"It was like an exorcism. I'm, like, puking, and my head's spinning around."
Gus Kenworthy is opening up about the horrifying medical emergency that led to his sudden exit from "Special Forces: World's Toughest Test."
On Wednesday's episode of the Fox reality series, the former competitive freestyle skier appeared to be at the top of his game, dominating the latest physical challenge, which was a helicopter extraction. However, Kenworthy forgot his armband for the task, and was later "punished" in the form of jumping into a small pool, and then rolling around in the desert sand. After repeating the task a couple of times, he was told to wait 30 minutes, before he could rinse off.
However, a few short moments into his wait time, Kenworthy -- who was covered in wet sand -- began coughing and choking. He was led into the medical office, where he began to go into anaphylactic shock. The 31-year-old was immediately transported to the hospital -- and was forced to leave the show.
In an interview with TooFab, Kenworthy detailed the medical scare, recalling what caused the allergic reaction and what went through his mind during the incident. And despite going through what was a potentially life-threatening emergency at the time, looking back, Kenworthy seemed to have a good sense of humor about the whole thing, jokingly comparing experiencing anaphylaxis to "an exorcism."
Meanwhile, in addition to his exit, the Olympic silver medalist also explained why the show wasn't what he expected it was going to be, and revealed which of the physical challenges he found to be the most difficult. He also named the two "badass" female co-stars who surprised him by how well they fared in challenges.
Check out the video interview, above, and read on for the full Q&A:
Let's start by talking about your shocking exit from the show. So as punishment for not having your armband during the helicopter extraction challenge, you were tasked with getting wet from head to toe, and then you had to roll around in the sand, and wait like that for 30 minutes. How long did it take for you to realize something wasn’t right? It seemed like it was almost immediately.
I don't even really fully remember, to be honest. I mean, yeah, the punishment was that I had to keep getting in and out of the water, rolling in the sand, so that at all points I was wet and covered in sand. ... And I got sent the clip to rewatch ... It happened faster [than] in my memory. But basically, after I had jumped in a couple of times, I started just having this feeling of constriction in my throat, and I was coughing and coughing and trying to get it out, and I just couldn't quite catch my breath. I remember looking at the water when I was coughing, and that was the water from before day one it had been filled. We all had to go in the mud and go in that water, and people had to jump in multiple times. And then it had been sitting there every day in 120-degree heat. And I think that just some really nasty bacteria had been growing in the water. And on one of the times that I jumped into the tub, I accidentally ingested some of it, and it triggered an allergic reaction. ... I've never had an allergic reaction like that.
I didn't really know what was happening. I just felt this really tight feeling in my chest, and then it was kind of getting worse. And then luckily they called me back to go into the medical office, and as soon as I got in there, it really got bad, and I really couldn't breathe. And that's when I was really panicking. But Jamie, the doctor was amazing and had such a great bedside manner ... and told me afterward that the calmer he is, it usually means the more serious it is and the more frightened he himself is. And he was very calm, so that was kind of scary to hear.
He was just trying to keep me calm. But he said, he immediately knew that it was really, really serious.
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You went into anaphylactic shock, correct?
As a viewer, watching it was horrific. What was going through your head at that moment?
I mean, I don't know, to be honest. At the beginning, I was like, "I don't know what's going on. I'm having a hard time breathing." But I wasn't thinking like, "I'm about to die, I'm gonna die." Anything like that. I just was kind like, "I'm having a really hard time breathing." And I even was sort of able to say that to him. But as I was sitting there, it like felt like it was tightening more and more to the point where then I really couldn't breathe and pretty much right until he stabbed me with adrenaline. Those last few moments I was really scared. I knew I was with him, and so I had a lot of trust in him, but I was definitely starting to get panicky.
Then, the way that the epinephrine works is that within 30 seconds of receiving that shot of adrenaline it started to take effect. I was able to start breathing normally, and a lot of the feelings subsided. And then within a minute or two minutes or three minutes, I felt completely normal. So when I was in the ambulance going back to the hospital, I was completely coherent, fine, wasn't in any pain, wasn't having a hard time breathing, and wanted to go back into the show. I was like, "I'm fine now." And they were basically like, "No, you have to go to the hospital to be observed because you can go into repeat anaphylaxis and yeah, we can't risk it."
That's wild that in just a few minutes you already felt back to normal.
It really was very, very crazy. The epinephrine did exactly what it was supposed to, and within a few minutes, I was fine. Before I even got in the ambulance and I talked to them, I was like, "Can I stay? I'm okay now. Sorry for being dramatic." And they're like, "No, you have to go to the hospital." And I was like, "I really promise I'm fine." And they're like, "We can't risk it. We also don't know what the allergy was to, so we can't risk it potentially happening again or re-exposing you to it." So they made me leave.
What was your reaction when you realized you weren’t going to be able to return to selection?
It was frustrating. I don't know. I mean, I'm so competitive that it was a part of me that it felt like then I was losing. But I feel like I actually, in the moment, was just bummed because I didn't get to go back and see everybody again. I didn't even get to go say goodbye to my friends that were still there and with a lot of other people's exits, they did get to do that. So I was kind of sad, but it also ... so much just happened in such a quick amount of time that I think I was just kind of stunned.
I mean, I think it probably was the right time for me to leave. They said at the beginning that everyone kind of leaves at the right time for them -- whether that's because you just physically can't handle it anymore or whatever it is. And I feel like I went into it with such a competitive mindset and such a focus on winning. ... Something that I sort of learned throughout the experience was that it isn't really a win-lose show. I mean, it pushes each person to their limits, and it tests each person in all these different ways and in ways that you haven't been tested before. But ultimately, you're trying to learn something about yourself. And I feel like I learned that and I also feel like I learned that in part from having to leave early, and that's something that I have to just deal with. As someone who's super competitive, I don't know if I would've gotten that same feeling or reaction had I made it to the end and won. I think ... I guess I left when I was supposed to as the universe intended [or] whatever. It was only a day before everyone else, so it was fine.
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Before your medical emergency, you absolutely dominated the helicopter extraction challenge. Were you happy that that was your final challenge? That you ended on somewhat of a high note when it comes to challenges?
I mean, yeah, I haven't seen it yet. ... I remembered doing pretty well with it, and it was one that a lot of people struggled with, so it felt good to do a good job. And the DS were not quick to give you a pat on the back. And when I climbed into the helicopter, and then we were flying out "Big Blue Eyes," that's what we were calling him -- I actually don't, I can't remember his name. Billy. -- he kind of did give me pat on the back, and was like, "Brilliant.
And I was like, "Oh wow, okay, thanks."
You should definitely rewatch. You'll be very proud of yourself.
I'm excited. Well, yeah, we don't get to watch anything in advance really. They did send me my allergic reaction, [the] anaphylaxis clip. But that was actually the only clip from the entire series that I saw ahead of time."
They really didn't hesitate to show everything. It was alarming, and definitely horrible to watch.
Yeah, it was like an exorcism. I'm, like, puking, and my head's spinning around.
What initially inspired you to do this show? Was it what you expected it would be?
Yeah, it actually wasn't what I expected it to be. I really did [think] it was a competition, so I was kind of going into [it to] win. They told us in advance that we would have to do these physical challenges, and that it was really gonna push us to our limits and then they kind of were like, "Would you be okay with this? ... Jumping out of a helicopter and doing this and having to get wet and having to get muddy." And I was like, "Yeah, I mean that all of that sounds fine. That sounds fun." And it wasn't fun. I mean, those challenges were, but a lot of the other stuff, some of the more physical challenges where it was just running up that spiral staircase with a heavy backpack and boots, or pushing a car across the desert when it was literally not moving at all in the sand. Those were just so incredibly draining, in no way, shape or form were they fun, but also just the sitting around, we were always on edge. You never really got to relax because you never knew when you were gonna be called on. And so it was really stressful, but it was a good experience. I'm glad I did it, and I made friends, and I feel like I did learn about myself and, yeah, it was cool, but it wasn't what I thought it was gonna be.
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Which of the tasks would you say was the most difficult? You mentioned after the chemical warfare challenge that you've never experienced pain like that before.
Yeah, and I think, I mean, that is true, but I think what I really meant was, I've never experienced pain like that. It wasn't [that] it was more painful than anything I had ever experienced. It was just a really different pain. It was horrible. I mean, it felt so unnatural. I mean, which like, it's chemical, but it's chemical warfare. But it really felt, it felt just so toxic, as you're feeling it in your lungs and in your stomach. It was going through my mind that like, "This is not a thing you should ever be feeling. ... this is not normal." And it was really painful. It felt like my eyeballs, and my lungs were on fire every time I breathed in. It just was, it really was horrible.
But the most difficult challenge, I mean that one sucked, but it wasn't ... it was probably five minutes, the whole thing. And then you started to feel better when you were back out in the wind. But the pushing the car across that desert. When we started pushing it, it moved like an inch and, we had to go a mile, and the sand was just falling under our feet. The car was barely rolling, and then we had to carry all this equipment, and it was just, and it was 120 degrees. It was just so, it was so crazy.
Were there any recruits who surprised you with how they fared in challenges?
I mean, I was genuinely surprised throughout the whole thing by Hannah Brown. I mean, she is just a badass. I mean she really, she is super tough. She's just got a really positive attitude. She was definitely a surprise, and she killed it. I was also surprised by Kenya Moore. I mean, I think I knew she was gonna be a badass from "Housewives," but, I don't know, I feel like you don't think of Miss USA or the Bachelorette [as people] that are gonna be killing these challenges where they're jumping out of helicopters and freaking base jumping off of skyscrapers and they did. They were both so badass.
Last question, at one point, everyone talked about foods they missed from home, and you said, ice cream, sharing that you have it every night. When you got home, what was the first thing you ate? Did you have ice cream?
Yeah, and it really is my favorite food. I mean, I try not to eat it as often as I do, but I still do. I love ice cream, and I love sweet cereal. I actually blame my mom because she was a health freak when we were kids, and we never got to have sweet things. And then it's like one of those people that doesn't drink until they're 21, and then is like a meth addict. Me with cereal and ice cream.