Why a Spartan Racer Won Steve Austin's Broken Skull Challenge

Spartan Race athlete Hunter McIntyre set a new record at Steve Austin's Broken Skull Challenge. Credit: Photographs Courtesy CMT

For the past three seasons, CrossFit athletes have dominated on Steve Austin's Broken Skull Challenge. The reality show pits elite athletes from many disciplines against each other, but the CrossFitters have almost always come out on top.

Not anymore. Obstacle racer and Men's Journal cover model Hunter McIntyre won last week's $10,000 Skullbuster Challenge, beating out the previous record holder — a CrossFit athlete (watch the episode here). We profiled McIntyre in June of 2014, after he had turned pro in what was then the world's newest pro sport, Spartan Races. Now he's officially, "One tough, ass-kicking son of a …." as Austin puts it on his show.

McIntyre is a male model-turned pro obstacle racer who resides in Malibu. To win the competition, he relied heartily on his aerobic fitness. "A lot of these guys are superficial athletes: Tiny little legs, big upper body. That usually ends up meaning they have a crap heart and engine," he said when asked about his advantage.

But he's not so tiny himself. Strangely enough, the thing that many say holds him back as a pro obstacle racer — his size — was what helped him win on Sunday. At a lean but muscular 6'2", he's larger than your average elite endurance athlete, but in challenges that involve pulling a beefcake of a man through the dirt, being waif-like certainly isn't an advantage. With just the right mix of brawn, anaerobic capacity, and moxie, McIntyre pulled, pushed, heaved, and grunted his way to glory.

The show, which is set on Steve Austin's Broken Skull Ranch in McMullen County, Texas, is now in its third skull-crushing season. Last Sunday, one of the athletes also happened to be a scientist. Though he made it to the final round, he also served as the butt of almost every joke. However McIntyre, with his boyish grin and over-the-top self-confidence was perfect. He knew his part and played it well.

Contestants started the competition by facing off in the Drag Race, a glorified tug-of-war. Instead of holding a rope, the rope is tied to a belt with the two contestants facing away from each other. On Austin's "go," they try to pull the other towards their side of the court. The Drag Race is followed by the Pile Up, which consists of using a rope to pull four metal drums across a dirt patch. More grunting ensues.  

The final round required the two remaining contestants to move a 15-foot log across a playing field, place it into a hole in the ground then climb the log and ring a bell. After that, the two must spar in a dirt ring until one person is thrown out.

McIntyre — winning his first two rounds easily — ended up in the ring with none other than the nerdy scientist. "It's science versus swagger in round three, and I can't wait to see them clash," Austin said with glee.

They locked onto each other like "two bulldozers going head to head," said Austin. Soon, McIntyre's otherwise-lovely face is marred by a bloody nose. Then the scientist is (somewhat predictably) sporting a bloody nose too. More grunting. Finally, in one quick movement, McIntyre sweeps the geek off his feet and throws him out of the ring. And just like that, McIntyre is the day's winner. This means McIntyre got a shot at the Skullbuster Challenge, a half-mile course with 10 obstacles with names like the Nutcracker, Heartbreak Hill, and the Deep Freeze.

The current course record, which McIntyre was aiming to beat, was 6:39. As soon as he starts, though, it's clear that McIntyre comes from an endurance background. There's a length and lightness to his stride that you rarely see in brute-strength athletes. He tears through the running portions and is careful and collected in the strength and agility challenges. He handily wipes out the existing record, completing the course in 6:03.