Scott Henry almost missed a chance to compete on CBS’ “Tough as Nails” — because he thought an email from producers was fake.
“I was, like, no way that’s real,” Henry said. “Do I even respond? I should probably just keep it in my junk mail.”
Fortunately, he asked his wife, Holly, if she thought he should reply. She advised, “Respond! You never know,” said Henry, who “couldn’t believe it” when it turned out to be true.
It was actually the second unbelievable thing that happened to the 40-year-old Utah construction supervisor last year.
He’s become an unexpected TikTok sensation, with millions — yes, millions — of followers. And CBS would be thrilled if they tuned in to see him on Season 2 of “Tough as Nails,” which begins airing Wednesday at 7 p.m. on Channel 2.
The show features 12 people who face a series of challenges designed to test their strength, endurance, life skills and mental toughness. The tasks are drawn from real-life work situations, and they’re not easy — last season, the contestants had to shovel coal, lay railroad track, repair cars, search for parts in a junkyard, build a brick wall, smash up concrete with a sledgehammer, and more. And, we’re promised, this season will be even more difficult and exhausting.
“And that’s what attracted me to it,” said Henry, 40. “It is hard-working, real people competing in very, very hard, real-life challenges. And in your mind, you’re thinking, ‘Am I tough enough to do this? Can I get through this? Do I even want to do that?”
Not only was the competition “scary,” but “your nerves are shot the whole time and you’re just hoping that your life experiences and skills will walk you through some of that. A lot of times, it was not very fun.”
The contestants — six men and six women — include a mariner, a pipe welder, a construction foreman, a travel nurse, a bricklayer, a delivery driver, a truck repair person, a high-voltage power lineman, a steelworker, a retired combat aviator and Henry, who’s a construction superintendent. They will be eliminated one by one from contention for the top prize — $200,000 — but no one leaves the show before the final episode. “Eliminated” contestants continue to join team competitions and can keep on winning thousands of dollars in prize money.
“The idea is that everybody goes home with something in their pocket,” said host Phil Keoghan (“The Amazing Race”).
He’s a TikTok star
The irony is that Henry — who grew up in Orem and now makes his home in Ogden — has made a name for himself as a fun guy. He’s become a sensation on TikTok, posting goofy, inspirational videos and battling bullying.
“The only reason I even downloaded TikTok on my phone was because my 11-year-old stepdaughter wanted it and I said, ‘No! Absolutely not,’” Henry said. “All I had ever heard was TikTok is disgusting and not fun.”
But once he opened the app, he found “this amazing group of people who I related with. I started having fun with it — started spreading a message of positivity and love and happiness.”
Just goofing around, he posted his first TikTok video in February 2020, never expecting anyone other than his family and a few friends to pay attention to it. Boy, was he surprised.
“I feel like I fell face first into social media at a time during the pandemic when people were really craving a smile and something to laugh about,” Henry said. “Being my own genuine self kind of paid off, and it’s been really fun ever since.”
Stomp Out Bullying
He’s working in support of Stomp Out Bullying, a nonprofit dedicated to standing up against hate, racism and discrimination. Henry was bullied himself as a “seventh grader, wearing [orthodontic] headgear to school, wanting to play with Legos rather than anything else. Now that’s something I’m passionate about — stopping bullying. No one deserves that. No one needs to go through that.”
(In high school, Henry shot up to 6-foot-7 and led Mountain View High to a state basketball championship in 1998. He also won the state high-jump championship and went on to play basketball at Salt Lake Community College and Idaho State.)
He avoids politics and remains “nonjudgmental” on his page. “It’s a place where everybody” can “have a laugh and have fun without being attacked in the comments section or anything like that,” he says in one video.
In another, a “good” Scott tells a “bad” Scott that he’s hit 2 million followers on TikTok and he wants to celebrate.
“Congrats,” says “bad” Scott. “You have 2 million fake friends on an app that was built for little kids.”
In a lot of videos, Henry dances energetically … if not altogether skillfully.
And he can’t count the number of messages he’s received “saying, ‘Hey, just you being able to laugh and smile and share things you’ve gone through in your life, that saved my life.’ It’s just a huge blessing and such a surprise. I can’t even believe it.”
“And I had zero plan to become anything on social media.”
Henry loves Keoghan — and vice-versa
“Tough as Nails” is the brainchild of Keoghan, who’s both the host and an executive producer. He co-created the series with his wife, Louise, who’s another of the show’s executive producers.
Henry said Phil Keoghan “is an absolute animal and stud. ... He’s an inspiration to have on set.” And Keoghan was quick to say Henry is “a wonderful human being.”
“He’s this big, lovable teddy bear, but he’s also 6-foot-7, and he’s very powerful,” Keoghan said. “He really wants to prove to his dad that he can go toe-to-toe with him or that he measures up to his father. … He comes across as this big, bubbly guy, but there’s some stuff that he’s dealing with.”
One of Henry’s fellow contestants, Merryl Tengesdal — a retired Air Force colonel — said Henry is “a beast,” adding, “He’s a big guy [with] a soft heart and really fun to be around.”
But Henry is at least a little bit worried that his TikTok followers will be surprised when they see how intense he gets on “Tough as Nails.”
“If you’ve ever played a sport against me, you know I have a competitive side,” he said. “And if you’ve ever played a board game against me, you know I want to win. I don’t care who it is. I want to beat my daughter at Skip-Bo.”
Still, the Keoghans hinted we’re going to get a glimpse of Henry’s gentle side in “Tough as Nails,” when he shows off his “dance moves,” Louise said.
“And,” Phil added, “he moved well for a big man.”
‘I just can’t wait’
Henry is still adjusting to his TikTok fame, and he’ll soon be seen by millions of new viewers.
“I was watching football the other day,” he said, “and there’s my face on TV [in a “Tough as Nails” ad]. It was so surreal and surprising and just crazy to see myself on CBS in a commercial during an NFL game. I don’t think it’s quite hit me how it’s going to affect my life or how many people are going to see it. But I just can’t wait. I’m so dang excited for this to air.”
Season 2 of “Tough as Nails” was shot this past November — contestants were quarantined for two weeks and tested frequently. They socially distanced and wore masks except when they were actually being filmed while competing.
“CBS had the best, most effective takeover plan ever,” Henry said. “I felt safe and protected the whole time.”
“We got through the whole season without an incident of any COVID,” Phil Keoghan said.
Of course, Henry signed a contract that prevents him from telling anyone anything about what happened — and keeping quiet hasn’t been easy for him.
“It’s miserable, man. Miserable!” Henry said with a laugh. “It was miserable not being able to talk about where I was for the month I was gone filming, and it’s miserable not being able to talk about what had actually happened on the show.”
Don’t get him wrong. He’s not complaining.
“Oh, my gosh,” Henry said. “From the very first day of quarantine to the very last day of filming, I got something out of it every single day. Yeah, it was 100% worth it.”