September 01, 2008 08:34 PM by Lisa Stauber
America’s Toughest Jobs airs again tonight, and there are 12 competitors left to take on a new challenge: driving 18 wheelers in rough terrain in the Arctic Circle. Last week, two women were voted the most valuable crew members; can the men reclaim their honor this week?
The rookie drivers meet up in Fairbanks, Alaska and have learned how to drive a commercial truck. It’s a tough job, with a double clutch, ten gears, and a wide load. They’ll have a truck driving instructor riding with them to help, and to judge. They’ll be teaming up in pairs, but will be judged individually.
Rommel, a 28 year old karate instructor, is off to a rough start, stalling the engine in the parking lot. The first shift is 250 miles long on a road that is only half paved. The Dalton Highway has the highest trucker mortality rate of any route in the US. It’s definitely a tough job!
Chris, 49, is ready to roll on the first shift. “I’m like a thoroughbred. You gotta let a thoroughbred run,” he says. At the first hill, however, he downshifts too late and grinds the gears. Phil, Chris’s partner, thinks downshifting is the most difficult part of driving a truck. Chris can’t get it into gear, and he’s stalled out on a hill. He’s got to get into first gear on an icy slope, or be replaced less than 50 miles into the trip. Chris finally gets the truck in gear and keeps hauling up the hill. Can he make it down the other side?
Bryce, a 32 year old personal trainer, is riding the brakes but that won’t stop the truck. He manages to make it down the hill safely. Rie, a 34 year old model, is excited to be driving, though. Rommel is still having a rough time, and stalls out on a hill in the middle of the highway. He can’t get it started again, after 4 tries, but finally gets moving.
Chris is on a hill again, but can’t downshift fast enough. He won’t skip a gear, and stalls out on the highway again. The instructor tells him to park the truck and kicks Chris out of the drivers seat before he wrecks the transmission. Phil will take over Chris’s final 40 miles. Phil does great and gets up the hill without a hitch.
The teams make it to Cold Foot, Alaska and it’s time to get some dinner and switch drivers. In Alaska this time of year, it never gets dark and to top it off, there’s a storm brewing ahead. The truckers will also have to go over the legendary Atigun pass.
Amy, age 40, says she would rather die than go home. The competitors pass a twisted wreck and she sees just how dangerous their job is. Everyone makes to the top of the treacherous pass okay, but now they have to make it down the other side. Brakes won’t work, and downshifting is the only way to slow down.
Amy doesn’t shift, and she’s not in any gear. She’s sliding down the hill in neutral and finally slips it into seventh gear. “You will kill us all!” her instructor tells her. “Get a grip!”
All of the truckers make it down safely, but now they are in a blizzard. Sandy, a schoolteacher, is doing great. She’s a natural trucker, and so is Phil. “If I was hiring drivers, I wouldn’t hesitate to pick you,” his instructor tells him, a rare compliment! He makes Phil turn the truck back over to Christ to finish out the last hour. Chris picks a fight with the instructor, telling him that he feels he’s too harsh. “Why don’t you stop being a beligerant a**,” he tells the instructor, and teacher kicks Chris out of the driver’s seat again. Chris isn’t allowed back in, and host Scott Temple tries to mediate the dispute. The instructor holds his ground, and Chris has to ride into town with the production crew.
Everyone pulls into town and parks their trucks neatly in a row. The grand prize of the show is the combined salaries of all of the jobs. A first year trucker makes about $32,000 a year, and that’s added to the $30,000 from last week’s crab catch.
Phil is voted the best, and Scott asks the truckers who they think are the worst. Amy is named, and she’s furious. The instructors think Chris, Bryce, Rommel, and Amy were the bottom four, and now they’ll have to drive again and prove themselves. They’ve got to back up the trailer, release the load, and cross the finish line. Slowest time will be going home.
Bryce lines up his truck well, but goes off course and has to start over. He hits a cone, and it’s going to cost him a minute added to his final time. His time finishes at 18:58. Rommel goes next. “I don’t even back up my car,” he says, worried he won’t be able to get the truck centered. He hits it on the first try, with a final time of 8:37. Chris is up next, and he misses the dock several times. He knocks over a cone and gets a time penalty. Chris finishes with 24:42. Amy’s takes the last turn, and backs right up. She doesn’t have the strength to get the pin out, and it’s stuck. Her time runs past Chris’s, and the pin is still locked. Amy’s going home!
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Photos courtesy NBC.