KEARNEY – More than 100 friends, family members and co-workers waited 50 minutes Friday night before seeing Bryce Abbey’s run on the CBS show “TKO: Total Knock Out.”
Then they watched nervously as host Kevin Hart announced his time of 4 minutes, 14 seconds.
The packed room at Fanatics in downtown Kearney went crazy. Abbey jumped up and down, fists in the air. There were high-fives, hugs and lots of screaming.
The University of Nebraska at Kearney associate exercise science professor had just won $50,000 – by six seconds.
Abbey, a four-time All-American wrestler for UNK in the early 2000s, used his athletic prowess to edge a professional bull rider and claim the top prize. The last of five contestants to tackle the obstacle course, he kept the large crowd gathered to support him on edge until the final moments.
“Winning $50,000 is absolutely amazing,” Abbey said. “You can’t explain it. You can’t put it into words.”
And he’s not done yet. Abbey’s time puts him in the “Battle Royale” season finale, where he’ll compete for up to $100,000. That episode has already been taped, but, of course, you’ll have to tune in later this summer to see the results.
On Friday night, Abbey was all smiles during his watch party. He knew what the final outcome would be.
That’s a far cry from his mentality when he flew to Los Angeles earlier this summer to film the show.
“I had zero expectations going in,” he said. “We had no idea what the course was going to be. Obstacle course meets dodgeball. That’s literally what I knew going in.”
The 35-year-old, who ranks second on UNK’s all-time wrestling wins list with 134 victories, is still in excellent shape. He works out regularly and possesses all the health-related knowledge that comes with being an exercise science professor.
But physical ability only takes you so far when you’re facing a whacky obstacle course while over-the-top projectiles are flying at your head.
“You can’t train for a big spike ball being thrown at you at the proper time when you’re jumping between things,” Abbey said. “There’s nowhere in Kearney to get on a spike that’s rolling and have hammers thrown at you. There’s nowhere to do those types of things that would allow you to be good at this type of show.”
That’s the quirkiness of “TKO,” a 10-episode series CBS launched this summer.
Abbey, who has worked for UNK since 2006 and serves as director of the university’s Employee Health and Wellness Program, appeared in what the network called “one of the most competitive episodes of the season.” He faced an aspiring comic, professional bull rider, death racer and soccer professional/physical education teacher who were flinging oversize Frisbees, firing foam balls, catapulting spikes and swinging giant hammers in an attempt to slow him down.
The course was “definitely demanding,” according to Abbey.
“Getting out of the pits is the most challenging part,” he said. “If you stay on the obstacles, the course isn’t bad. You start getting knocked off the obstacles and the course just gets harder and harder.”
Balance was key, and, as Abbey explained to Hart, his “wrestling hips” help in that area.
The audience is “full of women that love wrestling hips,” the actor and comedian quipped during Friday’s broadcast.
Abbey, who was inducted into the UNK Athletic Hall of Fame in 2017, used his connection to a different sport to land a spot on primetime television.
He learned about the “TKO” casting call through an email from the Kearney Little League organization. CBS was looking for a baseball coach to appear on a new show hosted by Hart.
Abbey, who has coached his 10-year-old son Kade’s baseball team since T-ball, was intrigued.
“I had thought about other obstacle course shows before,” Abbey said, but he never followed through because he didn’t have the time to properly train.
He took the idea to his wife Erin, and her response was pretty direct.
“She said, ‘I think you’re crazy,’” Abbey recalled.
He filled out the application anyway and was selected as a participant.
“Going through that process was a whole new experience for me,” he said.
TOUGH SECRET TO KEEP
Friendly trash talking and playful banter are encouraged on “TKO,” so you’ll see the participants exchange a few words. This may not match Abbey’s everyday personality, but make no mistake, he was there to win.
“I’m definitely a very competitive person,” he said. “I’ve always been competitive, being a college athlete.”
There are also plenty of laughs on the show, which is expected when Hart gets involved.
“He’s a riot,” Abbey said. “We had a lot of fun. He really makes the show, for sure.”
In addition to the physical challenge “TKO” presented, Abbey also had his mental strength tested over the past several weeks. Friends, family members and just about anyone else he bumped into peppered him with questions as word of his network television debut spread.
Abbey, who wasn’t allowed to discuss any aspects of the show until this week, found himself repeating the same response over and over: “I’m not allowed to talk about it.” That phrase became so common members of his corn detasseling crew had it printed on a shirt they jokingly presented to him.
“I think it’s been harder for some of my friends to not know than it’s been for me to keep a secret, because it’s been kind of fun to keep a secret,” Abbey said, adding that he’s very appreciative of the support he’s received from Nebraskans.
The Goodland, Kansas, native isn’t sure how UNK students will react to his newfound fame when they begin fall classes Monday, but he knows it will be fun to finally talk about the experience.
“It was awesome,” he said. “I would do it again in a second.”
As for that $50,000 prize?
“I think my wife probably has it spent already,” Abbey joked.
In reality, he’s got some student loans from his doctorate to pay off and a family trip is likely in the near future.