In Stride

Why We're Backing a Runner—Yes, a Runner—to Win 'American Tarzan'

Discovery's new show 'American Tarzan' pits climbers, runners, and lifters against each other in a 'Survivor' meets 'American Ninja Warrior' showdown

Why We're Backing a Runner—Yes, a Runner—to Win 'American Tarzan'

From left: Derek Knutson, Jeremy Guarino, Kim Liszka, Maria Herrera, Tim Olson, Tim Reames, and Brandon Morrison. Photo: Discovery Channel

It’s been more than one hundred years since Edgar Rice Burroughs published his first Tarzan novel, but the ape-reared vine-slinger continues to persist in popular culture. From Geico ads to current Hollywood blockbusters, the Tarzan myth endures. It was only a matter of time until someone figured out how to translate one of the most popular fictions of the 20th century into enticing “reality” television.

Starting on July 6, American Tarzan will air on the Discovery Channel, in what sounds like a hybrid between American Ninja Warrior and Survivor. Seven contestants—five men, two women—must battle the elements on the Caribbean island of Dominica, traversing natural obstacles over four distinct types of terrain: jungle, coast, mountains, and canyons. Contestants will “live completely off the land, while tackling the most punishing obstacles on earth,” according to the show’s press release. Glory awaits the first to finish the multi-day journey, but failure to complete an obstacle results in an ignominious DNF. Alas, there can only be one lord of the jungle.

What follows is an (entirely subjective and heavily biased) Survivability Index. Ranging from 10, or American Tarzan, to 0, Jungle Mulch, we try to determine, based on the contestant's skills and profession, who's most likely to survive "the world's most extreme obstacle course."

Brandon Morrison

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Brandon paddles fast and strong to try and reach the island.   Photo: Discovery Channel

Hometown: Seattle, Washington
Job: Personal trainer
Superpower: Strength—can lift over 600 pounds
SI: 3
While that’s a pretty impressive superpower, brute strength and the attendant body mass are not your best assets when the goal is to cover a lot of ground. There’s sure to be a lot of running and climbing involved, so litheness is likely to trump size. 

Derek Knutson

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Derek pushing his canoe into the water.   Photo: Carrie Lederer/Discovery Channel

Hometown: Hayward, Wisconsin
Job: Professional timber sports athlete
Superpower: Speed climber—can climb a six-story tree in 14 seconds
SI: 7
Ascending six stories in 14 seconds would be a tall order if you were taking the stairs. We’re expecting Derek to do well, as it seems reasonable that a timber sports pro would excel in the rain forest. 

Kim Liszka

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Kim crossing the rope line upside down.   Photo: Discovery Channel

Hometown: Macungie, Pennsylvania
Job: Emergency room nurse
Superpower: Stamina—can run 26 miles uphill without stopping
SI: 6
To be brutally honest: that’s a rather underwhelming superpower, considering one of her competitors is an ultramarathon runner. Being an ER nurse, on the other hand, suggests that Kim is probably used to working under pressure. We wouldn’t want to bet against her. 

Maria Herrera

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Maria transitioning from the rope to the ladder.   Photo: Discovery Channel

Hometown: San Diego, California
Job: Bartender 
Superpower: Upper body strength—can climb two-story rope in under 20 seconds
SI: 7
The folks at Discovery wouldn’t reveal just how much vine-climbing will be involved, but given title of this show, some certainly seems likely. That should put Maria and her superpower in good stead. Also, as a bartender, Maria must spend most of her working hours on her feet, so her stamina is probably as solid as her biceps.

Tim Olson

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Tim Olson walking through a creek.   Photo: Carrie Lederer/Discovery Channel

Hometown: Boulder, Colorado
Job: Stay at home dad
Superpower: Endurance—can run 100+ miles without stopping
SI: 9
Our pick to win. (As said, we are biased.) How could we not go with the man who holds the course record at Western States? After all, covering inhospitable terrain as quickly as possible is what Tim does for a living. One potential caveat: Tim lives in Boulder. How long will he survive outside of the Gore-tex Vortex? At least everything in the wilds of Dominica is sure to be organic.

Tim Reames

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Tim Reames walking along the roots on the river bank.   Photo: Discovery Channel

Hometown: Austin, Texas
Job: Security contractor
Superpower: Feels no pain—military training taught him to overcome it through mental conditioning
SI: 8
Tim is probably the person most likely to challenge the other Tim for the ultimate prize. Also, his superpower sounds way more versatile than that of other contestants. (How frequently do you really need to climb a six-story tree?) It sounds like a useful asset in this scenario, whether he’s barreling through thick jungle brush or just dealing with seven strangers on a desert island.

Jeremy Guarino

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Jeremy running through the edge of the large river.   Photo: Carrie Lederer/Discovery Channel

Hometown: Buffalo, New York
Job: Small business owner
Superpower: Agility—parkour master
SI: 5
Chris McDougall will disagree, but we think the benefits of parkour might start to peter out once you get outside the city. Then again, perhaps the jungle is where all that jumping and climbing can finally be put to good use. As one of our editors noted, "parkour seems like the most Tarzan-esque skill to have." Time will tell.

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