OCEAN — There was no one better from the Eastern Region in this season of NBC’s The Titan Games than Will Sutton.
The Trenton native and Croatan teacher and jayvee boys basketball coach booked his ticket to the show’s finals with a win on Monday, edging out active-duty soldier from Fort Bragg, Josh Porter, to claim the regional championship.
“I feel pretty good,” Sutton said. “I was glad to go out there and conquer that beast of a mountain one more time. Because you’re not really going up against the other person, you’re both going up against the mountain and giving it everything you got.”
Sutton has championed the phrase “Country Strong” during the competition, looking to draw inspiration from a childhood spent on his family farm. The 26-year-old is only 5-7, 180 pounds, but he has outlasted a range of athletes, each with their own advantages. He bested speedy UFC Fighter Tyron Woodley, bulky world-ranked long driver Ryan Steenberg and long-limbed Porter.
“I think I’ve been underestimated my whole life,” Sutton said on the show. “When somebody looks at me, they don’t see a primetime athlete. They see a 5-7, high school agriculture teacher. But they don’t see what’s inside.”
Sutton had already proven himself time and again, but he needed one more inspired performance to reach the finals next week. The 10-stage obstacle course, dubbed “Mount Olympus,” requires a variety of skills to complete. Neither Porter nor Steenberg finished the course in their first running of it.
Just as it was in their first meeting July 27, Sutton and Porter were neck and neck for most of the course. Porter stumbled at the beginning of the “Iron Ascent” but regained his footing as both contestants maintained a steady pace. Porter took extra care in the “Cage Crawl,” giving Sutton a chance to gain his ground and reach the “Ball & Chain” with several seconds to spare, despite a slip on his way out of the cage.
“That was a tough one, a tight one, just like the last time,” Sutton said. “I got a little ahead in the rat cage, but I got ahead of myself and took a nasty spill at the end. I still had legs, though.”
After pulling the 300-pound “Ball & Chain” a few feet, Sutton slipped and lost the momentum of his pull. After trying to regain forward movement with it over his back, he turned and pulled with his arms out in front, all the while conscious of Porter closing the gap between them.
“I was doing it fine over top of my back, but once I stopped, the hardest part is getting it back going,” he said. “That’s where you spend the most energy. And by that time, my hamstrings were shot, so I thought, ‘Better turn it around on my quads I guess.’ We were both really tired at the end.”
Sutton reached the end well before Porter reached the final stage, “Titan Tomb,” giving him his fourth straight victory on Mount Olympus and the regional title.
“I knew going in, any win I get I feel like is a blessing,” Sutton said. “It’s just a blessing to keep on going and get an opportunity to go into the next round. Going into it with expectations to win is a bit absurd with the athletes that are in that competition. You just have to go in and try the best you can.”
The two competitors embraced after the competition, with Porter commenting afterwards that the “better man moved on.” Sutton said that attitude wasn’t exclusive to Porter, as each competitor was as gracious.
“The people in The Titan Games were amazing. Every competitor you see there are people you’d like to hang out with. It was great to go up against Josh again. He’s a great athlete, a great person to be around.”
Sutton has enjoyed the support he’s received since premiering on the show July 13, especially the camaraderie with his fellow teachers. The show has provided him a stage to prove that teachers are more than meets the eye.
“Lately, teaching has had a bit of a stigma,” Sutton said. “People are leaving the profession because teachers aren’t valued like they used to be valued. It’s time to shine a light back on teachers. We’re doing great things with the kids and inspiring every day. We’re not just going in and teaching our subject, we also have lives too. We’re well-rounded people. Like Jimmy V(alvano) said, ‘Every single day … ordinary people do extraordinary things.’”
Sutton will take on Western Region champion Noah Palicia, an Air Force instructor pilot from Yokota Air Base in Japan, and Central Region champion Matt Chan, a firefighter from Denver, this coming Monday in the season two finals.
When asked why fans should tune in, Sutton responded, “I don’t know … something extraordinary might happen.”