made the Air Force look good,” Kyle said. “Even though I took an L, I still made retired and current airmen proud of how I represented our service.”
That’s a sentiment fitting for all military members muscling their way through the biggest obstacle course on TV and into America’s hearts.Read comments