It only takes a few minutes on the phone with Olympia contractor Elizabeth Rillera to understand why producers of “Tough as Nails” (9 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 6) wanted her to be a contestant on the CBS competition series.
In addition to modeling at 19 and performing in a stunt show at a Chinese theme park, the 37-year-old, who grew up in Shelton, Mason County, says she competed in Strongman competitions from 2013-16 and qualified for nationals several times “but I never went to nationals because they’d have it somewhere dumb that wouldn’t be fun to visit.”
And don’t consider referring to it as Strongwoman or Strongperson.
“It’s called Strongman,” she says. “We’re all human. So let’s just call it Strongman and not overcomplicate things being overly sensitive. … I think that if people were less sensitive, then we wouldn’t have to deal with people being offended for half of our lives. … Sorry for you, but life’s not fair. Life’s not always fun. Life’s not always easy. Buck up, champ.”
That outspokenness is reality-show gold.
“When Elizabeth auditioned for the show, she introduced herself as ‘Elizabeast’ with a smile,” says Louise Keoghan, “Tough as Nails” co-creator with husband and show host Phil Keoghan. “She has this air of confidence that she clearly backed up with her physical and mental strength.”
Rillera, who owns and operates Supreme Construction and Concrete, says she’d never watched “Tough as Nails,” which previously featured Washington’s Tara Alverson of Bothell and Tara Davis of Elk Plain, Pierce County. After Rillera’s boyfriend and sister both saw ads for the show during Super Bowl LV in February, they each told Rillera she should apply.
“I argued against it emphatically and finally gave in,” Rillera says. “I don’t want attention. I didn’t want to take time off work. It sounded like a big pain in the ass.”
But she filled out the online application anyway. A month later, CBS contacted her and she was under consideration. But to stay in the running she had to film herself weekly doing burpees — a pushup followed by a leap in the air — to display her cardiovascular strength and mental toughness with a goal of improving week-to-week.
“This is what made me want to be on the show: I told my boyfriend and my sister I had to do these burpees and my boyfriend’s like, ‘Oh, forget it, I wouldn’t do that,’ ” Rillera says. “I was like, ‘You wanted me to apply and jump through all these hoops and now, when it starts to get hard, I should just quit?’ I was like, ‘No, that’s not me. I don’t quit like that.’ So then I was doing it out of spite.”
Louise Keoghan says Rillera’s determination was evident to the show’s producers.
“She [brought] the right combination of life skills, endurance and brawn,” Keoghan says. “Viewers can expect Elizabeth to be a straight-shooter who says it like it is.”
In Rillera’s first interview, she was told to watch past seasons of “Tough as Nails.”
“I liked the message and I wanted to be a part of that message,” she says. “I wanted to go on TV and show exactly how capable a person can be. Life is hard, life is a struggle. This is the kind of person you need to be if you’re gonna make it through the struggles.”
Between filling out the initial application and when she was flown to Los Angeles in May for potential filming (without knowing if she’d even been picked to be on the show), Rillera found herself invested.
“I feel like, I don’t want to let somebody down. Sending in the application was already a commitment,” she says, noting she learned more about competing on a TV show than any specific skill since she couldn’t prepare because she didn’t know in advance what each new challenge would be. “I learned a lot about other people more than anything, because I don’t really interact with a lot of people in my life.”
As for the show casting contestants from Washington in all three seasons filmed so far, Keoghan isn’t sure what to chalk that up to.
“Maybe it’s a coincidence or maybe it’s something in the water, but the ‘Tough As Nails’ contestants we have cast from Washington have this ‘can do’ approach to every challenge,” she says. “They never say ‘I can’t’ and view every job we give them as an exciting adventure. There is definitely an explorer-type mindset mixed with not being afraid to do the hard work however uncomfortable it is.”