WARRENSBURG — Showing his pride for veterans, family and the University of Central Missouri, veteran Kelly Murphy won the “Tough as Nails,” competition hosted on CBS Thursday night in a nail-biting two-hour finale.

Murphy, known as “Murph” by the show’s teammates, is the director of Military and Veteran Services at UCM in Warrensburg. He received $200,000 and a new Ford Super Duty Truck as the winner of the 10-episode show and $8,000 as part of a team challenge.

A media release from UCM stated “the show, hosted by Phil Keoghan, exists to showcase the men and women who do tough, physically demanding jobs to keep the country running. Contestants compete in challenges that require a variety of toolsets and physical and mental fortitude.”

Murphy, 49, a 22-year veteran with the U.S. Marine Corps, said from his UCM office Tuesday morning he was contacted last October by a casting producer of the Discovery Channel and encouraged to apply for the CBS show.

“He sent me a link and I applied,” he added. “Then the very next day, the CBS casting team sent me an email and said, ‘can you do a Zoom interview?’”

Murphy agreed, and a few days later he received another email saying CBS “loved” his interview and wanted him to interview with Keoghan and the other producers.

“In December, they invited me out to California for about a week where we did some more of the casting process,” Murphy said. “Then, right after the New Year, they invited me to be on the show.”

Filming began mid-January and concluded Feb. 14. The two-hour finale included flying in family members for the last challenge as a surprise for Murphy and his two competitors Danny Moody, a drywaller from Spokane, Washington, and Miles Polk, a forest technician from Alabama.

The last challenge leading the winner to a new pickup truck included busting through sheetrock with a sledgehammer and pulling bales of hay through to make stairs to climb a metal storage container. Next was untangling a heavy chain from a ladder needed to climb another unit. Then came a sweat-soaked task of driving large metal pins into logs to attach a chain-like ladder to a second metal unit. Contestants then had to saw six boards needed for steps, carry them up the chain and ultimately remove bolts and attach the lumber, before climbing up to the truck and winning.  

Murphy said his wife, Machelle, and daughter Shelby had no idea he was one of the three final contestants until they arrived for the episode.

“I had no idea they were coming out either … then they came around the corner,” he said. “So, they got all that emotion on camera.”

He added he wasn’t sure how long the last challenge was, but he thought in total it was 20 to 25 minutes.

“I think unwrapping the chain from the ladder was at least 10 minutes by itself,” he noted. “That was probably one of the hardest parts. Because the chain was heavy, it was long then it was twisted upon itself.

“And, you had to figure out which way it was twisted,” he continued. “So, you could pull it the right direction …”

Murphy said he believed what got him through the last challenge was staying physically fit and his military training.

“You try to learn how to focus out the pain,” he added. “When things are getting hard you just focus on the task at hand.

“And by focusing on the task that you’re doing, sometimes you forget about the unpleasantries that your body is going through,” he continued. “You go into a zone.”

When he finished placing the fifth step into place, he said that was the first time he “had an overwhelming sensation” that he would win.  

“The nervous energy was kicking in, the adrenaline was kicking in all at once,” Murphy noted.

Once he reached the truck and held up the key fob, all the stress gave way to tears.

“I think I cried within a few minutes or seconds,” he said smiling. “As soon as I looked down and saw the family there and saw Shelby, it was overwhelming.”

His daughter Shelby is in the U.S. Navy Boot Camp in Great Lakes, Illinois. His oldest daughter, Audrey, is a junior at UCM and his son Garrett is a junior at Warrensburg High School.

Murphy said he plans to use the money to pay off Audrey’s college tuition, pay off his children’s cars and will invest the rest.  

Since being on “Tough as Nails,” many opportunities have opened up for Murphy. He received offers to speak via Zoom locally at high schools and at Nucor Steel in Sedalia and had offers for photoshoots from apparel companies. On Sept. 16, he is invited to the Missouri State Capitol where he will be introduced on the House floor and meet Gov. Mike Parson.

Murphy noted he plans to use his experience on the show to continue his work with veterans.

“Since I’m a veteran, I’m going to hopefully use this platform to continue to support the veteran community,” he said. “And use the show as a positive way to let people know veterans can still be productive well after their time in the military.” 

Arts & Entertainment Reporter

Faith Bemiss is a reporter for the Sedalia Democrat, covering general assignment, arts, food and entertainment stories. She can be reached at 660-530-0289.

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