Tara Davis of Elk Plain, Pierce County, wants her participation in the new CBS reality competition “Tough as Nails” (premiering at 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 8) to draw attention to women ironworkers and to show that a person’s family history does not define his or her future.
“Tough as Nails,” created and hosted by “Amazing Race” star Phil Keoghan, takes 12 Americans “who don’t think twice … about getting their hands dirty, in order to keep their country running” — welder, farmer, roofer, firefighter, etc. — and tasks them with real-world, on-the-job challenges, from working on a railroad or at a sand factory to assembling irrigation equipment. In the premiere episode, Spokane native Danny Moody, a drywaller, excels at moving bags of Spec Mix. At the end of the season, one competitor will be named “Tough as Nails” champion, winning $200,000 and a pickup truck.
Davis, 31, became an ironworker in 2018 after 10 years as an orthodontic technician. She’s a member of Seattle’s Iron Workers Union Local 86 and says she’s one of two women ironworkers at the company she works for, Rebar International in Edgewood. Her current work assignment is the Bellevue Tunnel, part of the Sound Transit East Link extension.
“I’m the only female ironworker at my job site,” she says. “As a female, it’s not written and no one’s ever said it, but we give 120% to 150% because we want to prove we’re here, we can do it just as much as you can. The biggest compliment any guy on the site can give you is, ‘You’re definitely one of the guys now.’ ”
“Tough as Nails” host Keoghan says as a trailblazer, Davis is a modern-day Rosie the Riveter “who is going to represent something that young women will see as a possibility that maybe they didn’t think was possible if they hadn’t seen her.”
Davis, whose husband is a structural ironworker, says she also wants to show that a person’s past is not necessarily predictive of their future.
“In the years I spent in dentistry, you talk to kids and kids tell their orthodontist’s assistants a lot,” she says, including teens who say they got in trouble and have no great options in life because of their family background. “I’d tell them, my dad’s been in prison my entire life, both my parents were addicts. Just because you came from that, it doesn’t determine who you are. It doesn’t define you. Nobody else can define you. Nobody else can make your future but you.”
Keoghan says Davis’ experience growing up in foster care, which is only alluded to in the first hour of the show’s two-hour premiere, will get more fleshed out in future episodes.
Unlike most reality competitions, “Tough as Nails” does not send a competitor home each week. After the first hour sets up the season by assembling two teams of competitors, each episode will feature an individual challenge and a team challenge. One person will be eliminated from the individual challenge weekly but will stick around for the team challenges, collecting money for each team win.
“We’re not building obstacle courses,” Keoghan said. “Episode one has the only ‘gamey’ kind of challenge. We go to real job sites. There are no sets.”
Filmed in various parts of Los Angeles in February, just before TV production shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Keoghan says he’s been pitching “Tough as Nails” for a decade. Even though it was produced pre-pandemic, he thinks the timing is apt.
“It puts the spotlight on people who are reflective of the audience watching. I hope that resonates,” he says. “Maybe America wasn’t ready before to acknowledge the essential worker, the person earning minimum wage keeping the country running, but I think America is [ready] now.”